Healthy Snacks to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
It’s easier than you think to make sweet snacks that are healthy. See how it’s done with recipes for treats that sneak in nutrients.
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Healthy Apple Nachos; photograph by Olga Ivanova
Fresh fruit can’t be beat when I’m jonesing for something to keep me going until dinnertime, but I’ve never understood the people who say “grab some fruit” to satisfy a sugar craving. As much as I love a nice, juicy apple, that has never worked for me! But it doesn’t mean I need to dive headfirst into a sugar bowl. Not when sweet snacks with plenty of nutrients are so easy to find.
Healthy snack recipes for sweet cravings? Coming right up.
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Tips for the best healthy sweet snacks
Whether I’m making my own snacks or buying them, I keep these in mind to make good choices
Avoid refined sugar as much as you can
Research comparing the effect of white sugar vs. honey on diabetic patients, for instance, found that honey raised their blood sugar less. And testing on rats showed that natural sugars including maple syrup, molasses, and agave syrup had a milder effect than sugar.
Too much of a natural sweetener won’t be any better for your health than excessive amounts of refined sugar — added sugars of all kinds increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other diseases. But in smaller amounts, the natural versions are preferable.
Yeah, I know, I just said fruit doesn’t satisfy my sugar cravings. But using fruit to sweeten nibbles? Heck, yeah. Dates work in baked goods. Pureed frozen bananas make a mighty fine faux ice cream. You get the idea.
With your chocolate, I mean. If it’s made up of mostly cocoa solids — 70% or above — chocolate is chock-full of minerals and plant chemicals that are good for your heart.
Read the labels
You can’t always make your own snacks. When you’ve got a hankering for something sweet but you’re nowhere near a kitchen, shop wisely. Read the nutrition facts statement on the package — in 2020 the Food and Drug Administration began to require companies to include a separate entry for added sugars. That excludes sugars occurring naturally in foods like fruit and milk, since they don’t pose the same health risk. The Daily Value for added sugar is a total of 50 grams per day with a 2,000 calorie diet. That must cover the sugar manufacturers add to things like bread, spaghetti sauce, and granola bars — not just cookies, cakes, and candies. (A single can of Coke has 39 grams!)
Fruity snack recipes
Using fruit as the basis of a healthy snack works like a charm. The key is to turn the fruit into something else, I think. It instantly feels more indulgent.
These pretty parfaits start with a nutrient-packed superfood: blueberries. The berries get layered with a pudding made from chia seeds (a tiny powerhouse in its own right, with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein), coconut milk, lemon, and a splash of maple syrup.
A healthy dessert made with apples, nut butter, Greek yogurt, and dark chocolate chips may not seem special at first glance — but assemble it in a clever way and it’s a kid-friendly hit. This recipe serves six, but you could easily downscale it for an impromptu treat. Or you could eat the entire thing yourself and call it dinner.
When my son was little, he had banana “ice cream” pretty much every day. And why not? It’s nothing more than frozen banana chunks whirred in a food processor until they take on a creamy, luscious texture. There’s no added sugar, no saturated fat, nothing but fruit. You can vary the flavor, too: This recipe calls for a bit of peanut butter powder, or you can add a second kind of fruit (like this mango banana ice cream).
Chewy snack recipes
If you were to ask me what my favorite food texture is, I’d say chewy. (I know, that’s not a question you’re likely to ask … ) I love foods that take a little while to eat.
Just look at all those yummy — and healthy — ingredients! I spy dried cranberries and apricots, almonds and cashews, pepitas, whole grain oats, almond butter, and more. With both brown rice syrup and coconut sugar these are on the indulgent side, but you could easily lose a tablespoon or two without noticing a difference.
These chocolatey, no-bake bars take minutes to put together — you only need to whir dates, cashews, coconut, almond butter, and cocoa powder together, then press into a baking dish and chill. With no added sugar at all, they’re fabulous when you need an energy boost. And they’ll stay good for weeks in the fridge, if you don’t gobble them as fast as my family does.
