Pancakes, Lightened Up

by in Healthy Recipes, Meal Makeovers, September 28, 2009

I love digging into fluffy pancakes. In fact, banana-chocolate chip is the house favorite. But let’s face it — topping your pancakes with gobs of syrup and butter is not the healthiest way to start your day. Do a little swapping in your recipe, and you can lighten up your pancakes in no time.

Making Your Own
If you’re buying pancakes in box, stop! Making your own is super easy and you probably have all the ingredients on hand — flour, eggs, baking powder, sugar, milk and butter. Check out that box mix’s label; you probably can’t pronounce some of the ingredients. Some mixes even contain trans fats (from hydrogenated oils). Plus, many that are branded as “healthy” include enriched and processed flour — do it yourself and you can swap in a variety of higher-fiber flours (more below).

Nutrition Facts
A three-stack of large pancakes can run you around 500 calories, and that’s without the toppings. Drizzle on a few tablespoons of syrup, and the total is closer to 700 calories (plus, loads of sugar). Add some butter and that’s another 100 calories per tablespoon. Your breakfast is now more like 900 calories!

Simple Swaps
Luckily, you can easily modify grandma’s famous pancake recipe. First step: Trade the whole milk for 1% or fat-free. If your recipe calls for heavy cream, use whole milk instead (two tablespoon of heavy cream = 103 calories, while two tablespoon whole milk = 20 calorie.) You can also replace the eggs for egg substitutes for lower-cholesterol pancakes; go for 1/4 cup of egg substitute for each egg.

The Flour
This is main ingredient, and there are several possibilities. Add fiber by combining whole wheat flour with white flour. If you’re trying whole-wheat flour for the first time, use a one-to-one ratio of white to whole wheat — this will keep your pancakes fluffy. My favorite flour to use is buckwheat; it gives the pancakes a nutty flavor and works great with bananas. Not all grocery stores carry specialty flours, but one brand to look for is Bob’s Red Mill — they offer whole wheat, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet and quinoa. They also offer pancake mixes such as a 10-grain, cornmeal, high fiber and even gluten-free that are worth trying.

Rather than pouring on the syrup, add sweetness (not to mention more nutrients) by mixing in berries and bananas. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanins and dd minimal calories. Bananas add potassium, fiber and vitamin C. If add ins aren’t your thing, opt for a few silver dollar pancakes or one mediumone and pair it with a fruit salad.

Of  course, some days I just want a special treat, and I grab my dark chocolate chips. I toss around ½ cup to my mix — this usually scores me some extra hugs and kisses from the kids and hubby.

Most of the cheaper syrup brands contain high-fructose corn syrup, which you should eat sparingly. I prefer using one or two tablespoons of 100% maple syrup (about 80 calories). Sure, the real stuff costs more, but the smaller portions will make it last longer.

Butter is another popular topper, but cut it down or out entirely (I don’t use any on my pancakes). Adding a small pat of butter to the griddle when you start cooking helps add buttery flavor. Using a nonstick pan or cooking spray instead of butter is another option. If you can’t live without the butter, go for a teaspoon, which is one pat.

Granola and nuts are other toppers that add healthy fats and fiber, but remember cup fulls of granola or nuts will add hundreds of unneeded calories. Stick to two-tablespoon portions so you get the benefits of the fats without overdoing it.

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to make pancakes?

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Comments (41)

  1. Fawn says:

    You’re very welcome. I don’t remember where I got it from at this point but it was a way to sweeten whole wheat pancakes without adding a lot of sugar, as a diabetic that one appealed to me.

  2. Debbie says:

    I either use a base mix or make from scratch. Either way I add RAW wheat germ and oat bran (from health food store – it is kept refrigerated) 1% milk. Also add frozen blueberries, mashed banana or whatever type we want that day. Nobody knows the wheat germ and oat bran are there and I use about 2 Tbsp wheat germ and @ 1/4 cup oat bran to @ 1 1/2 c. dry ingred.

  3. Seija says:

    I use bisquick mix with skim milk and egg beaters for the pancakes, spray the pan with spray oil and then use spray butter and sugarfree pancake syrup, Then top with fruit if you like. YUMMY!!!

  4. Karen says:

    I like to add a small amount of butter extract and maple extract to my pancake batter to give my pancakes extra flavor without adding any calories whatsoever. Fruits are great additions, but they add carbs & calories; even spray butter and most sugar-free syrups have calories. I prefer Walden Farms Sugar Free Calorie Free Pancake Syrup. You can even add the extracts to the syrup to give it an extra buttery flavor and/or additional maple flavor.

  5. Amanda says:

    I like to add some sweet potato puree to add some healthiness for my toddler who refuses to eat his veggies. It also adds to the flavor. I add a little ground flax seed, vanilla extract and cinnamon too. I love the grated apple idea, I'll have to try that next time.

  6. Karen says:

    I cook fruit to use as syrup. The easiest is to keep frozen blueberries and raspberries on hand and throw them frozen into a little saucepan, add a little water, pure vanilla or maple extract and a couple packs of Splenda . Simmer uncovered and reduce for about 20 minutes. Pour on top of pancakes made with buckwheat/wholewheat flour, baking powder, 1 pack Splenda, egg whites and low fat buttermilk. Top with the warm fruit topping. Delicious!

  7. Debbie says:

    I use a powdered buttermilk and blend it with the fruit I am adding to my mix.It has a long shelf life and I don't use buttermilk enough to buy it fresh.But when I have it on hand I find I make more breads and such that are so much healthier for my family than whats out there on the market shelfs

  8. Alisha says:

    I use a whole grain box pancake (to save time) add some milled flax seed and cook them in trans fat free canola, then we top them with whole raspberry syrup or sugar free maple-just one or two with a banana and a piece of turkey bacon is a complete and guiltless breakfast <3

  9. Dana says:

    I have son is who allergic to dairy and eggs – so I use the Heart Healthy Biquick – I add applesauce or an egg replacer – and I do either sweet potatoes (from mashed) into it – or I add BUtternut Squash puree. Gets the veggies in and they are both sweet. I just make big batches of both and freeze them in ice cube trays and pop them into baggies and use cubes as needed. Love the grated apple idea too. Will try!

  10. GRACE says:


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