Let’s face it, the holidays can be stressful enough without having to worry about your health while you’re shopping, decorating, wrapping presents, stuffing stockings, baking, and attending parties and family gatherings. Sometimes it’s just easier to rely on the impending New Year and the inevitable resolution to adopt healthier habits to make up for the lack of attention we pay to our health during November and December’s festivities.

The words “dessert” and “healthy” really seem to contradict each other, and if your holidays are like my holidays, then you will likely find yourself surrounded by desserts nearly everywhere you go. Imagine, though, making it to Jan. 1 without having packed on the annual holiday weight ”“ even after having indulged in sweet treats right along with your family and friends. It can be done, and it’s as easy as skipping the traditional fudge and cookies in lieu of some simple, yet scrumptious, dessert options that you can make with the few minutes you have between other holiday tasks.

Take this recipe for chocolate coconut mousse, for instance. This creamy, rich, chocolate mousse ”“ with a hint of coconut flavor ”“ whips up in about five minutes. It has four ingredients, and fits nicely into a gluten-free or vegan diet. It is low in sugar and has valuable antioxidants, yet it will satisfy even the worst chocolate craving. As with anything, moderation is key, but this treat would be a hit with even the most discerning dinner guests, and is practically guilt-free. Each serving is about 150 calories ”“ depending on amount of sugar used.

Creamy Chocolate Coconut Mousse

1 can of full-fat coconut milk

1⁄4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla

2 tablespoons powdered sugar (more or less to sweeten to taste)

Chill the coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight. Do not shake the can as you might for other recipes. Scoop the thickened coconut milk from the top of the can into a mixing bowl and discard the remaining thin liquid. Add the cocoa powder, vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix on medium to high with an electric mixer until thickened ”“ usually less than five minutes. Spoon into small bowls and chill until you just can’t take it anymore. Then, eat and enjoy. This recipe serves four. I’ve seen people use this recipe as a substitute for chocolate frosting as well.

Some of my favorite party foods are the kind you can pick off of a tray to walk around eating and mingling. While I would usually avoid this type of grazing activity, because it’s so easy for the calories to stack up, if the right foods are on the tray, then you’ll survive one or two parties. The best news? This doesn’t mean you have to keep grabbing from the veggie platter. Try bringing these cute, little goodies to your next holiday party. They’re easy to make and kid-friendly, too, but I still love them.

Grinch Head Kabobs

Green seedless grapes

Firm bananas

Diet or regular Sprite


Mini marshmallows

Toothpicks or party picks

Remove banana peels and slice into small, round ”“ about quarter-inch thick ”“ pieces. Place slices into a bowl, cover with Sprite. (This will help keep the bananas from turning brown, and won’t make them taste like lemon as using lemon juice and water would.) Then, drain the bananas.

Wash all of the other fruit. Slice the top off the strawberries. Push one of each fruit onto the toothpicks in the following order: grape, banana slice, strawberry. You should now have something that looks like a Grinch head with a Santa hat. Finish it off by topping the hat with a “pompom.” To do this, cover the sharp top of the toothpick with a mini marshmallow. Set on a tray and serve ”“ and enjoy the comments about how clever you are from your hosts or guests.

Of course, there are food traditions that are hard to skip during the holidays ”“ Grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, Mom’s peanut butter fudge or your favorite pumpkin pie. Still, sometimes a little twist on the tradition helps bring about some healthy change, while allowing you to keep the tradition going for years and years with less guilt. Try a recipe makeover with some of your favorites by using a few of these simple tips:

Ӣ When possible, add foods to your cakes, cookies and pies that increase the nutritional value, like pecans or almonds or cranberries.

Ӣ Try a crust-less pie so you can enjoy the filling without the extra carbs and calories the crust adds.

Ӣ Substitute butter with unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin puree, mashed banana, or even prune puree, which works best in chocolate recipes.

”¢ Speaking of chocolate, milk chocolate may be the sweetest and creamiest, but a healthier option is using chocolates that are 70 percent pure or better. These are higher in antioxidants and contain less fats and sugars. The good news is that there are many reports today that say eating the right kind of chocolate ”“ again, in moderation ”“ is actually good for your heart health.

— Monica Pettengill Jerkins is a freelance writer for the Journal Tribune.

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