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Test Kitchen Secrets: How to Bake a Healthier Cupcake

Delicious cupcake recipes and easy tips for making them healthier, such as cutting back on sugar, adding whole-wheat flour and sneaking in vegetables.
A platter of beautiful healthy cupcakes

A platter of beautiful healthy cupcakes

When you’re thinking of baking up a batch of cupcakes, making them healthier probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. You want them to be beautiful and you want them to be delicious. But we’re here to tell you that you can have all it all: a healthier cupcake that looks good and tastes good too.

Cupcakes already have a healthier edge over cake, because they’re a perfectly portioned treat that might make you feel less tempted to overindulge. Making the cupcakes from scratch helps you control the ingredients and make healthier choices you can feel good about serving your kids. Boxed cake mixes and frosting tubs might be an easy option, but many of them contain artificial flavors, colors and ingredients that are hard to pronounce.

The EatingWell Test Kitchen has baked up hundreds of cupcakes over the years to perfect our healthy cupcake recipes. Here are our best tips for making your cupcakes healthier—and still delicious.

1. Choose All-Natural Color
Unicorn Cupcakes

For better or worse, the unicorn craze has introduced a technicolor rainbow of artificial food dyes into our kids’ treats. But the health risks of these dyes aren’t so bright. Research has linked the use of artificial dyes with hyperactivity, attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), irritability and aggressiveness in children. For a healthier treat that’s every bit as beautiful, opt for natural food dyes and sprinkles that are colored naturally using plant-based extracts, such as turmeric, annatto, spirulina and beets.

2. Swap in Whole-Wheat Flour
Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Try replacing half (or all) of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour. You’ll still get the added benefit of extra fiber without much wheaty flavor.

3. Cut Back on Added Sugar
Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Cupcakes are a once-in-a-while treat, and we’re not saying you need to cut out added sugar completely, especially for a special occasion like a birthday party. But there are ways to cut back and still have a delicious cupcake.

Experiment with your favorite cupcake recipe and trying using just a little bit less sugar in the batter and in the frosting. Use naturally sweet ingredients, such as berries and fruit, and add in vanilla or lemon to boost flavor (without the added sugar). Keep in mind that even natural sweeteners, such as honey and maple syrup, count toward added sugar totals.

4. Upgrade Your Frosting
Carrot cake cupcake

Traditional cream cheese frosting is usually made with regular cream cheese and butter. Lighten it up by substituting a combination of reduced-fat cream cheese and Greek yogurt.

5. Sneak in Some Veggies
Poop Emoji Cupcakes

Yes, for real. Vegetables are a food group that most kids don’t eat enough of. And some veggies are so naturally sweet, they were made to be eaten for dessert (think pureed beets and shredded carrots). In this hilarious chocolate cupcake recipe, roasted sweet potato makes a great replacement for butter in the chocolate frosting.