Holiday time may be one big indulgence-fest between the cookies and hot cocoa, but that doesn’t mean seasonal libations have to be so naughty. With a few swaps, substitutions, and a good dose of holiday cheer, make your favorite festive drinks a little bit nicer (and healthier) with these merry recipes. Happy sipping!
1. EggnogPhoto: Becky / The Vintage Mixer
This thick and creamy drink dates back as far as the 14th century. Back then, eggs weren’t a part of the equation until they (and milk) were more accessible. Because it’s traditionally made with a mixture of dairy and eggs, eggnog is nearly identical to ice cream — except added alcohol makes it impossible to freeze the liquid. Old-school ‘nog contains tons of sugar too. Though a cup of the original beverage can pack more than 300 calories, these recipes lighten things up by using ingredients including kefir, bananas, almond milk, and low-fat milk as the base.
2. Hot Buttered Rum
Photo: Rachael / Set the Table
Both a bluegrass band and a super rich beverage, hot buttered rum typically contains heaping spoonfuls of brown sugar and — unsurprisingly — a stick or two of butter. That’s right, drinkable butter. The following recipes hang tight to that butter flavor, only in much smaller quantities (read: tablespoons versus sticks). The key here is to really spice things up with plenty of cinnamon or pumpkin spice.
3. SangriaPhoto: Molly / Yes to Yolks
Sangria isn’t restricted to the holidays. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile cocktails out there and can be altered accordingly for any season or occasion. The following versions use wintery superfoods such as cranberries, apples, and pomegranates. To tone down the caloric impact of your sangria, top it off with seltzer and skip the added sugar.
4. Mulled WinePhoto: Heather / Flourishing Foodie
Historically made with cheap wine and rarely served to guests, this brew isn’t the most glamorous, but it still tastes good. Affectionately known as Glogg, mulled wine is generally made with red wine, spices — cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves — honey, and brandy. Just like other items on this list, these healthier recipes focus on the spices and cut down on all that extra sweet stuff.
5. Spiked Hot ChocolatePhoto: Lee / Fit Foodie Finds
Mmm… hot chocolate. Though this winter staple may remind you of elementary school snow days, it’s even tastier as a big kid. Chocolate is actually healthy, so long as it's mostly cocoa and not pumped with additional fat and sugar. The spiked stuff doesn’t have to be so sinful, either. Use a milk of your choice, invest in a quality cocoa powder (none of that packet nonsense), and make it the old-fashioned way on the stovetop.
6. Hot ToddyPhoto: Aimee / Wallflower Girl
The good ‘ol hot toddy — made with whiskey or rum, lemon, and honey — may actually alleviate cold symptoms. It also tastes delicious and comforting (triple win). These recipes jazz up the original, which is inherently pretty healthy, with fun and flavorful ingredients like sage leaves, ginger, and lots of lemon.
7. Candy CanePhoto: Lisa / Snappy Gourmet
Peppermint may just be the signature flavor of Christmastime. As festive as this candy is, traditional cocktails made with the swirly canes can top the charts as far as sugar is concerned. Generally made with full-fat cream and sugary spirits, these versions can be made healthier with milk or milk alternatives and by using the candy cane as a garnish, not a central ingredient.
8. Spiced CiderPhoto: Teri / Spoon Fork Bacon
Oftentimes, spiced cider is less about the spice and more about the sweetness. And by that we mean adding loads of sugar to naturally sweet apple juice. Enjoy this warm, cozy drink without a sugar high by sticking to the good stuff — limit your recipe to cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and of course, apple cider.
Did we miss any of your holiday favorites? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.