The holiday season features time-honored traditions, family recipes and — all too often — rich party foods that can fill you with excess calories, cholesterol and guilt.

This year, enjoy delicious holiday fare that’s healthy, too. Whether you’re throwing a party or going to one, you can indulge wisely. LifeTimes asked award-winning chef Brian Emmett, winner of the American Baking Competition, to share some tips for healthier holiday entertaining. 

LifeTimes: Do you modify any of your own baking when you feel like your family is on holiday sugar overload? How do you keep your family from too many indulgences?

Brian Emmett: I'm always looking for ways to lighten things up — kind of like a "recipe rehab" of sorts. For instance, try cutting the sugar by one-third to one-half in dessert recipes. Add sweet spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg or cut refined sugars by using honey. Reduce the fat in dessert recipes by replacing some of the oil or butter in baked goods with applesauce or soft bananas. You can also sub low-fat Greek yogurt-based products or skim milk to replace recipes that call for whole dairy products, like sour cream or cream cheese, or even whole milk. 

When you add whole-wheat flour to a recipe it gives your recipe a healthier boost than just using all-purpose flour. Many recipes can also accommodate gluten-free flours. They just change the consistency of the baked goods, and it may take a little experimenting.


LifeTimes: You learned to bake from your grandmothers. What were some of the traditional holiday favorites they would bake? Do you make them the same way, or have you altered these recipes for the modern cook?

Brian Emmett: My grandmothers loved to make cookies and pies. The one I remember most is a traditional apple pie for the holidays. I always try to make it like they did with no recipe from them, and it just is never the same. So I took what I believed they used to make, and now I make my own by sprinkling the pie dough with apple cider vinegar to give it an extra kick.

LifeTimes: What are some of your family’s holiday favorite cooking and baking traditions?

Brian Emmett: We love to have cookie exchanges around the holidays where everybody gets to gather and bring their favorite to sample. It is super fun and super festive!

LifeTimes: Do you have any favorites from growing up that you make during the holidays?

Brian Emmett: My grandmother was French, and I love to make French pastries, especially around the holidays, but they can be a challenge to make. They require a bit of time and concentration, but I'm always up for it, and my family loves napoleons and croissants.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Brian shares a tart recipe that’s a healthier showstopper for the season known for sweets. Watch Brian make this delicious recipe in the video above.

When you make this savory tart, you can play with the combination of veggies and cheese to suit your taste. Try using less cheese, and you’ll find the results can be just as tasty.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
2 cups plus one tablespoon finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella or sliced fresh mozzarella
5 large Heirloom or Roma tomatoes sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices. Or use drained, oil-packed sundried tomato slices
1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice: basil, oregano, chives or thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil to drizzle


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the center.
  2. Combine the flours, a pinch of salt and pepper, and grated Parmesan or Pecorino in a bowl or food processor. Stir or pulse to combine. Then add the cold butter and mix or pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of ice water until dough comes together to form a ball. If the dough is too dry, add more ice water one teaspoon at a time.
  3. Press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  4. Poke holes with a fork all over the chilled crust, then line it with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Blind bake for 20 minutes, then remove weights and lining and bake for about 10 minutes more, until golden. Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. To assemble the tart, arrange the shredded cheeses evenly over the bottom of the cooled crust, then layer the tomatoes on top in a circular pattern. Top with most of the herbs plus a tablespoon of grated Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese has melted and the tomatoes are soft. Remove from oven and season with remaining herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve with washed, mixed greens drizzled with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar and black pepper.