Skip to main content

Fresh Fall Flavors for Thanksgiving (or any day!): Perfectly Portioned Desserts

  • Author:
  • Updated:

With huge holidays coming up, it'll be a long haul until January 1st. For those committed to the healthy resolutions you made for 2012, here are some ways to help make your foray into the dessert course less dangerous.

Swap ingredients. In addition to choosing what you eat, look to control what you put in your desserts. Instead of butter, use heart-healthy olive, peanut, canola or avocado oils. Instead of all-purpose, use whole wheat flour. Use light coconut milk for heavy cream. For sour cream, substitute low-fat Greek yogurt. In place of some eggs, use egg whites.

chill out music

Settle into your surroundings. Before heading straight for the dessert buffet, take some time to enjoy your company and let your food digest. Allow yourself at least 20-30 minutes after the meal to help gauge how full you are, then portion accordingly.

chill out music

Preview the goodies. Check out all your options and use a small dessert plate for only your must-haves. Skip those that you think might make a repeat appearance later in the season. And don't forget to save room for another party!

chill out music

Consider a dessert alternative. A cup of tea, champagne, or decaf coffee may be just the finisher you’re craving. These all have far fewer calories, fat, and sugar than that slice of pie and may leave you just as content.

chill out music

There’s always tomorrow. Whether you’re the hostess or the guest, you can package and save some treats until later in the evening or tomorrow. Waiting until you're actually hungry will help you enjoy them more. A good host is always happy to send guests home with leftovers, so think about bringing some Tupperware along for your takeout.

chill out music

For your own decadent pre-portioned desserts, give one of these a try!

Verily Magazine Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting


Makes 3 dozen

This seasonal twist on a traditional classic is full of beta-carotene and flavor-rich pumpkin. Cream cheese frosting balances the sweet, spiced cookies. The individual portioning prevents guests from overindulging. These can be made up to 3 days ahead of your big event and stored in the refrigerator.

For pumpkin cookies:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For cream cheese frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
16 oz cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until combined. Whisk flour mixture into pumpkin mixture slowly until fully mixed.

Line 2 large baking sheets with wax or parchment paper. Using an ice cream scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on pan or cooling racks. Let cool completely before assembling the frosting.

While cookies cool, make the frosting. In an electric mixer with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat butter until fluffy. Add cream cheese and mix to combine. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth and fully mixed. Transfer to a pastry bag or a ziplock bag with one corner snipped.

Place walnuts on a plate and set aside. Assemble whoopie pies by piping frosting onto one cookie and sandwiching with another cookie, pressing down slightly to allow frosting to ooze to the edges. Roll the exterior frosting in chopped walnuts. Place assembled whoopie pies in a wax paper or parchment-lined container covered with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies before serving, up to 3 days.

Verily Magazine Dark Chocolate Orange Tarts with Toasted Almonds


Makes 12 mini tarts

Adapted fromBon Appetit

Anti-oxidant rich dark chocolate with seasonal orange and cinnamon make for a rich, wintery dessert. Making mini tarts in muffin tins allows you and your guests to enjoy just the perfect individual portion. These can be made 1 day ahead; just cover loosely with foil and keep refrigerated.

Candied orange peel:
2 oranges
1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Tart filling:
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier


Prepare candied orange peel. Using vegetable peeler, remove orange rind in strips. Cut strips into matchstick pieces. Place orange peel and cold water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 seconds then add sugar. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer until syrup is thick, about 20 minutes. Using a fork, transfer peels to a plate and cool.

Prepare the crust. Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in cocoa powder. Add flour and beat until dough comes together in moist clumps. Gather dough into a ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Roll out dough between sheets of waxed paper. Peel off the top sheet of paper. Cut dough into large rounds using a large, round cookie cutter or the top of a glass.  Gently press dough rounds into cups of a muffin pan. Pierce the dough with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake crust until sides look dry and bottom looks bubbly, about 7-10 minutes. Using the back of a spoon, press up sides of dough if falling. Cool completely.

Prepare tart filling. Toss almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Chop all but 24 strips of the candied orange peel. Sprinkle chopped orange peel, then almond mixture over the bottom of your prepared crusts. Place cream in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and mixture is smooth; mix in Grand Marnier. Pour into crusts. Refrigerate until filling is firm, at least 3 hours. Garnish each mini tart with 1-2 orange peel strips.

Using a sharp knife, gently loosen crusts from muffin pan sides. Remove mini tarts and serve cold.

chill out music

Suzanne Hollander, MS, RD

chill out music

Suzanne practices as a Clinical Dietitian in Los Angeles, where in her free time she enjoys running, hiking, cooking and exploring Southern California (including frequent attempts at the stuffed animal claw machine). Recipes packed with seasonal flavors, conversation-sparking surprises, and easy prep work are her saving graces year-round. Check out her musings on delicious food and healthy living at

Suzy Foods