Warmer weather is quickly approaching, which brings a bounty of fresh fruit and produce, plus many outdoor holidays and barbecues. Although there are so many fresh foods available during the spring and summer, many of the foods served at celebrations are high in sugar, refined flours and unhealthy fats—think baked goods, milkshakes, s’mores and ice cream.
If these foods sound familiar to you, consider swapping out some traditional desserts for more natural options. Small changes can make a big impact on your family’s health and excess intake of sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
. A recent study revealed that an alarming 70 percent of overweight kids have at least one risk factor for heart disease
, and a startling 39 percent have two or more risk factors. Serving healthier dessert items can help reduce your family’s risk.
Wondering how dessert can be more nutritious? It all depends on the type of sugar you’re consuming. Not all sources of sugar are the same. If you switch out foods packed with added sugar and replace them with the natural sweet goodness of whole fruits, you’re trading up for good health.
Many kids today don’t eat enough fruit. In fact, 25 percent of preschoolers do not even consume one serving of fruit a day
. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as they contain phytonutrients that can protect against heart disease and many types of cancers. Each color of fruit provides its own unique phytochemicals with protective benefits for the eyes, skin and vital organs. Plus, fruit is full of water and fiber, which helps you feel full and minimizes overeating.
While many kids fall short on fruit consumption, they consume too many added sugars. Surprisingly, teens get about 65 percent of their total sugar calories from home. Sweetened beverages, candy and dessert foods like cakes, cookies, chocolate and ice cream are obvious sources of added sugar. But even some less suspecting foods, like dressings, ketchup, tomato sauce, yogurt and cereals can contribute to sugar overload.
How to Make Dessert More Nutritious
Try these healthy dessert swaps to pack in more of the good stuff for your family’s health.
- Enjoy seasonal fruits on a stick. Kids love making kebabs. Visit the farmers market to select some seasonal favorites and let kids choose something new. Try new fruits like apricots or golden kiwis. Blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, cherries, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, plums, raspberries and watermelon also work great in kebabs. Get the kids involved in prep—even preschoolers can cut a banana with a plastic knife.
- Have fruit for dessert. Make a banana “ice cream” sundae. Toss four frozen bananas, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, a couple of dribbles of your favorite sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave) and a bit of unsweetened almond or soy milk into the blender and mix to desired consistency. Top with sliced almonds, toasted coconut flakes and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
- Blend it. Freeze yogurt, then blend with frozen cherries or raspberries. Top with mint leaves and shaved chocolate.
- Shake, pass and roll your way to ice cream. Invest in a ball ice cream maker. Put low-fat vanilla yogurt into the ball, and let your kids toss it around for 20 minutes. When it is almost done, throw in fresh raspberries or frozen fruit chunks. It’s a great way to burn calories before you enjoy them.
- Grill it. Grill sliced pineapples and top with lime zest, chopped fresh mint and a spoonful of vanilla frozen yogurt. Grill fresh mango and top with quick, homemade raspberry puree (heat frozen raspberries in the microwave and toss in the blender). Grill peach halves, and top with crumbled pecans, cinnamon sugar and dollop of fresh whipped cream.
- Get figgy with it. Stuff fresh figs with ricotta and top with a bit of honey.
- Spice it up. Make your own ginger strawberry sorbet. Blend a couple of frozen bananas, a cup of frozen strawberries and grated fresh ginger, to taste.
- Try fruit pizza. Spread apple butter on half of a whole-wheat English muffin, then layer sliced apples on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and toast in the oven to create a quick mini fruit pizza.
As you can see, cutting out bad sugar from your family’s diet doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice delicious, flavorful desserts. Just follow the above tips to satisfy a sweet tooth in a better way for your family.