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Lighten Up Your Cookie Swap

  • Rita Maas

    Plan a Healthier Cookie Exchange

    Christmas cookie exchange parties are filled with sugar and spice and everything nice. So, what's not to love? Well, along with the dozens of baked treats, you could be taking home an excess of calories and not-so-healthy fats. (And we all know how rotten it feels when that sugar high wears off.)

    Motherboard Moms tell us they're not against indulging on the holidays, but we know how important it is for them to feel and look their best through New Year's Eve and beyond. The truth is, with a few smart choices any cookie exchange can be transformed into a healthier, happier affair—all without sacrificing taste. We've talked with dietitians, food bloggers, and culinary experts to bring you the best secrets for putting a smarter spin on your next swap.

  • Blaine Moats

    Offer Low-Cal Drinks

    Your party is all about celebrating cookies, so keep the drink menu simple and light on calories. Elizabeth Burt, R.D., and test kitchen culinary specialist, suggests creating a coffee or tea bar. "Set out different sugars, chocolates, or herbs to add to calorie-free coffee or tea," she says. Burt also recommends jazzing up water with flavorful fruit infusion, such as citrus slices or berries. If you're looking for a more spirited beverage, pop open a bottle of bubbly. A glass of champagne will set you back only about 90 calories.

  • Keep Snacks Light

    Baking blogger Michelle Norris of BrownEyedBaker.com knows a thing or two about cookies and party planning. When it comes to hors d'oeuvres for cookie swaps, she suggests keeping it simple. "When I'm organizing a party where I know people will be eating heavier, I'll steer clear of thick dips or filling appetizers," says Norris. "Quick ideas like fresh fruit help to balance all the high-calorie foods you're eating." We love bold-colored seasonal fruits, like this festive bowl of fresh cranberries.

  • Have Something for Everyone

    Long-distance friends Lauren Spath Luhring and Alexis Lamster put a modern spin on traditional cookie swaps when they started an "eat up" on the popular micro-blogging site Tumblr. The two pals first bonded over a love of food and a mutual appreciation for each other's blogs. "We would e-mail all the time about food and send each other pictures of treats, and one day we were kind of joking saying, 'What if we could actually e-mail treats?'" says Luhring. They had more than 1,000 participants from around the world sign up for their first exchange on TumblrEatUp.tumblr.com. In organizing these global exchanges, they've learned a few tricks of the trade. "We always ask people to let us know if they have food allergies or serious dislikes—we want to avoid sending people food they can't eat," says Lamster.

    Take a page from their playbook and request that your guests alert you of any food allergies along with their RSVP. If your friends have problems with gluten or nuts, make sure there other options are available, such as this festive Candy Cane Bark.

    Get Candy Cane Bark recipe here

  • David Prince

    Switch Up the Sugar

    Cutting sugar in your cookies is as simple as swapping it for a sweetener such as Stevia, says Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes. She says you can also amp up the nutrition factor by loading your treats with healthful ingredients, such as oats, cranberries, nuts, or dark chocolate. These Sugar-Free Coconut Oatmeal Raisin cookies make the most of her smart advice.

    Get Sugar-Free Coconut Oatmeal Raisin Cookie recipe here

  • Rita Maas

    Add Whole-Wheat Flour

    Another nutrition-boosting tip from Bannan: "Increase the fiber in your cookies by using at least half whole-wheat flour." (We promise, no one will notice the difference.) This Pecan Snowballs recipe gets a hearty dose of nutrients when you use whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose.

    Get Pecan Snowballs recipe here

  • Reduce the Oil

    Don't worry if your favorite bar cookie recipe, like these Coffee and Cookie Brownies, calls for oil. All our experts agree there are plenty of surefire substitute options. Healthful purees such as applesauce, mashed bananas, and canned pumpkin can add the same moisture to your bar, without adding fat.

    Get Coffee and Cookie Brownie recipe here

  • Get a Little Fruity

    Still not sure which cookie is right for you? Elizabeth Burt, R.D., says thin, fruit-glazed linzer cookies are usually a lighter option for your holiday exchange. This hazelnut- and cinnamon-flavored recipe features a raspberry center and a dusting of powdered sugar.

    Get Linzer Cookies recipe here

  • Ann Stratton

    Go Guilt Free

    When it comes to guiltless cookies, you can't do much better than meringues. Made primarily with egg whites, these treats are low in calories and fat. Michelle Norris of BrownEyedBaker.com suggests customizing your meringues' flavor by adding cocoa, peppermint, or vanilla. This Mint Meringues recipe strikes the perfect balance between healthy and holiday-worthy.

    Get Mint Meringues recipe here

  • Alison Miksch

    Think Small

    Size matters when trying to avoid overindulging. However appealing they may seem at the time, oversized cookies wreak havoc on your portion-control plan. These fruit-filled thumbprints stack up to less than half the size of traditional Christmas cookies and make eating less that much easier.

    Get Strawberry Thumbprints recipe here

  • James Baigrie

    Top Wisely

    Steer clear of cookies covered in icing. "Frosting is typically pure sugar and butter and is super calorie dense," says Elizabeth Burt, R.D. "Just adding frosting to a cookie can add 100 to 200 calories." Instead, opt for cookies with a simple topping like a sprinkling of powdered sugar, or better yet, none at all.

    Basic Sugar Cookie Dough

  • James Baigrie

    Choose More Flavor

    Michelle Norris of BrownEyedBaker.com has a secret strategy when trying to navigate a cookie swap without overdoing it. "I'd recommend cookies that have a lot of flavor and spices," says Norris. "These kind of cookies pack in a flavor punch, so you're not as likely to be left wanting more." Try this Spice Crackles recipe that boasts an explosion of holiday flavor with every bite.

    Get Spice Crackles recipe here

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