The words “baking” and “healthy” typically do not go hand in hand. Baked goods are traditionally made from butter, sugar, salt, white flour and other ingredients that are, while lovely when combined, not the best for those of us watching our weight.
If you’re someone who’s striving for a healthier self, but struggle with your love of muffins, cakes and cookies – don’t despair. There is a way to balance baking and health without sacrificing the warm, comforting, deliciousness that emanates from a tray of freshly baked goods.
So grab your favorite bakeware, be it a muffin tray, cake pan or casserole dish, and prepare yourself for a whole new world of baking – the healthy way. This article is going to show you how to have your cake and eat it, too!
Change it up…
Most of us are accustomed to using high fat ingredients like butter, margarine and oil for baking, all of which are chock full of saturated fat. Sugar is called upon in almost every recipe, which is unhealthy for us on many levels. Then there’s the salt, flour and flavorings. Don’t forget about the added toppings such as frosting, chocolate and glaze which account for addition calories with little nutritional value.
Step one, before we even step foot in the kitchen, is to hit the grocery store to pick up some healthy alternatives to the above ingredients.
- Sugar – unsweetened applesauce is a perfect substitute for sugar and can be used in almost all recipes. Exchange the whole amount of sugar in a recipe for the same amount of unsweetened applesauce to majorly cut calories in your baked goods. Just keep in mind you will need to reduce the other amounts of liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
Another option is using vanilla extract in place of sugar. For every 2 tablespoons of sugar, use ½ teaspoon of extract. Not only will this reduce the calories, it will also lend a mild vanilla flavor to the dish!
- Butter and Oil - Substitute these artery clogging culprits with a 50/50 combination of applesauce and the original ingredient. This works best when baking sweet breads and muffins. If you’ve already used applesauce to sub for sugar, try some of the other alternatives below.
If you’re baking brownies or cookies, you can substitute the whole amount of butter for pureed avocado! Butter and avocado have very similar consistencies and the mild flavor of avocado makes it a perfect swap. Or sub the amount of called for butter/oil with mashed banana. Bonus: bananas will add some great health benefits like extra potassium and fiber!
Substituting chia seeds for butter when baking muffins, cakes and bread is another great option. For every 1 cup of butter use 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds plus 1 cup of water (let it sit for 15 minutes before mixing). Chia seeds far surpass butter in terms of health benefits - they pack a potassium and protein punch you definitely won’t find in latter.
- Flour – white flour doesn’t have much going for it in terms of nutritional value. Substituting with whole wheat flour will increase the fiber and vitamin content as well as help regulate your blood sugar levels. You can do a straight swap of white flour for whole wheat flour with just about any type of baking – muffins, cakes, cookies, brownies, etc.
- Frostings – who wants to skimp on the final touches of a freshly baked masterpiece? Frosting is loaded with sugar and little else, so subbing in something lighter will drastically improve the nutritional and health content of your final product.
A super easy exchange for frosting is marshmallow “fluff”, which can be used to top just about anything. Fluff has less than half the calories and sugar as your average frosting.
If you’re willing to put in a little more effort, meringue topping is a delightfully light and slightly sweet exchange for sugary frosting. A basic meringue is made from only whipped eggs whites, a squeeze of lemon and a few tablespoons of sugar. It can also be baked onto your cakes and pies creating a caramelized flavor and browned finish that’s also fat-free!
These simple and tasty substitutions outlined above can be made for almost any baked goods recipe. For another creative and healthy baking option, check out one of our favorite recipes below!
Fruit & Quinoa Breakfast Bake
Grab your favorite square bakeware (8x8 if you can) and prepare your wholesome and nutritious breakfast for the entire week.
You will need: ½ cup of quinoa – uncooked, ½ cup oats – uncooked, 3 bananas, 1 ½ cups of blueberries, ½ cup raspberries (or any fruit of your choice – fresh or frozen), 2 cups of milk or almond milk, 2 large eggs or ½ cup egg whites, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, pinch of salt, non-fat/non-stick cooking spray.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the quinoa and oats several times and set aside. Slice the bananas and rinse and dry the berries. Use the non-stick cooking spray on the bottom and sides of the dish.
Spread half the fruit on the bottom of the bakeware. Use a spoon to spread the oats and quinoa combination on top of the fruit. For the next layer, spread the remaining fruit on tops of the grains.
Whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and salt together in medium bowl. Slowly pour the mixture into the dish, being careful not to upset the layers. Try to distribute the liquid as evenly as possible.
Bake in the oven for 60 minutes. Remove, let cool, then cut into square pieces.
Serve with a spoon of non-fat Greek yogurt on top. These naturally sweet and tangy breakfast squares are also a perfect snack to take with you on the go. Enjoy a nutritious bite anytime you’d like!
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