Delicious, lower-calorie treats that are actually good for you.Holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day almost always call for sweet treats and desserts. Baking is a great opportunity for you and your children to learn about and choose the best ingredients. By making your own desserts, you are in control of what you are eating and can be creative with the components, shapes, toppings, decorations and portions.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting our total daily consumption of added sugars to less than ten percent of calories. These sugars — such as syrups and sweeteners — are added to many types of processed or prepared foods for a variety of reasons. They can sweeten the food but are also used as preservatives and enhance the color or texture of food.
Store-bought pastries, cookies and cakes often include more calories and fewer nutrients than homemade sweets. Sugars do provide energy, but it’s important to limit the amount of calories from added sugars. These extra calories can lead to weight gain and may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or some types of cancers in adulthood. Non-caloric sweeteners, no-and low-calorie sweeteners or sugar substitutes may make foods or beverages taste better but are not necessarily fat-free or even calorie-free. They also have not been tested extensively in kids, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has not made formal recommendations on no-caloric sweeteners.
The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the AAP recommend limiting consumption of sweets as part of an overall healthy diet. Sweets should never replace real foods at mealtimes. Making your own sweet treats can limit the amount of calories you receive from sugar. Try sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, molasses or coconut sugar in your desserts.
Involving your children in the baking process can teach them about cooking with real food and ingredients, and they can feel proud of what they make and share it with friends.
Make it easy by spreading out a large clean area and setting out all of the ingredients you need before you start. Take out the measuring cups, measuring spoons, a few extra soup spoons and paring knives to divide the ingredients. Use a small bowl for cracking eggs individually before you add the egg to your batter. This helps avoid accidentally including eggshells in your dessert. Assign age-appropriate tasks to your kids so each child has a job.
Use Fruit and Other Nutritional Boosters
Certain ingredients can act as the base for many desserts and provide added nutritional value to sweet treats. Discuss and discover the different ways fruits and vegetables can be used and transformed into desserts with your children.
Very ripe or bruised bananas are perfect for banana bread because they are very soft, still have their banana flavor and provide moisture to loaves, muffins and cakes.
Shredded zucchini and carrots are frequently included in muffin or cake recipes to give them more substance and moisture. Pumpkin puree and sweet potato puree are also good bases for brownies, muffins or pies. Avocados mix very well with chocolate in cookies or cupcakes. Kids will enjoy seeing the batter turn from green to brown as you bake.
Peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans can add substance and healthy fats to muffins or brownies. Nuts can also be good in pudding, yogurts or ice cream.
Oats are good add-ins or topics for desserts, especially when toasted with cinnamon or honey. They are whole grains, packed with protein and fiber, Mix oats with peanut butter, milk and semisweet chocolate chips, and roll them into round balls for a small snack. Place them on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for a few hours to harden.
Chocolate contains polyphenols, active substances found in plants with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Many chocolate products have been overly processed and have increased amounts of sugar or other ingredients that limit the healthful properties. When baking, look for dark chocolate with a least 70-percent cocoa to receive more of the health benefits and less sugar.
Serve Small Portions
Desserts can be made in small portion sizes at home, which helps control the amount of calories in each serving. Consider using mini-sized pans for cupcakes, muffins or pies. Cut sheet cakes, brownies and other bar-type cookies into smaller squares for kid-friendly savings.
There is a lot of room for creativity with colors and decorations with desserts.
* Leftover holiday candy can be a fun topping for desserts.
* Use food coloring in icing, cupcake batter or muffin batter to teach kids about mixing colors.
* Spoon icing into a small-medium plastic bag. Cut off the corner so each child can decorate cupcakes, cookies or cakes with writing or designs.
* Cut fun shapes out of cookie dough, baked brownies or sheet cake with cookie cutters, or have children mold the dough into letters.
* Chocolate truffles appear decadent, but are very easy to make because they require few ingredients. There are many variations to truffle recipes and toppings.
* Baked muffins, bread loaves and unbaked cookie dough can be frozen and defrosted the day of a special celebration. These are wonderful gifts for teachers, friends or family around the holidays.
Note that sugar contributes to cavities even in baby teeth, so be sure to continue a good dental health program. Brushing teeth too soon after eating or drinking sugary or acidic products may weaken the enamel, so be sure to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing.
By using quality ingredients for homemade desserts you can maximize the freshness of your sweet treats and teach your kids to make good choices. Try these ideas for your next party, holiday or kitchen adventure with your kids, and come up with your own recipe ideas as well!
Ashley Thibodeau, BSN, RN, CPN, is a registered nurse at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. She is also pursuing her DNP in pediatric primary care at the Medical University of South Carolina.