October, 2012 Issue

Mixing It Up, the Healthy Way

There’s nothing like baking up some homemade goodies. But there are days when you really want pancakes or need a party treat, but time is short. Fortunately, baking up some deliciousness is no harder than opening up a box and stirring in a few ingredients. An army of food companies have done most of the work for you so you can be a kitchen whiz in a fraction of the time it would take to make it yourself.  

Of course, there’s a tradeoff for this convenience, as there is with any processed food. Total scratch baking means you control all of the ingredients. You can use whole grain flour and cut out the salt, but that’s not always the case with boxed and bagged mixes. But there are plenty of mixes available that can fit into a healthy eating plan.

Helpful hints. When you need the convenience of a boxed breakfast goodie or sweet treat mix, keep these tips in mind to make it the best it can be.

• Think inside the box. The nutritional information listed in our comparison—and on most food packages—is for the dry mix as packaged. As eaten, however, you may have added oil, eggs, milk, or other ingredients that contribute calories, fat, and sodium to the finished product. There are also mixes that call for just adding water. So, use our comparison chart as a tool to help you select the best in basic mixes. 

• Put your own spin on it. You can’t alter the mix itself, but you can make some improvements to the final product. Try using a bit less oil than called for, use skim milk instead of whole, or add fresh fruit to pancakes or muffins in order to boost the nutrition profile of your semi-from-scratch fare.

• Look for whole grain. While whole grain terminology on the package front isn’t a guarantee of a more nutrient-dense product, it’s a good place to start. Flip over the box to check the ingredients list, looking for a whole grain in the first two or three spots. Check the nutrition facts panel while you’re there for fiber content—look for at least three grams per serving. 

—Heidi McIndoo, M.S., R.D.