Healthy treats can help keep you on track with your healthy eating goals. Here are some delicious but healthier ways to treat yourself!
It’s that time of year when lots of us have overindulged and start thinking about “being good” in the coming year. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you need to deny yourself all your favorite treats! Be sure not to deprive yourself of treats or your efforts to eat healthier are likely to fail.
Real food is about real enjoyment, not deprivation, so healthy treats are an important part of your healthy eating strategy! Studies have found that people are more likely to maintain a healthy weight when they allow themselves little indulgences. Here are some smart ways to satisfy your sweet tooth without derailing your diet!
If you need a little extra motivation, read more about the health risks of consuming too much sugar and find out how much sugar per day is OK.
Healthy Treats Strategy #1: Redefine “Treat”
High-quality in-season fruit should be on your eat-often list of healthy treats. Who needs sugar when you have a bowlful of super-sweet strawberries or cherries picked from your garden or a nearby farm? In winter, defrosting some summer-picked raspberries is one of my favorite ways to treat myself to a taste of summer even when it’s below 0 outside.
Dried fruit can stand in for candy when you want something sweet and chewy. When you dehydrate fruits their flavors (and sugars) become concentrated, making them perfect for satisfying a sweet craving rather than artificially colored and flavored gummy bears of Swedish fish.
When we’ve got our dehydrator going in summer, I use up bananas past their prime to make what we call “dried bananas “candy.” They’re unbelievably good. I don’t even like bananas, but I will gobble these up. They’re like a really flavorful chewy taffy. I’m planning to haul the dehydrator out of storage over the winter break so I can make a huge batch of bananas to help wean my kids off the candy and cookies everyone gives them at this time of year.
Dried strawberries, cantaloupe, apples, and pears make similarly wonderful fruit snacks. Dried mango not only tastes like candy, it packs a nice dose of immune-boosting vitamin A. Your kids will love these dried treats also, and you can skip those pretty questionable “fruit chews” kids are always asking for.
We’re also huge fans of homemade fruit leather, which we make from rhubarb in spring and apples and pears in fall. The pears are so sweet we don’t even need to add any sweetener. It is SO good, and so much better for you than anything you can buy.
Or try freezing fruit on a stick for an easy, super-healthy alternative to popsicles. Here’s how to make frozen watermelon pops from The Pistachio Project.
Healthy Treats Strategy #2: Make Homemade Treats with the Healthiest Ingredients
A lot of store-bought sweets are made with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, and even chemicals like propyl paraben, an endocrine disruptor removed from a number of cosmetics because of safety concerns — but it’s still used in some food!
Making your own treats means you can use whole grain flour, cut the sugar, and incorporate fruit (or even veggies!). Ice cream made from frozen bananas is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Give these easy recipes a try and get a nice dose of b vitamins, magnesium and potassium, with no added sugar.
Some other ice-cream recipes use coconut milk and are sweetened lightly. Check out these yummy ideas:
♦ Chocolate Chip and Raspberry Coconut Ice Cream from Whole Natural Life
♦ 5 Minute Vegan Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream from Veggie Quest
Smoothies made with frozen fruit can also stand in for ice cream. Here’s my favorite anti inflammatory smoothie — which can be made with foraged ingredients or with greens you have in your freezer. If you need more smoothie inspiration, check out this HUGE collection of creative healthy smoothie recipes.
If you haven’t tried chia pudding yet, you’re missing out on a decadent dessert full of nutrition! Here’s a very healthy vanilla almond chia pudding recipe.
Bars, muffins, brownies, even fudge can be made with some surprisingly healthy ingredients! Check out these amazing recipes featuring things like hidden veggies and beans!
♦ Brownies made with black beans from The Minimalist Baker
♦ Whole New Mom even makes fudge using black beans!
♦ Running with Spoons has a flourless chocolate zucchini muffin that looks divine.
♦ Super Healthy Kids has a recipe for kid favorite GREEN muffins made with spinach that I can’t wait to try.
♦ These homemade chocolate clusters with nuts and dried fruit are absolutely divine!
♦ These vegan raw brownies from Wicked Spatula are filled with healthy ingredients and look easy-peasy to make.
♦ Fit as a Mama Bear has a drool-worthy healthy chocolate homemade buttercup recipe — yum!
Healthy Treats Strategy #3: All Things in Moderation
Real food treats often taste quite different from processed stuff with tons of added sugar and chemical flavorings. When you cut back on sugar, conventional candies will probably taste too sweet. And a high-quality, organic chocolate with a high percentage of cacao is sooooo much more satisfying than the corn-syrup sweetened bars you find in the checkout line.
But don’t forget, healthied-up or not, treats are still treats and should be eaten in small quantities.
While refined white sugar is public enemy #1, some of its replacements should be used sparingly also. Though honey and maple syrup have some redeeming qualities, a super-sweet dessert made with them isn’t that much healthier than one made with white sugar.
Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD and Willow Jarosh, RD of C&J Nutrition caution that the “health halo” surrounding natural sweeteners lead some to assume that we can eat unlimited amounts of treats made with them. Clarke and Jarosh recommend adhering to the USDA Dietary Guidelines that suggest added sugar should make up no more than 10% of daily calories, including any honey, maple syrup, or dates.
So be aware that if it tastes really sweet, it’s still a treat, not a carrot stick. Be sure to watch for added sugars in processed food as well. (That is, if you’re eating processed food, which hopefully you’re not!) You want to save that sugar quota for dessert, not blow it on your soup or salad dressing. Or blow through it at breakfast with a big bowl of sugary granola. (Here’s how to make healthier granola.)
Even healthy treats should only be part of a whole foods diet, not the whole diet! And if you’re eating great food most of the time, a slice of sugary birthday cake once in awhile won’t undo your efforts to eat healthy.
What are your favorite healthy treats?
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Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a licensed dietitian. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. Please consult a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: N i c o l a, Meal Makeover Moms, Steven Depolo, Liz West, Monik Markus, A Virtual Vegan