The holiday season means Christmas cookies galore. But we've got tips on how to bake healthy brownies and other treats

By Marnie Soman Schwartz
Corbis Images

Christmas cookie (and cupcake, and doughnut, and pie...) season has officially begun. But the month-long treat-fest doesn't have to mean the end of healthy eating. These kitchen hacks from chefs, nutritionists, and other foodies will help you pack more of the good stuff (protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals) into your baked goods, while helping you slash the fat and calories at the same time.

The best part: These healthy desserts all still taste delicious!

Add Black Beans to Your Brownies...and Zucchini to Your Blondies

Really! Get your chocolate fix-and extra fiber and protein-by adding beans to your brownies, like in this vegan, gluten-free recipe from Minimalist Baker. Another option: Zucchini makes these blondies from Chocolate Covered Katie moist and gooey without added fat.

Make 'Em Mini

Invest in a set of mini muffin tins (or doughnut trays) and you'll have built-in portion control, advises Keri Gans, R.D., a Shape advisory board member and the author of The Small Change Diet. Mini versions of your favorite holiday cookies are just as enjoyable as oversized ones...and they're cuter too!

Add Chia to Your Cookies

Chia seeds add fiber, omega-3s, potassium, iron, and calcium to your baked goods. The folks at Carrington Farms recommend adding 2 tablespoons of the seeds to your batter for every dozen cookies or muffins. (For more ideas, check out these Quick and Easy Chia Seed Recipes.)

Use Chickpea Flour

When you make baked goods from chickpea flour, you're getting fiber and protein from those beans, says nutritionist Ashley Koff, R.D. Since flour swaps can be tricky with baking, she seeks out recipes specifically designed for chickpea flour (try these other 8 New Types of Flour too) and makes sure to include plenty of health-boosting spices, like cinnamon (which helps with blood sugar control) and ginger (which is anti-inflammatory).

Make Coconut-y Cookies

At L.A., plant-based hotspot Gracias Madre, executive chef Chandra Gilbert uses coconut oil instead of butter in her Mexican wedding cookies. Make them yourself: Beat together 8 ounces coconut oil and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until well combined. Add 1 cup pecans, 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon vanilla, and mix until fluffy. Use a scoop to form into balls and flatten them to a 1/2-inch thick. Refrigerate for 10 minutes and then bake for 20 minutes at 350°F, rotating halfway through. Cool on a wire rack.

Bake Pie Right Into the Apple

It doesn't feel like the holidays without pie, right? This year, skip the buttery crust, and put your apple filling right into the fruit, like in this Crustless Apple Pie recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Use Greek Cream Cheese Instead of Regular Cream Cheese

Whether you're baking a cheesecake or frosting cupcakes with a cheesecake icing, Green Mountain Farms Greek Cream Cheese, which is made from a combo of Greek yogurt and cream cheese, will halve the fat and increase the protein fourfold. Plus, it has good-for-you probiotics.

Add Pumpkin to Everything

Instead of swapping butter or oil for applesauce, try using pumpkin puree as a replacement instead, which has a creamier texture (and a pretty orange hue!), says New York-based nutritionist Jessica Cording, R.D. If you've got any left over, try one of these Low-Calorie Desserts-the pumpkin pie only takes two minutes to make!

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