Stuff a healthier stocking this holiday season

Chronicle Media

In stuffing the stockings this year, give your family healthy snacks and avoid calorie-heavy foods.

Holiday traditions create lasting memories, but have you ever wondered how these traditions got their start? Whoever thought to hang hosiery on the fireplace and stuff it with goodies? 

Jenna Smith, University of Illinois Extension registered dietitian and nutrition and wellness educator, says that while we can’t say for sure how the legend began, it is believed that St. Nicholas heard a man talking about not having enough money to get his three daughters married, so he secretly slid down the man’s chimney and placed gold coins in the girls recently laundered stockings, which were conveniently drying by the fire.  

Now, what about those oranges so often found in the bottom of the stocking? Smith says that this age-old tradition has many interpretations but most often symbolizes St. Nicholas’ gold coins and his giving attitude. 

Today, the orange is typically the only healthy thing found in the stocking. Stores are loaded with high-calorie stocking stuffers, such as chocolate bars and candy stuffed into plastic candy canes. This year, consider a healthier stocking. Smith recommends little boxes of raisins, single serving nut tins, which can be refilled repeatedly, jerky, freeze-dried fruit or fun-flavored sugar-free gum.  

For the coffee lover, look for canned cold brew coffee with 50 calories or less. Stocking stuffers can also be made in the kitchen, such as homemade granola, hot cocoa mix, trail mix, no-salt seasonings or the popcorn recipe below. 

Of course, stockings do not just have to be filled with food. Low-cost, healthy ideas include a new toothbrush, water bottle, kitchen gadget, lip balm with sun protection or hand sanitizer. 

If you are the one stuffing the stockings this year, give your family the gift of health. Pair these items with movie tickets, a new book, or cozy socks, and it is a stuffed stocking everyone will add to their wish list. 


Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn 


10 cups popped popcorn (⅓ cup popcorn kernels) 

1 cup dark chocolate chips 

¼ teaspoon peppermint extract 

1 teaspoon red sprinkles 

1 teaspoon green sprinkles 


Line two large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Spread popped popcorn evenly among pans. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between until chocolate stirs smooth.  

Stir in extract. Using a spoon, drizzle chocolate over popcorn, using a fast-back-and-forth motion.  

Sprinkle the colored sprinkles on top. Allow chocolate to completely harden before placing individual servings in a tin or bag. Yield: 10 servings 

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 150 calories, 8 grams fat, 10 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein 




—  Stuff a healthier stocking this holiday season —-