Meatless Monday: Latino Holiday Desserts

This Meatless Monday, I’m focusing on the course that is always vegetarian--dessert. Nothing makes a holiday gathering like great food, especially post-dinner sweets. This year, add Latino sabor to your holiday fiestas with delicious desserts with an Hispanic flare.

Traditional holiday foods evoke memories of time spent with familia. My husband loves sweet Mexican cookies with hot chocolate in the winter, and an amiga from El Salvador insists on having arroz con leche at each family gathering.

Add these treats to your menu:

Natalie's Sabor Latino Holiday Dessert Ideas

  • Tres leches cake: This sweet sponge cake is made with three types of milk. Choose a recipe like this one that uses nonfat milk to cut calories. 
  • Pumpkin flan: A sweet flan is a perfect way to end any meal. The Wise Latina Club’s Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D. shares a delicious pumpkin flan recipe here.
  • Mexican sugar cookies: Also referred to as Mexican wedding cookies, these powdered-sugar covered polvorones are a popular holiday treat.
  • Arroz con leche: Creamy rice pudding flavored with cinnamon and raisins is one of my favorite desserts. This recipe uses brown rice and lowfat milk to make this classic dessert healthier.
  • Churros: Since first trying them in Spain, I have loved these doughy treats served with hot chocolate. Reduce the fat by choosing a baked churros recipe instead of a fried version.
  • Ponche: At family Christmases in Mexico, this hot spiced fruit punch keeps us warm as we talk and eat late into the night.


As a vegetarian, dessert is an easier course for me than others where meat reigns such as appetizers and the entrée. But festive gatherings mean consuming more food than normal and more tempting sweets that could lead to holiday weight gain. Although I have a sweet tooth, I have managed to find ways to satisfy it while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too? It’s all about choices that cut back on sugar, fat, and calories!

3 Tips for Healthy Holiday Desserts

  1. Choose fruit-based treats: Raw fruit is your healthiest dessert option, but if you’re craving something a bit sweeter, try chocolate dipped strawberries or bananas, caramelized pears, or fruit salad.
  2. Bake with healthy ingredients: Making Christmas cookies? Substitute healthy alternatives for high-fat ingredients. Always use whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, replace butter with applesauce, choose nonfat or nondairy milk over whole milk, buttermilk, or cream, and choose light versions of sour cream and cheeses.
  3. Don’t overindulge: Even healthy desserts should be enjoyed in moderation. At home, store desserts in an out-of-sight location like on top of the fridge instead of out on the countertop. At parties, choose a smaller plate so you won't pile on too many sweets, and don’t stand next to the food table where you are more likely to grab seconds and thirds. Whenever possible, have healthy snacks such as fresh fruits or unsalted nuts available as an alternative to the chocolate layer cake.

Click here for 31 healthy dessert ideas. 

Making smart dietary choices is important to maintaining good health. Avoiding excess sugar can help prevent diet-related diseases like diabetes and obesity.

Celebrate the holidays with a new Latino dessert receta, and enjoy your favorite sweets in moderation all year long. The best gift you can give loved ones is your health.

¿Need Meatless Monday inspiration? Click here to read more of my recipes.

The Wise Latina Club's Natalie Wagner FierroA teacher by day, The Wise Latina Club’s Natalie Wagner Fierro is the co-founder of the Institute for Student Health. She equally loves food (cooking or dining in Washington’s restaurants) and burning calories by distance running, practicing yoga, and archery. Click here to read more about and connect with Natalie.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

What are your favorite holiday desserts?