Can desserts be healthy?

Isn’t healthy dessert an oxymoron?  Actually, no. Just look at the Italians, for example.  My daughter spent a year in Torino, Italy, as a nanny for an Italian couple with two small children. In addition to the normal end of a meal, which was fruit and cheese or yogurt, for special occasions, custards, puddings, panna cotta, tiramisu and other milk- or cream- based desserts were common.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Italy without gelato and fruit ices. Typical pies, pastries and cookies are enjoyed in Italy, but these are usually eaten on special occasions.

For an assortment of milk- based desserts, check out these books:

  • Gelato! Italian Ice Creams, Sorbetti, and Granite by Pamela Sheldon Johns
  • The Splendid Spoonful: From Custard to Crème Brulee by Barbara Lauterbach
  • Elegantly Easy Crème Brulee and Other Custard Desserts by Debbie Puente.

Increasing nutritional value

Most cultures have their version of custards, puddings or yogurts. A popular Spanish and Latin American dessert with many variations is flan, or quesillo in Venezuela.  In the American south, family recipes for rice pudding, banana pudding, bread pudding, egg custard, and trifle (adapted from the English) have been handed down for generations.

Making desserts that are milk-based adds to the nutritional value of a meal. Topping fresh or stewed fruit with yogurt, pudding or cream makes a fast, nutritious dessert. Adding natural fruit preserves to sweeten plain whole yogurt is an excellent, nutrient-dense dessert. Using left over rice for pudding is healthy and economical. Check your favorite cookbook for a rice pudding recipe, or do a Web search for a variety of options. Remember that rice pudding, like oatmeal, can be cooked overnight in a slow cooker for a healthy and delicious breakfast (or dessert!).

Speaking of oats, this breakfast favorite also makes great desserts. What is better than the smell of oatmeal cookies baking?  Many a fruit crisp or cobbler has been topped with oatmeal.  Oatmeal cake is a moist and healthy choice for dessert or breakfast coffee cake.  Recipes for healthy oatmeal and other whole grain cakes and desserts can be found in the More – with –Less Cookbook by Doris Longacre.

Other desserts that can be healthy are Italian cheesecake and panna cotta. Using ricotta cheese for the cheesecake makes it a high-protein dessert that is loaded with calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Panna cotta is another Italian dairy dessert that is brimming with nutrition and flavor. Add any fresh fruit topping to increase the nutritional value of each. Both are rich, so small servings are sufficient. Again, go to the Web and find a variety of ricotta cheesecake or panna cotta recipes.

Healthy Dessert Ingredients

Sometimes for dessert, our family will just have a handful of chocolate chips and pecans.  Keep plenty of ingredients for healthy desserts on hand.

Here are some ideas:

Grains: Whole wheat pastry flour, rolled oats, rye flakes, wheat flakes, rolled barley, brown rice flakes, cracked wheat, millet, buckwheat

Dairy:  Milk, Cream, half – and-half, yogurt, frozen yogurt, ice cream

Seeds: Sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin

Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, coconut, pistachios

Sweeteners: Honey, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices, raw sugar, brown sugar, maple sugar, natural fruit preserves, stevia

Flavorings: Semi-sweet chocolate chips, vanilla extract, almond extract, grated citrus rinds, cinnamon, ginger

Fats: Naturally pressed oils (olive, almond, sesame, peanut) butter, coconut oil

Fresh fruits: Apples, pears, bananas – whatever is in season

Dried fruits: Dried apples, raisins, berries, figs, dates

As a helpful resource, I have lots of articles on healthy ingredients and recipes that you can implement into your daily life.

If you’d like to dig deeper into my journey of discovering God’s plan for health and wellness, check out my book, Made For Paradise: God’s Original Plan for Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Rest.