My Thoughts on “Healthy” Desserts Versus Smaller Portions

posted by Andrea | 06/19/2018

Over the past 8+ years of sharing recipes and menu plans, I have gotten a large number of comments and questions about the fact that our family enjoys quite a bit of dessert!

So many have asked why we have dessert after most of our meals, some joke about how they wish they could eat so many sweets, and others request that I share healthier dessert recipes (is there really such a thing?)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been a strong advocate of “all things in moderation” — and that includes desserts and other sweet treats on a DAILY basis.

Dave and I both grew up with a variety of cookies, bars, sweet breads, ice cream, candy, etc. available all the time. We didn’t pig out on it, we didn’t count down the minutes until we could eat our next treat, and truthfully, we didn’t really even think about it.

The sweets were there to eat if and when we wanted a little treat, but they weren’t a huge temptation because they were just a normal part of our daily diet (like a bowl of fruit on the counter and the milk in the fridge).

Certainly sweet treats are not necessary, but our family regularly enjoys small sweet treats throughout the day… and no, they aren’t healthy, low calorie, or nutritious.

If I want a nutritious snack, I’ll have raw veggies and hummus, apple slices or a banana with peanut butter, plain yogurt parfaits, or a few cheese cubes — and my kids know that most of the time, our snack times are for filling snacks that will tide them over until the next meal.

However, if I want something sweet, if we’re celebrating a special occasion, or if we’re enjoying a small dessert after our meal, I’m not going to stress about how much sugar is in a cupcake, how many calories are in a cookie, or how nutritious my brownies are.

Because more often than not, healthy desserts and sweet treats really are NOT all that “healthy” compared to just eating an apple or raw veggies.

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So for those of you requesting “healthy dessert recipes”, I probably won’t be sharing them any time soon!

I have actually tried several healthIER recipes over the years, but honestly, they are all gross. My kids won’t touch them, Dave and I don’t really enjoy them, and there have been several batches of “healthy desserts” that we’ve simply trashed because it goes bad and we don’t feel like forcing ourselves to eat something that’s really not very nutritious and that we don’t love just so we don’t waste the ingredients.)

Yes, there are times when I’ll replace the oil with applesauce in my cakes, there are times when I’ll add a can of pureed black beans or pumpkin to my brownies, and there are times when I’ll sub in Flax seed for eggsbut most of the time, I’ll just enjoy an occasional small sweet treat, with lots of fruits, veggies, and other more nutritious foods filling up the bulk of my diet. 

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And when I say “a small sweet treat” I really do mean SMALL.

When I cut portions out our treats, I usually end up with 2 to 3 times the number of bars, cookies, or slices recommended on the recipes because we cut our pieces so much smaller.

I often forget about how small our dessert portions are until we go to someone else’s home and get a restaurant-size dessert portion after an already large meal.

I use my mini muffin tins ALL the time to make mini cupcakes, tiny cheesecakes, Reeses Peanut Butter Cup cookies, and more — all the perfect “bite-size” treat after a tasty meal.

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When it comes to the concept of “healthy desserts” I’m convinced there is no such thing!

In order for a food to taste like dessert, the recipe will still require a decent amount of fat and sugar — even if it’s a healthier version of fat and sugar (like avocados and honey). Also, the ingredients in “healthy desserts” are usually much more expensive and the actual recipes take significantly more work than a more traditional dessert recipes (like brownies from a box!)

For me, this just isn’t worth it to save a few calories.

Some of you might disagree… and that’s OK.

However, after years of trying and testing different healthier alternatives to our favorite sweet treats, I’d still much rather have a SMALL unhealthy dessert that tastes amazing versus a supposedly “healthy” treat that leaves much to be desired!

Bring on the cheesecake, boxed brownies, and peanut butter pie (just a small portion!) 

What are YOUR thoughts on “healthy desserts”?

NOTE: you can find all my dessert recipes right here!

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47 comments

  1. fern

    06/20/2018

    That worked! No more frustration while waiting for my weekday visit with the Dekkers.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay!!!!!!!! So happy!

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  2. Christy

    06/20/2018

    What is that In the last photo? Looks delicious!!

