Desserts that end your meal on a healthy note!

healthy dessert pic Aug 2015Dessert is the final course in a dining experience that gives chefs and restaurateurs the chance to make a memorable last impression. While eating out, many Canadians are looking for menu items that are delicious and better for their health. As a usually indulgent or special occasion food, to many people “healthy dessert” may sound contradictory. However, treats can fit into a healthy balanced diet (and menu), and my nutrition tips and healthy dessert ideas can show you how!

Healthy Dessert Hallmarks

In Canada there is no regulated definition of healthy food or healthy dessert. Foods that contain high amounts of nutrients while providing reasonable amount of energy (calories) are usually considered healthy foods. On the other hand, foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition would be considered unhealthy. Many dessert foods such as cakes and pastries tend to fall into the less healthy category because they are high in calories, fat and added sugars while low in other nutrients including fibre.

You can create healthier desserts by making the calories count and increase the nutritional value of desserts. Boost fibre, vitamins/minerals, healthy fats and protein, and lower the fat and added sugars. Look to healthful ingredients such as fruit, whole grains, and lower fat dairy to help improve the nutritional profile of desserts without compromising taste.

Healthy Dessert Selection Guidelines
The following check system may be used to formulate healthier desserts
√√ Excellent Choice and  Good Choice

√√ Excellent Choice

Good Choice


0-150 calories/serving

151- 250 calories/serving


3 grams or more /serving

2 grams /serving


0-5  grams /serving

6-10 grams /serving

Adapted from: Healthy Dining Menu Guidelines, California 5 a Day— Be Active! Worksite Program (2012); Nutrition Standards for Ontario Schools PPM150 Baked Goods (2010); Bake It Up, Nutrition Resource Centre OPHA (2010)


Build on the Power of Fruit

If you are looking to make desserts healthier, adding fruit is a great first step. Best bets for fruits are those that are brightly coloured and may be are eaten with the skin on such as apples, berries or pears.  Fruit in a menu item can also contribute to the 7-10 servings of fruit/vegetable people need each day as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide. Another trend that consumers are looking for is fruit that is fresh, in season and local. To find out what’s harvested seasonally in your area visit a farmers’ markets near you or check out seasonal produce guides on line. Offer healthy desserts with a variety of local and seasonal fruit for the ‘best bet’ mark on your menu.

Offer Inherently Healthy Desserts 

Search for recipes that have been designed using ingredients and methods that are satisfying on their own.  Look to websites such as Dietitians of Canada for healthy recipe ideas.  Consider adding some of these inherently healthy desserts to your menu: 

  • Biscotti
  • Angel food cake (offer a variety of fruit options for a customizable dessert that meets the “my way” menu trend)
  • Strawberry shortcake
  • Macarons (sweet and salty variety is on trend)
  • Fruit galette
  • Fat free frozen yogurt
  • Easy fruity crêpes (Kid Friendly)
  • Cheese and grapes (offer lower fat cheeses such as part-skim mozzarella, farmer cheese, Muenster, provolone or other reduced-fat cheddar cheese)
  • Sorbet – use fruit, and if Artisan or ‘made in house’ it also hits the mark for this hot trend
  • Pies with a thin crust or crustless pies
  • Chilled peach, mango or melon soups
  • Remember to offer healthy options in kids’ desserts too: apple slices with yogurt dip, fresh fruit salad, piece of fresh fruit or made in house applesauce

Keep Portions Small

Bite-sized or mini desserts continue to stay on trend according to Nation’s Restaurant News 2015. Downsizing dessert portions can help customers manage calories. Suggesting customers share a dessert is another way to keep portions under control. Consider these mini dessert tips for your healthy dessert menu:

  • Miniature desserts can be boosted with fruit for added health benefits
  • Increase nutrition with topping like toasted nuts toasted hemp hearts
  • Try chocolate covered apple slices dipped in crushed nuts (remember to coat apple    slices in fresh lemon juice to prevent browning)
  • Mini Spiced Fruit Tarts (use trending spices such as cinnamon, ground allspice. )
  • Serve them in a clear shot glass or mini ramekins with attractive garnishes

Build on nutrition know-how to create healthy desserts that taste great!  Offering healthy dessert menu options to customers means you can provide better-for-you, on trend foods that meet your guests’ satisfaction and your business goals. Bon Appetite!

Adapted from Lucia’s article published in Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News Juy/Aug 2015
Image from Dietitians of Canada (Eatright Ontario)

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