The holidays are upon us once again. For many, this is a time for family and friends, giving thanks, and making memories. When it comes to foods, there are many favorites that come to mind that define the holiday season. Without them, it just doesn’t feel right. If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but think of cookies and other sweets. However, sweets don’t always go hand in hand with eating healthy, whole foods and can make this time of year bittersweet.

Knowing how to convert recipes can be hard. If you’ve tried to do this, you probably have also learned that often the results just don’t taste as good. Sure, you can go to Pinterest and see how others have made delicious cookies or cakes using healthier substitutes, but when you try to replicate their recipes... well, there’s a reason we now use the phrase ‘Pinterest fail’.

The other challenge is figuring out what changes to make to your favorite holiday recipes in order to make them ‘healthier’. Everybody seems to have an idea, and trying to validate the facts tends to make you more confused. If you ask me, healthy baking is one of the hardest things you can do in your kitchen. Each recipe needs a careful blend of sugars, fats, and flour. Most of these ingredients are considered by many experts to be something that should be consumed in moderation or eliminated completely—I’m talking about refined sugars and highly processed flours.

So what can you do? I don’t have all the answers, but I will share a few tips that I use for baking that might help you convert some recipes to something that is just a bit healthier for you. There are three main substitutions I am highlighting that will make your baking healthier: use all organic ingredients, use gluten-free flours, and make vegan substitutions.

Organic ingredients help to reduce your exposure to any additives or other chemicals that are used in food processing that might be harmful, such as pesticides. These toxins are being linked to chronic inflammation which may lead to other long-term health problems. Gluten is also being linked to increased inflammation for some people and others are either sensitive or intolerant. This is why I like to use gluten-free options when baking.

The vegan substitutions I usually make are for eggs and butter. When baking, I replace the eggs with a flax substitute. Avocado is another great option that works well, especially if you are working with chocolate (see my recipe in the February 2019 issue of Tumbleweird to learn more about this option). I don’t always substitute the butter, but when I do, I usually use coconut oil. Personally, I don’t use eggs because I am sensitive to them, and the baking benefits are not worth it to me. Dairy can also be linked to increased inflammation for some people, which is why I try to find substitutes for it whenever I can.

One last thing about converting a recipe that is important to note. It’s not just a simple case of ‘replace the targeted ingredients and you’ll get a delicious dessert’. It may take some trial and error. For example, this month’s recipe came out flat—literally, flat—the first time I tried it. While they tasted delicious, they did not look anything like cookies. To get these cookies to look like cookies, I had to first research the proper ratios of flour, fat, and sugar (3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part sugar) and then modify the recipe based on those values. Turns out, the math worked! So this month, I am sharing with you a delicious vegan, gluten-free, white chocolate cranberry pistachio cookie.

To help make your own conversions to your favorite holiday recipes, you can find out more about specific baking ratios on the Food Network website.

Happy holidays!


Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 20 mins
Yield: 24 cookies


  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup organic brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 2 tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 6 tbsp filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon quality pure organic vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (see note)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup chopped shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prepare a flax egg by mixing the flaxseed meal with the water and let sit for about 5 minutes.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil and sugars. Using an electric mixer, blend until well mixed and there are no longer any lumps from the coconut oil (about 3–5 minutes). Mix in the flax egg and vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Carefully add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, adding about half the flour mixture at a time until fully combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and pistachio nuts.
  5. Form small balls (about 1–1½ inches in diameter) for each cookie. Place them onto an ungreased cookie sheet and then flatten until they are about ½ an inch high. These will not spread like normal cookies, so you need to pre-shape them before they bake.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8–10 minutes or until they just begin to turn golden around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: If using unsalted nuts, add an additional 1/4 teaspoon salt to the flour.

Erika is a Certified Health Coach at Empowered Health Institute in Richland. She can usually be found either with her nose stuck in a book or experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.