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  3. Chris

    06/20/2018

    We think similarly. However, I need to lose quite a bit of weight. I don’t bake too often. One thing that helps me is to make a chocolate mug cake in the microwave. That way it’s just a small serving. Also, I like to eat things that are sweet but not sweets, that also help. Such as Lara bars or make a shake with almond milk, peanut butter, a banana, and cocoa. Or mix frozen strawberries in the blender with cottage cheese and maybe just add a little sugar if needed. It takes like a liquid strawberry cheesecake. I do, however, put less sugar in baked goods a lot of the times.

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    Chris Reply:

    PS I don’t like the taste of some “healthy sweets”. I don’t even like the texture of those muffins that have bananas and Greek yogurt as the sugar and fat, that people make. LOL

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  4. Kim

    06/19/2018

    I’ve gone back and forth in my head on this issue over the years and I have come to the same conclusion as you. I love, love, love sweets and when I try to go without them I just end up going crazy on “healthier” versions that don’t really satisfy. I think I go crazy because I’m NOT satisfied. And I think “healthier” is often a misnomer. I have to be honest with myself that there are some things I cannot keep in my house because I don’t have a whole lot of self control with them. (I have a fabulous caramel corn recipe that I will eat an entire batch of when I make it, so I don’t make it. It is seriously so good, though, if anyone wants the recipe ) I also do things like put most of what I’ve made in the freezer, because if they are sitting out I will keep eating. I don’t gain weight very easily, but I don’t feel good if I eat too many sweets, so I’ve just had to find ways to keep it in moderation. That works much better for me than completely going without.

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  5. Liane

    06/19/2018

    Oh have I wrestled with sugar monster. And finally came up with something I can live with. Rather than tossing the baby with the bath water, I have just become very choosy about my ingredients. With a gluten intolerant spouse, I use nut flours and coconut flour. I can make just about anything with them. I occasionally use white flour, but it’s organic, non GMO and non-bromated. For sweetener there really is no substitute for granulated sugar — so I use it sparingly and it’s never GMO beet — always pure cane sugar. I use coconut sugars, maple sugar and for most things with chocolate there’s really no material difference. My butter is unsalted Kerry Gold, organic ghee (clarify it myself) and the eggs we eat come from the chickens down the street. With the cost of these very high quality ingredients we are careful to make things last. Things that never pass our doorstep (or lips!) are anything GMO, that has any seed oils (like soy, or safflower, canola) and olive oil makes awful deserts so it’s butter. And maybe high quality leaf lard for pastry.

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is a good way of looking at things — using high quality (and expensive) ingredients and then trying to make them last by using them sparingly. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. leslie q

    06/19/2018

    Dear Andrea

    Hallelujah!! I think you have the right approach…moderation and common sense! That’s why I like your blog so much! And I must add, the desserts I’ve made form your recipes are really yummy! I always look forward to your recipes! Thanks! Hope you’re enjoying your summer!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha thanks! I suppose if you’re going to eat dessert it better taste great — so I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my recipes!

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  7. JJ

    06/19/2018

    I am with you!!! I tried making black bean brownies. There were harsh consequences I didn’t want to repeat. Haha! My grandma had a major sweet tooth. And she lived to be a “ripe old age”. So, I’m going with that!!!

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  8. Linda Brinks

    06/19/2018

    Your site is loading just fine for me Andrea.
    Small world…your sister goes to my daughters church.
    I told my daughter that her Dad performed your parents wedding ceremony.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Linda — and yes, I think we might have actually talked about the fact that your husband married my parents. It IS a small world!

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  9. Nancy

    06/19/2018

    I once heard a nutritionist say that for almost any dessert you bake, you can automatically cut the sugar by one-third with no noticeable effect on taste or texture. It’s true in my experience, and a painless way to make a somewhat “healthier” dessert.

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    Michelle Reply:

    I agree with this! I just started doing it when I consciously looked at how much sugar was in my banana bread recipe. I halved it and it was actually nicer!

