Lighten Up Your Cookie Swap

This year, plan a healthier holiday cookie exchange that's big on fun and lighter on calories, with these expert tricks and tips. Plus, get guilt-free recipes for Christmas goodies and more.

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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.

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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.

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Keep Snacks Light


Baking blogger Michelle Norris of 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.

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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 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

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Switch Up the Sugar

Sugar-Free Coconut Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Prep 15 m
Bake 15 m

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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

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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

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Get a Little Fruity

Linzer Cookies
Prep 30 m
Bake 8 m
Chill several hours

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Go Guilt Free

Mint Meringues
Prep 15 m
Bake 120 m

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Think Small

Strawberry Thumbprints
Makes 36
Prep 10 m
Chill 60 m
Bake 12 - 14 m

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Top Wisely

Basic Sugar Cookie Dough
Prep 15 m
Chill 240 m
Bake 10 - 12 m

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Choose More Flavor

Spice Crackles
Makes 24
Prep 15 m
Chill 60 m
Bake 14 m