How to make "junk food" more wholesome

We've all got our favourite comfort foods, but they aren't always the most nutritious choices. A new book, The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook, provides recipes for treats that are tasty and healthy.

Running Press

We’ve all got our favourite comfort foods, but they aren’t always the most nutritious choices. A new book, The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook, provides recipes for treats that are tasty and healthy.

Part of the secret to these healthier treats is the cookbook author Laura Trice‘s use of ingredients she refers to as “the fantastic fourteen.” These fourteen ingredients stand in for more common choices that aren’t nearly as healthy:

  • Agave syrup: Can be purchased light or dark, raw or organic.
  • Dates: A great fruit sweetener that works well in smoothies.
  • Evaporated cane juice: A whole sugar with its trace minerals and nutrients intact.
  • Fruits: Many of these, like bananas, work in many ways and are healthier than refined sugars.
  • Honey: A natural sweetener that is best raw, unless you have a compromised immune system.
  • Maple syrup: This Canadian classic that is great instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Molasses: Full of vitamins and minerals — blackstrap molasses is a good source of iron.
  • Nonaluminum baking powder: If you’re concerned about the health effects of aluminum, which are not currently clear, this is a good option.
  • Expeller-pressed or organic oils: Processed without the use of added chemicals.
  • Organic, hormone-free and/or antibiotic-free eggs and dairy: These won’t have residues of hormones or antibiotics used in some livestock.
  • Salt: Unprocessed salt has better flavour and trace minerals.
  • Whole grains and complex carbohydrates: Choosing these grains leaves your dish with more fibre and nutrients.
  • Chocolate: If you choose dry powdered cocoa, you have control over the amount of sweetener and fat added.

Try some of these healthy ingredients, and others, in the two recipes below, which are excerpted from The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook by Laura Trice.


Golden pineapple-carrot muffins

These light and cakey yet wholesome muffins are perfect for breakfast or a lunch snack. The banana and pineapple add a natural source of sweetness while the strands of grated carrot add texture and colour. Enjoy warm out of the oven.

1.5 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp unprocessed sea salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup expeller-pressed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup canned crushed unsweetened pineapple, undrained
1/2 cup finely shredded raw carrot

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease an eight-cup muffin tin.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a larger bowl.

3. Combine the eggs, banana, oil, and vanilla in a blender. Pour over the dry ingredients. Add the walnuts, pineapple, carrot, and nuts and stir just until the flour is moistened.

4. Fill the muffin tin cups two-thirds full, using a 1/3-cup measure

5. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown, testing for doneness with a toothpick or piece of pasta.
Makes eight muffins.


Grilled cheese squares

My mom taught me this secret for making grilled cheese: using mayonnaise to create a crisp surface and impart an extra comforting taste. You may not believe that something this simple can make a difference. This is one of my favourite comfort foods, and whether you decide to make just one sandwich and eat it yourself, or make several for a snack, it is a delicious, gooey treat.

2 tbsp mayonnaise or extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices whole-grain bread
1/4 to 1/2 pound organic cheese, sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (may substitute rice, almond or soy cheese)
1 tbsp finely chopped chives or green onion (optional)

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat.

2. Spread a light coat of mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread.

3. Arrange two slices of bread in the hot skillet, mayonnaise side down. Top each with one slice cheese and sprinkle with the chives, if using. Top with the remaining two bread slices, mayonnaise side up. Cook until both sides are golden.

4. Slice the sandwiches into 1 to 1.5 inch squares and serve hot.
Serves four or five

Recipes from The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook by Laura Trice, published by Running Press.