Pancakes, Lightened Up

Butter, syrup and processed flour don't do much to make pancakes healthy, but you can make your own -- with a few simple swaps -- and enjoy a lighter breakfast.

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.

Add-ins

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.

Toppers

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.

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

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