The holidays are full of treats and indulgences, and festive drinks are definitely on the menu. Everyone, including little ones, wants to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, and drinking mulled apple cider after caroling makes for sweet memories. To keep our families nourished and happy this holiday season, we set out to make healthier versions of some holiday favorites from near and far. From a hot chocolate that incorporates sweet potato puree to bringing an African twist to a traditional Russian tea, our versions are a little untraditional. Happily, we think they make up in taste what they lack in authenticity! As always, we recommend using organic and Fair Trade ingredients whenever possible: better for you, your family, and the people who grow and make our food! So read on for 5 healthier, holiday drinks that combine old favorite traditions with new tastes and health benefits.
Some may be scratching their heads at the idea of vegan eggnog, and I must admit, it’s been a while since I’ve tasted a traditional eggnog. Store-bought brands of vegan eggnog often taste cloyingly sweet and just like oversugared non-dairy milk. So while there is nary a raw egg in sight for this vegan eggnog, the recipe yields a rich, creamy, and decadent holiday drink that contains coconut and almond milks and uses maple syrup to add a natural, yet mellow sweetness. It even includes a frozen banana for texture and some fruit power.
Makes about 4-5 (small but very rich!) servings
- 4-6 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- dash of ground cloves
- dash of ground cardamom
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 banana, chopped into pieces and frozen
Blend all the ingredients in a blender. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving (my preference). The eggnog will thicken as it sits, so you may want to stir it after a while. It will keep 2-3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Russian Fruit Tea
My kids love tea, especially chamomile or mint made with just fresh or dried mint leaves and hot water. The holidays, however, call for something a little extra, and Russian fruit tea, or tea combined with spices and fruit juice, seemed like a fun December treat. Russian tea traditionally uses black tea as its base, but I opted for some red rooibos instead: along with being naturally caffeine-free, it contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols, minerals including iron and calcium, and is being studied for its ability to treat allergies and help build healthy skin. Plus, it tastes delicious! Russian tea is often sweetened with fruit jam, so feel free to try that instead of agave nectar or honey.
Makes 1-2 servings
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 whole clove or about 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1 red rooibos teabag
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp orange juice
- 1-2 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
In a teapot or saucepan, boil water, cinnamon, and clove. Add tea bag. Turn off heat, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. Stir in lemon and orange juices and agave nectar or honey. Strain out whole clove (if using) and tea bag and enjoy!
Vegan Hot Chocolate with Sweet Potato Puree
We don’t really believe in “hiding” our fruits and veggies, but I see nothing wrong in quietly adding them in surprising (and undetectable) places occasionally. Hot chocolate is one of these places with the addition of a little sweet potato puree (I’m convinced that pumpkin puree would work as well in this recipe as it does here!). This hot chocolate keeps it super simple with just four ingredients, but it makes a really tasty, filling drink that you can feel good about your kids (or yourself) drinking. The key is really blending the sweet potato well, so especially if you are using homemade sweet potato puree, make sure your mixture is smooth and not chunky (chunky hot chocolate=no fun!). I like to make hot chocolate one serving at a time, but feel free to multiply this recipe for all the hot chocolate sippers in your house! And don’t forget the add-ons like candy canes for stirring, cinnamon to make your drink a Mexican hot chocolate, etc! And here’s a fun fact: all those fancy French places where the hot chocolate tastes so divine-they also blend their hot chocolate to make it light and frothy. The addition of sweet potato puree hasn’t seemed to catch on quite yet however!
Makes 1 serving (easily multiplied)
- 1 cup non-dairy milk
- 1/4 cup sweet potato puree
- 2 Tbsp chocolate chips
- 1-2 tsp agave nectar, or to taste
Blend the milk and sweet potato puree together in a blender until smooth and a little frothy. Pour into a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chocolate chips, whisking in until melted. Add the agave nectar to taste. Pour into a cup and enjoy (or top with vegan whipped cream, chocolate shavings, a candy cane, cinnamon, etc).
Easiest ever mulled cider
This is kind of a cheater recipe, but it bears including simply because it illustrates a golden rule of parenting: You can (and should) dilute your children’s fruity drinks. I don’t think juices are inherently “bad,” but apple cider can be super sweet. This recipe allows kids to have a sweet, spiced treat with a lot less sugar. And its very adaptable, so play around with the spices if you want, or even the ratio of water to cider.
Makes 2 servings
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 whole cloves or 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
Put all ingredients into a small pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes. Let cool to a comfortable drinking temperature then stir well and serve.
Warm Fruit Punch (or Ponche Navideño)
A friend born and bred in Mexico shared her childhood memories of ponche navideño with me, and it sounded delicious. What kid doesn’t like fruit punch? Ponche navideño is traditionally served in Mexican homes and by street vendors during the holidays, particularly during Las Posadas, a period of 9 days leading up to Christmas when the Nativity story is re-enacted, and many parties are held. Traditional ponche recipes call for more exotic fruits like guava and tejocote (a small fruit in the crabapple family) as well as LOTS of sugar (and rum), so I made a basic and healthier version with commonly found ingredients that still earned a “Yum! That’s good” award from my four-year-old. I think this version tastes a bit like mulled apple cider as well. My favorite part: ponche navideños include lots of cut-up fruit (similar to sangria) that get all cooked and sweet, so this holiday treat is like a drink and a dessert all rolled up together!
Makes 4-6 servings (depending on how much of the cooked fruit you include in each serving)
- 3 cups water
- 1 apple, diced into small chunks
- 1 pear, diced into small chunks
- 1/8 cup raisins
- 1/2-3/4 cup orange juice, divided
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 4-6 Tbsp coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
In small pot, add water, fruit, and orange juice. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes. Add lemon juice and coconut sugar as needed (depending on sweetness of the fruit, you may not need 6 Tbsp) and cook until sugar dissolves. Add up to 1/4 cup more orange juice as desired. Serve warm.