How to make a brownie mix healthier in seconds

IF YOU’VE GOT A BUSY HOLIDAY SCHEDULE this one’s for you. This weekend we had a Christmas party for the playgroup that Phoebe used to attend (and love). For the fun of seeing old friends plus 30 others who just speak English, we baked up four dozen mini brownies and headed out. On the bus, through the rain, across Piazza Del Popolo…it doesn’t have quite the same ring as grandmother’s house, but off we went anyway.

We’ve made better-for-you brownies from scratch before but this time we experimented with a mix. Granted, these are not low-sugar. They’re full-sugar, but they’ve got a healthy little kick by way of extra fruit, whole wheat and vegetables. Yes, vegetables.Phoebe and I spent the morning working on the right combination. We steamed, pureed and baked, coming up with two versions. This was the winner. It uses already roasted beets, a product actually available in our Italian grocery store and one of my favorites. I think of beets like duck or fish. Delicious but such a pain to prepare in my house; I’d rather enjoy them in the comfort of someone else’s…restaurant. These beets are sweet enough to not radically alter the brownies’ taste, they’re the right color and obviously add a dash of healthy where it otherwise wouldn’t appear. Plus beets are great for retaining moisture in a dish like this. Ditto for the applesauce, which I use a lot. Just half the oil in almost any recipe and replace with applesauce. Then we added wheat germ, because that’s what we do. Another way to keep things on a healthier track, however indirect it may be (adding nutritious stuff to a brownie mix is good but it’s still a brownie mix full of sugar!), is to keep the portions small. That’s why we’re so fond of our collection of mini-muffin pans. They’re the right size for miniature revelers. Phoebe can even have two and feel decadent but not insane on sugar. Ditto for me.

One thing about the pans. When you reduce the oil, cakes like these are bound to be stickier so it’s important to take an extra measure here. There’s no point in making brownies that are so permanently stuck to the pan that on one ever gets to eat them! So use cooking spray, vegetable oil or butter first. Then dust the pan with either flour, cocoa powder (even a packet of hot chocolate would work) or reserve a scant teaspoon or so of the brownie mix itself. Dust the muffin cups or brownie pan for less heartache later on.

{Foodlets Recipe Makeover: Delicious Recipes Made a Little Better for You}

  • ORIGINAL RECIPE: Basic brownie mix
  • A LITTLE HEALTHIER: Use applesauce instead of oil and follow regular instructions. Cut brownies into one inch squares or use a mini-muffin pan to limit portion size.
  • EVEN HEALTHIER: Add wheat germ, beets and applesauce to the regular recipe, adjusting the amount of water needed as you go. Start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed.


We used a Ducan Hines mix, though any would do. Our recipe made 24 mini brownies.

Use  already roasted beets available in the produce section of most grocery stores.

We made our own (only because we had to) but one of those individual cups of applesauce for kids would work perfectly. Just don’t use the cinnamon kind.


  • Packaged brownie mix such as Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker (A plain variety is best, without extra flavorings, added chocolate, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup pureed beets
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup water (add a tablespoon more if mixture is too thick)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus more for pan
  • Flour or cocoa powder to dust the pan


If you’re using a mini muffin pan preheat oven to 425. If you’re doing a regular pan of brownies, set it for 350. (Higher temperatures work better on miniaturized baked goods.)

Use PAM cooking spray or a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil to prepare the pan. If you have cocoa powder or a hot chocolate packet, dust the pan. Otherwise reserve a scant teaspoon of the brownie mix and dust with that.

Combine all ingredients and whisk until no large lumps remain. There will still be a few small lumps, which are fine.

Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake. For mini muffins: check at 8 minutes. For a full pan, follow the instructions on the box according to size.






  1. says

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