When I was a kid, I LOVED date bars. Ya know the boxed mix from the grocery store? I felt so cool when I could make them myself. They were crumbly, sweet and delicious.
But that boxed mix is far from healthy. Not that I need every dessert I eat to be totally healthy. Oh no. I don’t mind indulging from time to time.
But I’m of the mindset now that there is SO much we can do to make dessert recipes at least a little better. A little less guilt inducing. Why not, right? While I like a fat, sugar and refined grain laden treat as much as anyone else with a pulse, I’ve learned that I can make a dessert, like these date bars, far more healthier than the original without sacrificing a ton of enjoyment.
How to Make Dessert Recipes Healthier
Take any typical recipe for dessert and you can easily find ways to make it healthier. Start with the sugar. Most of the time, the sugar can be reduced, often by up to half. When you start eating more whole, natural, plant based foods, you’ll start to appreciate their more subtle flavors and you won’t need that mind-blowing sweetness that comes from refined sugars. In fact, that hyper-stimulating sweetness might start to totally turn you off. Seriously.
For this date bar recipe, I completely omitted the sugar that was originally called for in the date mixture. Dates are super sweet! Why add more sugar? I then decreased the amount called for in the crust by a quarter cup. Bam. Sugar content slashed.
Next, the refined flour gets taken to the chopping block. Most of the time, the refined white flour can be substituted with whole wheat pastry flour just fine. You may have to slightly adjust the liquid or decrease the amount of flour though. White wheat flour or even just regular whole wheat can be used. I often use oat flour that I make myself by tossing steel cut oats into my Vitamix. Oats don’t have the gluten that wheat flour does, however, so there is a difference. I don’t substitute all the wheat flour for oat. Other flours can be used such as spelt or whatever gluten free mixture you use if you are into gluten free baking. These date bars were originally made with white flour. Easy swap.
Lastly, the fat needs to be addressed. Refined fat, sugar and grains are a pretty lethal combo. I find that removing the refined fats is the toughest part of making desserts more healthy. The fat brings that moisture and tenderness that we love in pastries. So I do my best to find alternatives that don’t completely lose that.
Applesauce is a decent stand in, and more and more I’m using raw almond butter in my baked goods. It brings some whole food fat in so at least I’m getting some nutrients and fiber with my fat. The two stand in here really well. Holding the bottom crust together is the biggest concern in this recipe. These hold together pretty well, but even if they didn’t I’d eat them with a fork or spoon!
- 1½ cups rolled oats
- 1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup raw almond butter
- ⅓ cup applesauce
- ¾ pound pitted dates, diced
- ¾ cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the dates, water. Bring to a boil, and cook until thickened. Stir in vanilla, and remove from heat. I use an immersion blender to make it smooth. Optional.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, pastry flour, salt, brown sugar, and baking soda. Mix in the applesauce and almond butter until crumbly. This is best done with your hands. Press half the mixture into the bottom of a 9 inch square baking pan. Bake 5-6 minutes.
- Spread the filling over the base, and pat the remaining crumb mixture on top.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in preheated oven, or until top is lightly toasted. Cool before cutting into squares.
So the next time you or the kids want something a little sweet, try this healthy date bar recipe. These would make a great snack and you could even get away with eating them for breakfast. With all the fiber in these, you’ll feel satisfied with just a small piece. And you’ll be getting your sugar fix, but along with it will actually come some decent nutrition. Imagine that.
Spreading the veggie (& fruit!) love,