    I’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes so this whole post just makes me sad 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is interesting — I might have to try it. I was just thinking today (as I was making muffins) “I wonder if I could take out some of this sugar”. Maybe I’ll have to make them again and see!

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    Alicia Reply:

    I do this all the time with my baked goods! For my chocolate chip cookies, I use HALF the amount of sugar, and no one ever notices, including my extremely picky boys! It’s to the point now where if we have other people’s baked goods they taste way too sweet ! Using less sugar is a super easy way to cut back on sugar without there being any difference in taste (in my opinion).

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    Andrea Reply:

    I just tried it this morning with half the amount of sugar. I do think there was a little different taste, but no one said a word when we all ate a cookie bar for dessert after lunch!!

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  10. Jessica

    06/19/2018

    I want all of those. Haha.

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  11. Kellie

    06/19/2018

    Thank goodness – I thought I was alone in thinking that “healthier” desserts were GROSS! I’m sure there’s someone out there that doesn’t mind them, but I love your approach to food. I believe we have a responsibility to love our bodies by feeding it good food (however that looks to you) and we also have a responsibility to enjoy life! No one lives forever – enjoy a cake on your birthday and a hot dog on July 4 – just not all the time!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I have a MUCH older “friend” who always jokes about the fact that he doesn’t want to eat too healthily because he doesn’t want to live too long 🙂

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  12. Pascale

    06/19/2018

    Hi Andrea,

    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint on dessert. I always enjoy reading about orther people’s opinion and why they believe the way they do.

    I’m hypoglycemic so I quit sugar and everything sweet more than 30 years ago and I really don’t miss it at all. Now, if there’s even a small amount of sugar in salad dressing or in tomato sauce, I will smell it right away and stay away from it.

    Sugar is addictive so most people cannot quit cold turkey without having some withdrawal effect.

    I’m glad I quit and I really wouldn’t go back to eating it even if I could.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — good for you! That’s amazing!
    Do you find you have issues entertaining (or being entertained) without any sugar? So many recipes have some sort of sugar — I wouldn’t even know what to make or eat if I literally couldn’t eat any sugar.

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    Pascale Reply:

    Hi Andrea,

    Thank you for the encouragement. No, I never have problems entertaining or being entertained. When we go somewhere, my husband and I always bring our own food and people enjoy having a break from cooking. We want to enjoy people’s company without them feeling as though they have to cook for us, When I entertain, I cook everything without sugar and everyone compliments my cooking. It’s just a matter of using the right herbs and spices to make it tasty so that people don’t miss the sugar. I never follow recipes. I simply try things out and if it smells right, it’s usually fine.

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s great — I guess I never thought about bringing your own food, but that works.
    I’ve been experimenting more with spices and seasonings (as opposed to salt and sugar) and it’s amazing how good some of my more recent creations have been 🙂 Also, you must have a fantastic sense of smell!

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    Pascale Reply:

    Another reason why we bring our own food is that my husband is vegan and I’m Paleo. I always prepare two meals at home, but I would never ask this of anyone.

    Yes, herbs and spices add a lot of flavor. I’m glad you’re experimenting with them. I just made a salad dressing with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, ginger, salt and pepper and my husband said it tasted great.

    Apparently, I do have have an unusual sense of smell. When I worked for the Salvation Army, I used to teach women how to cook their own meals so that they could one day become more independent. I never tasted anything, I just relied on my sense of smell. My supervisor tasted everything I made and she asked me how I could make sure everything was seasoned right without ever tasting it. I told her that I just smelled it and knew right away if something was missing and what it was.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — again — amazing! I enjoy cooking, but if I had to prepare 2 different meals every day, I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much. Good for you. I’m sure your husband is appreciative!

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    Pascale Reply:

    Thank you, Andrea. The weird thing is that I don’t enjoy cooking and I’m definitely not a foodie. I eat because I have to. That being said, my food is relatively simple. My husband’s food is a bit more elaborate, but it’s still quite simple.

    On another topic, I love your no-nonsense approach to life. One of the people I follow on YouTube has a similar approach and I recommended your blog. I believe she added you to her favorites.

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks — I like being no-nonsense 🙂 It makes everything easier and less stressful!
    Thanks for sharing my information too!