No list of sweet treats is complete without a cookie, right? Let’s make it a healthy one, with peanut butter (use the natural kind, which has no sugar added), whole grain oats, and ground flax seed — which offers similar health benefits to chia seeds. A chewy, peanut buttery cookie that’s nutritious? Sign me up.
Healthy junk food
I know it’s not good for me, but I have a hard time shaking my love for a highly processed, sugar-laden something-or-other. These versions made with wholesome ingredients give me options.
With its soft caramel, crisp cookie, and chocolatey coating, Twix is one of my favorite candy bars. I won’t say this reinvented version is a perfect copy, but the no-bake, gluten-free cookie base is made with coconut flour, the caramel has no refined sugar (the secret is dates!), and the dark chocolate is … well, it’s chocolate.
In my home, we don’t bake a lot of chocolate chip cookies, but that’s only because we eat the cookie dough right out of the bowl while the oven’s preheating. So when I came across this ingenious, vegan dough you can eat by the spoonful, I knew I’d found a new favorite. It’s got a secret ingredient, too: canned chickpeas! They help give it the body you’d get from flour, but swap in protein and fiber instead.
We don’t do much fast food in my family, but we make an exception for Shake Shack. I dream about their chocolate shakes. (We started splitting a single shake three ways when I discovered it has 750 calories!) Obviously, not an everyday thing. But this homemade treat gets its creaminess from the healthy fats in avocado and almond butter, and its rich chocolate flavor from heart-healthy, unsweetened cocoa powder.
Healthy frozen treats
For years, my husband and I had a daily ritual: a small bowl of ice cream in the quiet of the evening. That faded away once my teen started devouring all the ice cream before we could get any, but I still like to have a sweet frozen treat ready and waiting. Now, they’re healthy enough that if kiddo swoops in and eats them all, it’s no biggie.
Rich, creamy, and dairy-free, these pops start out as dark chocolate chips melted into coconut milk. A scoop of protein powder for a few extra grams of protein, a little maple syrup for sweetness, and into the popsicle molds they go.
Just four ingredients — Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, dark chocolate chips, and crunchy granola — come together in a perfect little bite-sized treat. Talk about low-calorie snacks: Each one has just 100 calories, but it’s ever so satisfying.
With just three tablespoons of honey in the entire recipe, both ice cream and cookie, these definitely fall on the low end in the added-sugar category. Dates in the cookie boost the sweetness quotient.
Healthy chocolate snacks
I saved the best for last, the recipes that satisfy your yearning for something deeply chocolatey. You’ll get all the pleasure along with some serious nutritional benefits.
This has to be the easiest recipe in this roundup — you’re just melting some good-quality dark chocolate, pouring it into a mini-muffin tin, and sprinkling your favorite chopped nuts, seeds, spice, and dried fruit on top. Aim for at least 70% cocoa solids in the chocolate, to maximize the heart-healthy antioxidants. Keep them in a cool, dark spot, and grab one when you need a little something-something.
Except for the leavening, every ingredient in this recipe provides solid nutritional value. Pureed canned black beans let you skip the butter in the batter, while bumping up the protein content. Using date syrup as the sweetener — it’s just dates that have been simmered, then pureed — adds a substantial amount of potassium, an essential nutrient. Cocoa powder’s got antioxidants, and oats are a whole grain. Oh! Let’s not forget the crunchy pistachios you sprinkle on top before baking.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible to make a cake with no added sugar, but here we are. This clever recipe gets its sweetness from dark chocolate, coconut milk, shredded coconut, and almond flour. It’s a suggestion of sweetness, really, since there’s not much natural sugar in those ingredients. But even though it’s low-sugar, this snacking cake satisfies my sweet tooth and my need for chocolate.
More ways to snack healthier
When cravings for sweet treats hit, reach for one of the recipes in these handy articles.