Healthy desserts sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t have to! There are so many ways to indulge your sweet tooth, meet a craving, or cap off a long day with a delicious treat that doesn’t have to be unhealthy. In fact, there is a whole range of dessert options that range from (slightly more) healthy desserts to great-tasting treats that pack a good nutritional punch.
If you aren’t quite ready to branch out into new, more nutritious desserts, then the place to start is with portion control. If you’re wondering about what a healthy portion of dessert might look like, start with the USDA’s MyPlate.
The USDA has replaced the formerly ubiquitous Food Pyramid with the MyPlate, but the idea is the same: MyPlate is a visual representation of what a balanced meal should look like. The reason?
As the USDA explains, “today, about half of all American adults have one or more chronic diseases, often related to poor diet. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the importance of creating a healthy eating pattern to maintain health and reduce the risk of disease. Everything we eat and drink — the food and beverage choices we make day to day and over our lifetime — matters.”
The basic idea behind MyPlate is that half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables; half of your grains should be whole grains; low-fat or fat-free yogurt and milk should be prioritized; proteins should vary; and you should aim to eat and drink less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
Nature’s Healthy Desserts - Fruit
There were a few important hints about an easy way to utilize healthy desserts in that last paragraph. Did you catch them? The first was the recommendation to eat fewer added sugars (emphasis on added). The second was that at each meal, your plate should be composed of half fruits and vegetables.
What does this mean? Simple: the easiest way to turn desserts into healthy desserts is simply to eat fruit for dessert. And while fruits on their own will work just fine, you can also have fun with it. Some easy ways to elevate fruit to something that feels like a genuine dessert are:
Make Banana Swirl
Made famous (among preschoolers) on the PBS show Daniel Tiger, Banana Swirl is an amazing ice cream substitute with only one ingredient: bananas. To make banana swirl, peel and slice a few ripe (or overripe) bananas, throw them in the freezer until they are completely frozen, and then place the frozen banana slices in a blender until smooth. The result: a sweet, frozen treat that tastes exactly like banana ice cream - minus the ice cream.
Try Grilled Pineapples
Pineapples are delicious as they are, but if you want to experience a different version (with new flavors, temperatures, colors, and textures), then grilled pineapple slices is the way to go. Throw some pineapple slices on the grill for a few minutes on each side, and then take them off to either eat as they are, coat with honey, or serve on top of some frozen yogurt, and your taste buds will thank you.
Elevate the Fruit Salad
Fruit salads are a delicious way to enjoy a variety of fruits altogether. One way to get the variety of flavors and nutrients offered by a fruit salad, but with a twist, is to make a fruit shish-kabob. Simply use the wooden or bamboo skewers you would use to make a typical, savory shishkabob, and instead of grilled meats and vegetables, use fruits. A strawberry-cantaloupe-pineapple-kiwi-blueberry-grape shishkabob is not only delicious, but it also creates a rainbow -- a really fun healthy dessert for kids (and, let’s face it, adults).
For a sweet and savory mix, try this American Heart Association recipe for fruit kabobs with balsamic drizzle.
If you’re making your desserts healthy by eating fruits, use the time to experiment. Try that strange, tropical fruit you’ve also wondered about in the grocery store. Ask around for recommendations of other people’s favorite unusual fruit. Make dessert a time for experimentation, or, if you’re a family who loves apples and bananas, go for that too! (And maybe experiment with dips, like peanut butter or honey).
Health.gov provides even more healthy desserts recipes (with and without fruit).
What are your favorite fruits? Do you have a creative way to prepare them for dessert?