    Pascale Reply:

    Sorry for not replying sooner. I forgot to tick the notification box and I just noticed that you had replied. We were also busy planning our trip to visit our family in Canada. We were transferred to Michigan in 2014, but we’re originally from Canada.

    Getting back to your comment: I agree that having a non-nonsense approach to life makes everything easier and less stressful. I’m learning to be that way more and more.

  13. Karen

    06/19/2018

    This is exactly how it is at our house. None of my kids sneak food or treats as they are a normal part of our house. I’ve never taught my kids to drown their sorrows in food/treats so I don’t feel this will ever be an issue. I also don’t treat my kids to treats after hard days for them such as doctor or dentist visits. I only brought this up because I had someone once ask me if I worry about my kids having food issues because I give them treats or since I keep stuff around the house. In fact my kids don’t even drink soda or juices as they don’t care for them. PS I love your desserts!

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  14. fern

    06/19/2018

    Anyone else still having trouble with extremely slow loading to a laptop?

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    Bonnie'sMama Reply:

    Very, very, very slow. I can’t get Andrea’s site at all on my iPad.

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    Chris K in Wisconsin Reply:

    Same here. Takes forever to load. Won’t load on the iPad at all.

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    Andrea Reply:

    so sorry! try clearing your browsing data, history, and cache — that should help!

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    Andrea Reply:

    sorry fern — try clearing your browsing data, history, and cache — that should help!

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  15. Sarah

    06/19/2018

    “I have actually tried several healthIER recipes over the years, but honestly, they are all gross.”
    Andrea, I literally laughed out loud! Amen, sister.
    My little boys happened to be sitting by me when I was reading this and now they’re begging me to make ALL of the desserts you showed. We settled for ice pops… it’s hot here in New Mexico. Haha

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    Andrea Reply:

    ice pops for the win! You can bake my treats this fall when the weather cools down a bit 🙂

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  16. Mara

    06/19/2018

    This is exactly how we do it at our house, too! Thanks for sharing, I think a lot of us feel just like your family!

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  17. Anne

    06/19/2018

    Well said. Agreed 100%!!

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  18. Deborah Luciani

    06/19/2018

    This post deserves a standing ovation! YAY for simple, whole foods in a large variety. Anything labeled “diet”, “low-fat” or “lite” does not come in my house.

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    Andrea Reply:

    thanks Deborah! I will say we eat TONS of fruits and veggies compared to the amount of desserts we eat — so hopefully it’s an OK balance!

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  19. Joy Logan

    06/19/2018

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is exactly how I feel. Thanks for always hearing what people say, but following your own heart. It’s ok to listen to how others feel, but in the end we have to do what we feel is best and makes us happy. Moderation is key.

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  20. Jen @ Bookish Family

    06/19/2018

    I find myself more and more on the extreme all sugar is toxic bandwagon. That doesn’t mean that we don’t eat it ever, because I think our bodies can handle lots of things that aren’t good for it, but it does mean that we eat WAY less sugar and sweets than most people. That being said, when we are going to eat sweets, we are turned off by too much sweetness. So we also eat smaller portions or cut back the sugar when it won’t affect the final product too much. Even most of the dairy we eat has very little sugar in it because I culture milk into kefir first.

    My kids still have desserts when offered, Halloween candy, and ice cream in summer, fyi–just regular stuff, not “healthy versions.” And my husband makes them delicious homemade birthday cakes. But we are healthy and happy without the sugar on a daily basis. It works for us!

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    Andrea Reply:

    we probably eat too much sugar (definitley more than “necessary”) but I just love baking — and if I bake it, we eat it 🙂

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  21. Donna M.

    06/19/2018

    I watched someone on tv making black bean brownies. They looked sooo good and everyone was raving about how delicious they were, so I found their recipe and made them. I took a bite, my husband took a bite and the whole batch went straight into the garbage. That’s the last “healthy” dessert I ever made.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha! I’ve made black bean brownies and personally didn’t think they were horrible. But the kids wouldn’t touch them! Dave and I ate them with ice cream, chocolate, and whipped cream on top 🙂

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