Dessert. It's the best part of the meal, isn't it? Your mouth waters in anticipation. Will it be chocolate cake, silky smooth ice cream or decadent pastries? Careful, though -- the urge to satisfy a sweet tooth can also lead to an expanding waistline.
It's easier than you think to keep a dessert in the 300-calorie (or lower) range. If it's sugar you're after, look for recipes using fruit as a main ingredient. Fruit contains a lot of natural sugar. Avoid desserts with a ton of added sugar -- like white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Another way to cut calories is by watching portion size. Small portions equal a small calorie count. Also, if your recipe calls for butter or whole milk, experiment with reduced fat milk and margarine to cut even more calories.
Keep reading to discover five of our favorite 300-calories-or-less desserts.
Creamy Baked Maple Custard
This smooth, silken custard contains fewer than 200 calories per serving by using fat-free milk instead of whole. Maple syrup adds natural sweetness. The following recipe makes three servings.
Divide four teaspoons of natural maple syrup between three custard cups. In a medium bowl, gently combine:
- One egg
- One egg white
- 1 cup of fat-free milk
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
Divide the mixture among the three cups.
Place the cups into a baking pan with low sides, and add one inch of boiling water to that pan. Bake the whole thing for 35 to 40 minutes at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) -- it's done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cups on a wire rack. Serve warm or let cool completely, then chill in the fridge.
For added flavor without many added calories, try topping the custards with a dried or baked apple slice. It's a perfect autumn treat.
Sweet 'n Salty Caramel Popcorn
Coming in at 250 calories per serving, caramel popcorn is a delicious compromise between sweet and savory. As an added benefit, popcorn is whole-grain -- meaning you'll feel more full and satisfied. This recipe makes 12 servings, so one serving would be about 1 1/2 cups.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C). Pop 1/2 cup popcorn kernels in an air popper (to avoid using fatty oil). While the corn is popping, lightly coat two large baking pans with cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan, combine:
- 1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons of peanut oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for two to three minutes. Stir in a teaspoon of baking soda. The mixture will become smooth.
Drizzle evenly over the popcorn in the baking pans and give it a little stir to coat all the pieces. Bake for one hour, stirring the popcorn every 15 minutes or so.
Amazing Banana "Ice Cream"
Nobody will ever guess that this rich and creamy banana ice cream contains only one ingredient. No dairy, no added sugar, no artificial sweeteners. All you need are bananas, a freezer and a blender. A medium-sized banana contains only about 110 calories, so you can use more than one and still come in under 300 calories. As an added bonus, bananas provide you with vitamins and fiber.
Peel your ripe bananas and freeze until you're ready to use them. Then, simply throw the solid bananas into a blender or food processor. The bananas will turn into a creamy frozen dessert with the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. If you prefer more traditional "hard" ice cream, simply put the blended banana mixture into the freezer for a few hours. You'll be able to use your ice cream scoop for serving.
If you want to boost the flavor a little bit, try adding some honey or even a very small amount of peanut butter. Just keep your calorie count in mind when adding ingredients.
Vegan Chocolate Applesauce Cake
In baking, you can make many recipes lower in calories by making simple substitutions. Applesauce makes an excellent replacement for oil or eggs. Besides reducing fat, the applesauce makes the cake quite moist as well.
The following cake recipe uses applesauce in lieu of both oil and eggs -- which also makes the cake vegan. You'll never miss the extra fat! This moist chocolate cake comes in at under 200 calories a slice, and makes 10 servings.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). In a large bowl, combine:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Add 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce and mix until the batter is smooth. Grease and flour a cake pan and pour batter into pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie is typically rich and creamy. This version uses fat-free dairy and a butter substitute to cut some of the fat. It's a perfect dessert that will always remind you of summer. The recipe makes 10 servings, at 235 calories apiece.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). In a 9-inch glass pie plate, combine:
- 1 1/4 cups low-fat graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil spread
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
When the mixture is moistened, press it into the bottom and sides of your pie plate by hand. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, and then cool.
Add 1/3 cup cold water to a 1-quart saucepan. Add one envelope of unflavored gelatin, and let stand for two minutes. Then cook the mixture on low until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat.
Next, take 22 Key limes (or 4 to 5 regular limes) and squeeze 1/2 cup of juice. If you're using regular limes, you can also grate 2 teaspoons of the lime zest. In a bowl, whisk together:
- Lime juice (and zest)
- 1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/2 cups plain fat-free yogurt
- Gelatin mixture
Spoon the filling into your crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours to set.
Check out the links on the next page to find out more about healthy, low-calorie eating.
You crack open the fortune cookie at the end of your meal and ... well, it may not exactly tell your future, but who doesn't secretly hope it promises something fabulous?
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Baked Maple Custards." Better Homes and Gardens. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.bhg.com/recipe/desserts/baked-maple-custards/
- "Caramel Popcorn." FitnessMagazine.com. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/recipes/desserts/low-calorie/low-calorie-dessert-recipes/?page=8
- Davis, Jaimie. "Cut That: Simple Ways to Slash Sugar." Disney Family Food. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://family.go.com/food/pkg-healthy-families/article-561064-reducing-sugar-t/
- Durand, Faith. "How to Make Creamy Ice Cream with Just One Ingredient!" The Kitchn. Aug. 19, 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/stay-cool/how-to-make-creamy-ice-cream-with-just-one-ingredient-093414
- "Food Facts A-Z: Banana." Dole Nutrition Institute. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.dolenutrition.com/Facts_ae.aspx
- "Healthy Key Lime Pie." Good Housekeeping. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/healthy-key-lime-pie
- "Tips on How to Make Healthier Meals." National Heart Lung & Blood Institute. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/h_eating/tips.htm
- "Vegan Low Fat Chocolate Applesauce Cake." SparkRecipes.com. 2009. (Aug. 31, 2009) http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=222859