One of our favorite Christmas traditions is to spend a day making sweet treats to package beautifully and deliver to family, friends, or even the postman/woman or perhaps some random person we meet who looks like they need a little kindness. What’s that now? A dietitian giving out sweets? Yes, you’ve heard that right. In my practice, I focus on balance and sweet treats have a place on rare occasion. However, if indulgence is in order, why not pump up the nutritional value? Let me show you how.
Chocolate, that beloved confection of millions of Americans. There would be no true Christmas sweet treat without it. Nutritionally speaking, the greater the concentration of cocoa in chocolate, the greater the antioxidant value. What would be the perfect nutrition marriage with this delightful confection? Nuts and dried fruit, of course!
Nuts provide energy, antioxidants, protein, dietary fiber, vitamin, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fats (the healthy fats). Nuts are versatile and easily added to cookies, candy, salads, baked sweet potatoes, pancakes, stir fry, homemade trail mix, and so much more!
Toasting nuts sometimes changes their taste profile a bit. Personally, I love to toast slivered or sliced almonds. I do this by lining a cookie sheet with parchment paper and placing in the oven at 350 degrees. The nuts should toast in about 5 – 7 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they burn easily. When the nuts are ready they will be a nice golden brown. Have a taste test and compare the almonds both raw and toasted. I’ll bet you are pleasantly surprised to find that toasted almonds are your new favorite.
Dried fruits make a nutritious addition to sweets, salads, and trail mix as well. They are also rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Keep in mind that dried fruits are concentrated in sugar so don’t overuse them.
For the chocolate treats I photographed here, I selected chocolate with a minimum 60% cocoa and white almond bark. I used pistachios and dried cherries to add beautiful green and red color to these Christmas treats.
To make these treats, start by lining a 9 x 9 baking pan with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave stirring every 30 seconds. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the pistachios and dried cherries and mix well. Add the chocolate mixture to the baking pan spreading evenly along the bottom. Place in the refrigerator until completely cooled. Once cool, remove the dark chocolate from the refrigerator, melt more of the white almond bark, and drizzle on the dark chocolate to add a little more color and place back in the refrigerator to cool again.
The parchment paper makes it easier to remove the chocolate from the pans. After the chocolate is broken into pieces it looks so beautiful and festive when placed in glass mason jars and tied with a piece of yarn. Friends and family will be delighted to accept such a beautiful and delicious gift and you can choose whether or not to enlighten them as to the added nutritional value of your present.
I’d like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2017. Additionally, I’d like you all to know how grateful I am to have you as fans and followers. For the next two weeks I will be enjoying time with friends and family and do not have plans to update my website. However, I have great plans for sharing recipes, nutrition and wellness information, and more in the coming year. So stay tuned!