To some, the phrase “healthy desserts” might seem contradictory. How can any dessert be truly satisfying without all the not-so-nutritious parts? Can you make something crave-worthy with fewer carbs, sugar, and fat? The simple answer is YES! All it takes is a bit of creativity, consistency, and commitment to developing healthier habits.
Well, it might be more complicated than that, but that’s where this guide comes in handy. Below, you’ll find helpful tips for making healthy sweet options for you and your family. Read on to learn about smart substitutes, good-for-you ingredients, and sneaky ways to make desserts more aligned with your health goals!
Tips for Making Healthy Desserts Your Family Will Love
Satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth while keeping desserts light with these mom-friendly tricks.
1. Use healthier alternatives to your staples.
One perk of making sweets at home is deciding what ingredients go into them. After all, there's a ton of excess fat and sugars in store-bought goods, more than any home cook would be comfortable adding. Source healthy alternatives to your pantry staples and make your desserts from scratch instead.
- Start with flour. You probably have all-purpose or cake flour on hand, especially if you're an avid baker. Unfortunately, both are high in carbohydrates and low in other nutrients. Swap them out for cassava, whole wheat, oat, or other options with higher fiber.
If switching flours is too advanced, start simpler with less critical ingredients:
- Instead of pure milk chocolate, go for dark. Bars with at least 70% cocoa offer more flavanols: phytonutrients that are good for heart health. Try this trick in a simple chocolate cake or chewy brownies.
- Instead of heavy cream or butter, go for Greek yogurt. It has filling protein and gut-friendly probiotics but with much less fat. Love tart desserts? Whip up a bright lemon-berry yogurt cake.
- Instead of butter, go for nut butter or unsweetened applesauce. Nut butters have healthy fats and protein, while applesauce delivers fewer calories, extra vitamins, and moisture to baked goods. Give almond butter cookies a try!
- Instead of white sugar, go for natural sweeteners. Excessive sugar consumption can contribute to health problems. Natural options like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar are less refined and offer slightly more nutritional value. However, you should still enjoy them in small amounts.
2. Mix in nutritious ingredients.
For a beginner-friendly approach, focus on adding healthy ingredients rather than subtracting the bad stuff. You have plenty of options to boost nutrient content without altering the taste, texture, or overall experience of dishes. For example:
- Nuts and seeds: Harvard Health describes these as “tiny packages of dense nutrition” since they “include protein, fiber, healthy fats, and many vitamins and minerals.” Mix some almonds, cashews, and chia seeds into any recipe for mild flavor and lots of crunch.
- Dried fruits: Look for those made with 100% fruit and no added sugars. Examples are raisins, cranberries, and dates, all available in the supermarket.
- Cacao nibs: These are a common dairy-free substitute for chocolate chips. In terms of taste, they’re rich, intense, nutty, and slightly bitter. These come in clutch for low-calorie desserts that need that chocolaty flavor.
- Protein powder: Replace a small portion of your baking flour (up to ⅓ of the mixture) with protein powder to make your dish more filling. You can choose from flavored and non-flavored whey powders, but pea, brown rice, and mixed plant proteins are also available as lighter vegan alternatives.
- Rolled oats: Nope, they’re not just for oatmeal raisin cookies! Like protein powder, you can substitute some of the flour in any recipe with this fiber-rich ingredient. Add them to banana bread, cakes, crumbles, and more.
3. Incorporate fruits whenever you can.
Fruit desserts are abundant in almost any cuisine. In the Philippines, there’s ice candy, graham cakes, tarts, and jams. And that’s just the tip of the fruity dessert pyramid!
Pinoys also love the classic fruit salad. There’s even a version that combines two festive favorites in one: the sweet-savory macaroni fruit salad made richer with Lady's Choice Real Mayonnaise. This combination may seem strange to others, but each bite is pure comfort.
If you love fruits and want to make the most of their nutritional benefits, use minimal add-ons and preserved items. Try these tips when making your go-to recipes:
- Ditch fruit cocktail in favor of freshly cut fruits since those cans are full of high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars.
- Avoid dressing your fruits in too much heavy cream or milk. Instead, let their natural sweetness shine by serving them plain or mixed with a small amount of yogurt.
- Alternatively, treat your fruit salad like a veggie salad. That means keeping the main ingredients (fruits) fresh, crisp, and juicy by enjoying them with dressing on the side.
Having fresh produce as part of your regular diet is a win. You don’t have to make complicated desserts out of the fruits you have – you can sneak them into existing dishes or snacks and enjoy their benefits with little effort. Try them as:
- Toppings for pancakes, oats, and ice cream
- Dippers for chocolate fondue and nut butter
- Partners for cheese and crackers
- Fillings for dessert sandwiches
- Ice cubes for drinks – just freeze and set!
4. Enjoy indulgent treats occasionally.
Life is about balance, so treat yourself (and your family) to the occasional fun, indulgent dessert. There’s no need to be overly strict with your meals. Eating should be a fun experience that brings everyone together.
Remember: you don’t have to commit to a no-fat or low-fat diet if you’re trying to cut back on butter or cream. You don't have to throw out your sugar to keep your kids in check. Start small with the tips listed above, plus a few more for good measure:
- Challenge yourself with new dessert ideas. Give them a good-for-you twist with ingredient swaps and thoughtful adjustments. Use less sugar than a recipe “requires” and see what other changes you can make.
- Practice portion control. You and your family can have every sweet thing you crave. Just make sure to enjoy those treats in moderation. The best way is to savor every bite!
- Drink lots of water. Sometimes, people mistake thirst for hunger. Give your stomach a chance to recognize it’s full before digging into another serving.
Take it one meal at a time. You won’t be able to overhaul your family’s dessert habits overnight! Keep healthy dessert options, like fresh fruits or energy bites, available to make the choice easier. Eventually, your efforts will pay off, and no one will miss that extra scoop of ice cream over their buko pie.
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