Five Ingredients for Healthy Baking and Vegan Health Bar Cookies

Summer is upon us which means travel, picnics, days at the pool, and lots of kid time. When you’re planning snacks for your little ones, why not take your favorite recipes and bump up the nutrition? It’s easy to do by adding or substituting nutrient dense ingredients when making cookies, granola, or cakes.

Here are some of my go-to ingredients for making snacks healthier:

Nuts: Walnuts are my favorite nut to include because of their omgea-3 fatty acid content. They also protect against heart disease and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Dried Fruit: Fresh fruit is more nutritionally dense than dried fruit. I like to include dried fruit in my baked goods though because they add sweetness and flavor naturally. Any sweetening agent can be decreased by 10 – 25%.

Applesauce or Banana Puree: Fruit purees adds moisture to baked goods and can replace up to 25%, and sometimes more, of the fat in a recipe. You can decrease the butter or oil without sacrificing texture and flavor. Any fruit puree will work but I like applesauce for it’s neutral flavor. Banana is an all-around great addition to so many desserts so I use it regularly.

Seeds: Seeds aren’t used nearly enough in baking. Sesame and flax seeds both contain ligans, which can help reduce cholesterol. Sesame seeds also contain copper, calcium, iron, and zinc. Other seeds to use in baking include chia, sunflower, and pumpkin. Seeds, like nuts, can be used whole or ground into flour.

Beans: Most people are surprised when I serve them a dessert made from beans. Why not? They contain fiber, folate, and iron. Extra fiber helps slow down digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. I also like to use bean flours when I bake for the same reason.

These vegan Health Bar Cookies are packed with sesame seeds and use raisins to bump up the sweetness.

Health Bar Cookies

makes 8 big cookies

1/2 cup organic raisins
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 1/4 cup Amy’s Basic Flour Blend
1 1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

Cover the raisins with the water in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes and set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes.  Drain the raisins and reserve the soaking water.  Chop the raisins coarsely.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the sesame seeds.  Toast by stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until they begin to turn golden brown and are fragrant, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Whisk together the flour blend, oats, cinnamon, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and toasted sesame seeds.  Put the thawed apple juice concentrate in a 2-cup wet measure.  Add the reserved raisin water and 2 tablespoons oil.  If necessary, add water to equal a total of 1 1/8 cups liquid.  Add the raisins to the dry ingredients and then stir in the wet ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate for 20 – 30 minutes.

Use a spring-release ice cream scoop (yes, a big one) to evenly portion the batter onto the cookie sheet.  Use moist  fingertips to flatten the cookies to about 1/2 inch  thick.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until cookies are lightly golden brown.  Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, then individually wrap and freeze the leftovers.

adapted from Fruit-Sweet and Sugar-Free by Chef Janice Feuer

You’ll also want to try these healthy recipes:

Flourless, Grain-Free Chocolate Torte with ‘Powdered Sugar’ – This dense, moist torte is made with garbanzo beans and sprinkled with finely ground coconut instead of powdered sugar.

Quinoa Raisin Cookies – Instead of oats, these cookies use quoina flakes and the raisins naturally boost the sweetness.

Chocolate Walnut Flourless, Grain-Free Brownies – Black beans stand in for flour in this recipe. They’re also packed with walnuts for some healthy fat.

Magic Cookie Power Bars – Instead of sweetened condensed milk, these cookie bars use chia seeds, dates, and almond milk.

Chunky Banana Flax Muffins – Packed with pureed bananas and flax meal, these muffins will help you start your day the right way.

How do you make recipes healthier?

Amy Green is a co-founder of The Balanced Platter and the founder of Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free and the best selling book, Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free: 180 Easy & Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less. She is also a co-founder of Nourished, the only specialty food blogger conference.

19 Responses to Five Ingredients for Healthy Baking and Vegan Health Bar Cookies

  • I love using applesauce in may muffins and cookies to make them healthier. Cookies definitely are a little more dense when you change them, but I love a dense healthy cookie especially when I’m traveling. These look delicious!


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen), I agree with you about the drastic change in cookies when you add fruit purees. They are more cake-like. I generally like my cookies to taste like cookies but when I’m going for something healthier it’s quite welcome. I have a zucchini cookie on my blog that is definitely cakey but one of my favorites.


  • Hallie says:

    Major mouthwatering going on here! I love using fruit purees in baking, too, both for added moisture and natural sweetness. And I usually can’t resist throwing in some flax or ground chia for good measure, too. :)


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Hallie, Chia and flax are so versatile and nutritious, aren’t they? I should expand past my go-to fruit purees but so many times I don’t think ahead and have different fruits on hand. Mango puree would be really good.


  • Ricki says:

    I HAVE to make these!! Great tips, too, Amy. :)


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Ricki, The cookies are really good – especially for a mid-day snack.


  • Alta says:

    Great tips indeed, Amy! I love baking with seeds and am just now starting to really use them. And beans are definitely an awesome ingredient in baking – making lovely cakes! Great tips. And yummy cookies!


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Alta, Let me know what you do with the seeds. I love to throw them into recipes. Maggie has been using lots of pumpkin seed flour lately – I haven’t tried that yet but want to.


    Alta Reply:

    @Amy Green, Just as a heads up – if you make sunflower seed flour and bake with it, just like SunButter, it will turn green. Made that mistake this weekend when I was playing around with a bread recipe. Green bread. Not so appetizing. :) I have used pumpkin seed flour once – love it!


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Alta, Oh. I didn’t know that happened when you ground your own flour from sunflower seeds. I baked with Sunbutter once and it didn’t turn green. I am not sure what was different about that recipe because I know most people say that it does.

  • Alisa says:

    I remember this recipe from your blog! I still need to make it. I’ve yet to purchase apple juice concentrate. I wonder if TJ’s has an organic version?


  • kelly says:

    Why is Canola Oil used? Those toxic acid adds up.


    Amy Green Reply:

    @kelly, You can use any neutral flavored oil you want. Cybele Pascal, a friend of mine and guru in the allergen-free world, uses canola oil because it’s the least likely to be contaminated with the big 8 allergens. My experience has been that not all foods are so black and white. Some foods work for people in certain circumstances while others don’t.


  • I so need to make these soon! I love the ingredients here! What a great snack to have around the house now that the kiddos are home for summer! :)


    Amy Green Reply:

    @Kim-Cook It Allergy Free, I think it could easily be morphed into a great dehydrator recipe. Something I might work on.

    Hope you’re enjoying the kids! Summer is so much fun.


    Kim-Cook It Allergy Free Reply:

    @Amy Green, You read my mind!! I was totally thinking you could do these in the dehydrator!! :)


  • What a FABULOUS post! Thankyou for all of these wonderful suggestions and this fabulous recipe!


  • Jules says:

    What can I used instead of sesame seeds (I’m allergic)…possibly ground flax seed? Thank you, and this recipe looks great!


    PJ Reply:

    @Jules, Jules, How about sunflower seeds or chopped pumpkin seeds as a substitute for the sesame seeds? Not quite the same flavor, they might work. I’ve noticed that flax (whole or ground) will act as a gel unless you dehydrate them–then they dry out and stick together. Hemp hearts/seeds might be another substitute you could try.


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