The Best – and Worst – Holiday Desserts You Can Eat, According to Dietitians

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

The holidays are a special time for friends, family and food. And one meal in particular that can be a diet doozy but is oh-so-delicious is dessert. It wouldn’t be a holiday without some of your favorite treats, though, so digging into those favorite sweets you look forward to each year is a must.

However, some are healthier than others, so choosing the healthiest ones over others, or prioritizing which ones to indulge in based on how much you love them, can be helpful in keeping diet and health in check this season.

Pumpkin Pie with Red Leaves & Pinecones on Plaid Placemat on White Wood Surface to Represent Healthy Holiday Desserts |

Here are some tips on navigating the dessert tray.

“When it comes to choosing the healthiest holiday desserts, portion size is key. I’d rather enjoy in a small portion of something I love, than trade it in for a big portion of something I don’t,” says EA Stewart, MBA, RD, CLT.

And when your calendar is filled with holiday parties, it’s helpful to prioritize your favorites over the course of the week, so you’re not overindulging in heavy appetizers, drinks and dessert at every party you attend, too, she says.

Lastly, “pick some days to skip dessert altogether, and enjoy some fresh fruit instead. Tangerines and pomegranates are two of my favorites this time of year,” she says.

As for more classic holiday desserts, here are the best and worst in terms of nutritional value and serving size.

The best holiday desserts

Best: Dark chocolate peppermint bark

“If you can find some bark with good quality 70% dark chocolate, go for it! Although the sugar content may be high, you’ll be getting a delicious dose of heart healthy polyphenols from the dark chocolate,” she says. And, skip the kind with white chocolate, which will definitely be a sugar and calorie fest.

In about a 2 oz. serving, you’ll get around 288 calories, which isn’t bad one bit.

Best: Pavlova topped with fruit

This is a light and festive dessert for the holidays, featuring a meringue base topped with fresh fruit and a smidge of fresh whipped cream. “Try shaping it into a wreath for an elegant Christmas treat,” she says. In a typical serving, you’ll get around 264 calories, and it’s pretty low in sugar and sodium.

Best: Pumpkin pie

Classic pumpkin pie is a pretty good option, says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each slice has around 250 calories, making it a less caloric pie among others, like pecan or a crumble pie. Plus pumpkin puree has antioxidants to better your skin and heart, and there’s some fiber to keep you full.

Best: Sweet potato pie

Another orange pie, it’s better for you, too. “With the natural sweetness of the sweet potato, you don’t need to add much additional sugar. Plus, the sweet potato contains fiber that is super filling, so you won’t need a large slice to feel satisfied,” says Melissa Mitri, MS, RDN. Each serving has around 200 calories or under, which isn’t bad one bit.

The worst holiday desserts

Worst: Ice cream—on dessert

Ice cream can be a good choice, if you stick to a scoop or two. Yet, tossing it on a slice of pie for dessert is a huge no-no. “I know some people will call me out on this, but, ice cream is something you can enjoy year round, so why not leave it off your pie or cake and save some calories, sugar, and fat,” says Stewart. It’s just an unnecessary garnish for the season.

Worst: Pastry- or crumb-topped pie

“Eating a slice of plain apple pie may fit nicely into your healthyish holiday eating plans, but when you add another layer of crust, or streusel crumb topping, it becomes a hefty calorie bomb,” says Stewart. Ditch the crumbles and double-crusted pies and go for a slice of something with no crust or a crust on just the bottom. Or try baked apples instead! A slice can have around 440 calories, and tons of carbs, which can set you back.

Worst: Pecan pie

When choosing a pie, ditch the sweet pecan pie, as it’s super high in sugar and more caloric than others. There are around 450 calories—double the pumpkin pie—in a serving or slice, and about 57 grams of carbs, as well as around 11 grams of saturated fat. These nutrition facts will set you into that turkey coma for sure! If you want pecans, enjoy a handful as is or candy them for a sweeter treat—yet ditch them in pie form, crust, whip and all!

Worst: Snickerdoodle cookies

OK, this could be any small, sugary, holiday cookie, really. As the portion size is so small, the taste isn’t so great, and they have more calories than you’d think in two tiny bites. “These cookies are delicious but loaded with fat, sugar and calories – with some recipes packing over 400 calories in just two cookies,” says Mitri, in relation to snickerdoodles. Two cookies can set you back around 400 calories—yikes! Not worth it.