Father and kids tasting oatmeal cookies

10 Healthier Snacks and Gift Ideas for the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time with family, friends, gifts, and indulgent desserts. However, too much sugar can impact your family's oral health! There are several healthier alternatives and recipe substitutions for holiday desserts. These include swapping cups of sugar out for apple sauce, topping cakes and cookies with nuts and dried fruit, or swapping out candy for a board game instead. All of these steps will reduce the amount of sugar you and your family consume during the holiday season.

Healthy holiday treats for kids

The reason sugar is bad for your teeth is that bacteria love to eat sugar. When bacteria in your mouth break down sugar, the bacteria release acid. The acid weakens tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay and cavities. The good news is that reducing the amount of sugar in holiday treats can be easy! If you swap out as much white sugar with fruit or nuts, you will add more nutritional value and less of that acid on your children's teeth. Here are several ideas for holiday treats that can have less sugar but still taste just as good.

Healthier Christmas Cookies

  1. Gingerbread cookies - While sugar cookies are typically loaded with more than a cup of sugar, gingerbread cookies can still taste delicious with half the amount of sugar inside. Plus, if you add pumpkin, that increases the amount of healthy fiber in the cookies.
  2. Oatmeal cookies - Oatmeal has more fiber than typical sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies. Also, you can easily substitute applesauce for white sugar in the recipe for extra goodness.
  3. Almond cookies - Almonds have protein and healthy fats. They can easily be added to streusel cookies or on top of other cookies for extra nutrition for kids.
  4. Jelly thumbprint cookies - You can add lower-sugar or sugar-free jellies and jams to jelly thumbprint cookies, reducing the amount of sugar in these delectable treats.

What should kids eat during the holidays?

Many other popular holiday treats can be healthier with just a couple of recipe changes or substitutions.

  1. Pumpkin pie - Pumpkin pies are classic desserts during the holidays and have a good serving of fiber in a slice. It's easy to reduce the amount of sugar by passing on the whipped cream and cutting the amount of sugar in the filling.
  2. Chocolate-covered strawberries - Your kids will love the fruit and the chocolate. Substitute dark chocolate for milk chocolate, and you will reduce the amount of sugar.
  3. Nut-based cookies and pies - Nuts are a great source of fiber and can be pretty sweet themselves! Relying on the natural sweetness of almonds or macadamia nuts or using almond flour instead of bleached white flour can make a big difference in the number of carbohydrates.
  4. Semi-sweet or dark hot chocolate - Dark chocolate hot cocoa with peppermint extract or dark chocolate pudding using avocado as an emulsifier will reduce the amount of sugar in your family's holiday treats.
  5. Dried fruit - Dried cranberries or orange are good alternatives to candies and other simple sugars, as long as they are eaten in moderation. Substitute dried fruits to cakes to reduce the amount of sugar in the dough.
  6. Soft cheeses - Instead of cookies, cakes, or pies, soft cheeses can be an alternative. Cheese doesn't have as many sugars, and dairy can neutralize those acids that weaken enamel.

Healthy holiday snacks

Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean your kids shouldn't eat their vegetables! Instead of bringing another pie to the holiday party, bringing vegetable trays with hummus is a good alternative. You can also bring green beans, corn, and other veggie-based dishes instead of sweet treats, for everyone to enjoy.

Holiday alternatives to sweet treats

Of course, you can also pick stocking stuffers that are for fun, instead of for eating.

  • Puzzles or board games
  • Small toys such as cars, bouncing balls
  • Toothbrushes
  • Craft supplies
  • Books

Limit sugar time

Sugar can impact your enamel more when you're consuming sugar throughout the day. Sucking on hard candies, sipping sugary drinks, or grazing on cookies all day long will be worse for your teeth! If your family is going to indulge in sweet treats, limit treat time to mealtimes and then clean your teeth afterward.

Always brush after eating a sugary treat

Everyone should brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day for two minutes each time and clean between your teeth once a day. But during the holidays it's a good idea to brush your teeth at least three times, especially after meals. As we eat more treats and desserts, removing the sugar, bacteria, and plaque can help prevent tooth decay and gingivitis.

Lastly, holiday breaks from school are a great time to schedule dental cleanings and checkups with your family dentist. As always, you can ask your dentist and dental hygienist for more tips for keeping up your family's oral health during the holidays.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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