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Cookies are a kind of emotional currency during the holidays. We create rituals around baking them to connect to past generations and make future memories. We trade them as tokens of friendship and good cheer, and we prize them as the epitome of a heartfelt gift, worthy even of Santa. This time of year, eating cookies is a way to literally take in the holiday spirit.

But being inundated for weeks with piles of buttery, sugary morsels can also be stressful for those trying to stay fit and healthy. You feel as if you have to choose between two things you value; either you stick to your wellness goals or you participate in a meaningful edible tradition. That tension can be anxiety-inducing.

But you don’t have to pick sides. In fact, neither extreme is a good place to be. Pigging out on holiday cookies means paying the price come January, but abandoning them entirely leaves you feeling like you got a lump of coal for Christmas. The balance to strike here is a happy, or should I say merry, medium.

Know your daily dose

Eating cookies ”in moderation” is sensible advice, but so vague it’s not much help. How many can you really eat and stay within healthy parameters? The answer, based on my professional but informal analysis, is two small cookies each day. That’s assuming you are at least moderately active and are not going overboard with other holiday fare.

To reach that conclusion I consulted my handy-dandy nutrition software for the numbers on classic varieties, from gingerbread men to sugar cookies, and I perused the data posted for a sampling of The Washington Post’s holiday cookies. While there is a wide range, depending on the size and the recipe, on average, two small (two-inch diameter) cookies come in at roughly 140 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat and 14 grams (about 3 teaspoons) of added sugar.

Those numbers fit well within the USDA guidelines for the number of discretionary (“empty”) calories you can afford in a day (about 200 calories for most people), as well as the American Heart Association’s limit for saturated fat (13 grams for most) and sugar (6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men).

Be choosy

Two cookies might not sound like much if you typically inhale that many in the time you spend standing over the platter contemplating which to take with you. But it is a reasonable limit that simply calls for a shift in mentality. It demands a level of choosiness. Why waste your allotment on the half-stale, store-bought crumbs in the break room when you know your neighbor is bringing her famous snickerdoodles that evening? The two-cookie ceiling makes you stop and ask yourself whether the treats in front of you are really worth it, and stops you from eating those that aren’t.

Stop and savor

Once you have that glorious, baked embodiment of what you crave in front of you, for goodness’ sake, take the time to savor it. Step away from the TV and computer. Brew yourself some fresh coffee or a cup of tea, or pour a glass of cold milk. Put the cookies on a plate. Sit down and make a point of really tasting each bite. Experience all the flavors and textures as they unfold. You will not only be honoring the effort that went into baking such a special confection, you will be enjoying it more.

Save some for later

Of course, you don’t want any excellent, lovingly made holiday cookies to go to waste, but that’s no reason to overindulge now because, luckily, cookies freeze very well. Wrap them in plastic or foil, then put them in a resealable freezer bag and freeze them for up to 2 months for optimal quality. To thaw, just put them out at room temperature for a couple of hours.

Freezing them is akin to recording your favorite television series. By doing so, you can indulge on your own schedule without feeling pressure to binge-watch during a marathon airing. By DVR-ing your cookies, you create a stash of holiday juju to tap into, two at a time, whenever you need it.


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