Note from Hint Mama: When it comes to sweets, I’m not a “no” mom. Rather, I believe that everything is good in moderation. However, practicing moderation can be hard during the holiday season, when cookies, chocolate and candies abound. Luckily, this hint from new Hint Mama contributor Caroline Williams can help. Caroline, who shares healthy family recipes at her Caroline’s Cooking site, provides tips for making healthier cookies below.
At this time of year, there seem to be cookies everywhere, and it can be hard to keep saying “no” when your kids ask again and again to have one.
If you’re anything like me, you probably think it’s fine to give a treat now and again. In fact, there are studies that suggest it’s good to get used to some sweet things at a younger age to avoid binging issues down the road and to learn a bit of self-restraint.
However, while everything (including sugar) is good in moderation, curtailing your kids’ cookie consumption can be hard during the holiday season. So, you may be wondering if you can reduce or eliminate the sugar in homemade cookies. The answer is you can, by using one or more of the five tips that make up today’s hint.
1. Simply reduce the sugar from the recipe. In most cases, unless a recipe is geared to low-sugar eating, it will likely be fairly sweet; you can easily reduce any recipe’s sugar by up to around 1/4. I reduced the sugar in my German hazelnut Christmas cookies from the original recipe, and they still taste great and sweet. However some of this is due to what else is in the cookies, as the rest of the tips that follow help explain.
2. Add additional flavors to help overcome the reduced sugar. Sugar doesn’t only add sweetness; it also contributes to flavor. This is why simply reducing a recipe’s sugar content can make the resulting cookies a little less tasty. So, if your recipe doesn’t call for flavorings such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom, consider adding one or more of them. Then you really won’t miss the sugar.
3. Use fruit instead of sugar. Dried fruits are a great way to add natural sweetness without using sugar, and they have the advantage of not making a cookie mixture too moist. Good options are dates, apricots and raisins, and a great way to use them is to puree them with the butter, as you would sugar and as I did when making my sugar-free date and oatmeal cookies. You can also use banana as another natural and healthy sweetener, such as in these simple and adaptable two-ingredient cookies featured over at Ambitious Kitchen.
4. Use nut flours. Peanut butter cookies are popular for a reason – many nuts taste great and have a slight natural sweetness. You can get a similar boost from nut flours as well, like almond, hazelnut or chestnut flour. Recipes with one of these (like my German hazelnut cookie recipe above) are great for reducing sugar, as they still taste great. And if you’re following a simple cookie recipe, you can substitute in one of these flours for up to about 1/4 of the regular flour, though some recipes do successfully use all nut flour and low sugar, such as these flourless and low sugar chocolate shortbread cookies from Kalyn’s Kitchen.
5. Use sugar alternatives. There are a number of sugar alternatives — such as agave syrup, maple syrup and honey — that are generally considered a bit healthier than refined sugar. Remember each of these has a distinct taste, so think about whether the particular taste is what you’re looking for and whether it fits in with your recipe, but maple cookies for example, can be delicious. You can also use Stevia (as in the chocolate shortbread cookie recipe above), though personally I’m less of a fan.
I hope these tips give you a few ideas. The bottom line: Cookies rarely take that long to make, so it doesn’t take much effort to make something both tasty and healthier that lets you respond “yes” to that “cookie?” request.
What are your tips for cutting and managing your kids’ sugar consumption during the holiday season?
Caroline Williams lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband and 2-year-old son. She fits in developing recipes and managing her blog, Caroline’s Cooking, between running around the park and playing trains and other toddler activities. Before she moved to Cambridge, Caroline, originally from Scotland, had another life as a human resources professional in the financial sector. Follow her tasty recipes and tips on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and read more about her here.