Is it just me or has anyone else noticed how so many holidays seem to be centered around junk food? From Halloween candy to Christmas cookies to Valentine’s Day treats to Easter baskets it feels like my daughters collect enough candy from the holidays alone to feed an entire army (and we actually did help feed the army by shipping our Halloween candy to them one year!).
And since holidays, which seem to pop up every other month, are intertwined with birthday parties, school rewards, and other special occasions (King Cake for Mardi Gras anyone?) I often feel like I don’t even get the chance to “treat” my kids to something special because everyone else does it for me. But that’s because we aim to let treats truly be a “treat” at our house, which means not getting one every single day (or even every other day), and it sometimes feels like the rest of the world isn’t quite on board with that idea.
This post is not about that though…it’s actually about how “treats” can be fun and exciting without also being full of sugar or artificial colors (or from a factory)!
I know people get caught up in wanting to give kids something special—and some people even think I am “depriving” my children when I don’t want them to have highly processed junk food—but how special is it really if it’s also not good for their health? Sure a piece of candy here or there probably won’t hurt anything and my kids certainly eat junk food like that on occasion, but the point is I can offer something that’s better for them and just as exciting! I think it’s up to us to decide what foods are deemed as “special.”
If I put a little extra thought into how a certain food is presented, and I tell my girls it’s extra special then guess what? They agree and get pretty excited about it. They are young (4 and 7) so I’m not sure how long this will last, but you should have seen how they were clamoring over the pictured heart shaped fruit (on the kabob sticks with ribbons) while I was busy taking a million pictures of them. They were thrilled when I finally said they could gobble them up.
Was it a little more work than ripping open a Pop Tart? Sure, but not much and I personally think the extra effort was worth it to feel good about what I was feeding them. :)
So in the midst of the standard candy this Valentine’s Day, I hope you’ll consider trying out some of these holiday-themed alternatives as well (as I’ve said before…cookie cutters aren’t just for cookies!).
Holiday Themed Alternatives
- Heart or X & O shaped cheese or fruit (apple, kiwi, & honey-dew melon pictured above) either by itself or with other pieces on kabob sticks.
- Homemade whole-wheat brownies (pictured & recipe below) that are heart-shaped or have heart shapes on them using unsweetened coconut, homemade whipped cream, unsweetened cocoa powder, or crushed nuts…you could even stick a small heart-shaped strawberry on top.
- Heart-shaped homemade whole-grain pop tarts.
- Whole-grain breads (like banana, zucchini, or pumpkin) baked in heart-shaped muffin tins.
- Whole-grain muffins baked in either full-sized or mini Valentine’s-themed paper muffin holders (can be found at Michael’s Craft Store or Target).
- Heart or X & O shaped breakfast pancakes (pictured) either plain or with flavored cream cheese – try mixing in fresh pureed strawberries or an all-fruit raspberry jelly to make it pink – in the middle to make it a sandwich.
- Fruit or cheese squares stuck with Valentines-themed toothpicks (can be found at Michael’s or Target).
- Heart shaped PB&J sandwiches for lunch (save the bread scraps in the freezer to make croutons or stuffing another day).
- A Valentine’s themed lunch with a heart-shaped sandwich, heart-shaped fruit, and even heart-shaped cheese on a salad!
Please share your “real food” Valentine’s Day ideas in the comments below! And now here’s the recipe for those brownies…
232 thoughts on “Dark Chocolate Whole-Wheat Brownies (and other Valentine’s Day Ideas!)”
These brownies are awesome! A little too dry for my liking, but they still had amazing flavor. I made a healthy frosting to make them more moist. A hearty 5-star recipe though!
Amazing brownies!! I love this recipe.
Would it be possible to use avocado instead of coconut oil in this recipe?
Hi. We’ve not tried. If you give it a shot, please share your results.
I was thrilled to find this healthier brownie recipe as I was craving chocolate this afternoon. Then I ate four in a row. My husband liked them too and the whole house smelled so good! Thank you!
Has anybody tried replacing Olive oil in place of coconut oil? Does that make a difference with dryness ?
I know this is an old post, but these brownies are awesome! We used maple syrup and we couldn’t find the dark chocolate cocoa powder so we just used regular (Stop & Shop brand). They were still great and my 6 year old girls loved them and loved making them!! Thank you!
I made these and love them because they are “dark” chocolate and not very sweet. I am always looking
for desserts with very little sugar. They were not dry,
but they do stick to you mouth. Its a weird sensation.
Im not sure what causes that. I melted choc. chips
on top when they came out of the oven. I will definitely make them again. Does anyone know what
causes them to stick to your mouth? They are moist
These brownies were very dry. I am used to and like healthier baked goods but these were way too dry and definitely not very sweet (and I don’t eat very much added sugar or any refined/processed sweets). Not sure I would make them again….although maybe using butter and adding stevia would help. I only used one egg.
I followed the recipe exactly (using maple syrup & 2 eggs) and mine were quite dry. Any ideas as to why? Should I have used only 1 egg? I’m used to boxed brownies but i thought these would be just as moist.
They were delicious, nonetheless.
Hi there. The reader above suggests using butter in place of the coconut oil for more moisture. She also eliminated an egg.
I really loved these!! I changed a few things though. I used butter instead of coconut oil. I have tried brownies with coconut oil before and they were dry. Also I used one egg as two eggs would make them more cake like. I baked them until they were barely done. They were so good!!
These are yummy! My family gobbled them up as did I. Curious what would be a serving size? Thanks for creating this website it has been very helpful!
Hi there. One to two small brownies. :) Lisa’s recipes are designed to serve a family of four with leftovers.
I don’t use wheat flour (or anything wheat) so substituted with 1/2 cup of coconut flour and increased the eggs to 6 (coconut flour is a thirsty flour!). Folded the coconut flour slowly into the wet ingredients. Left out the baking soda and nuts. Turned out really well. :)
Quick question about measuring the coconut oil – do you measure 1/2 cup as a solid (like you would Crisco)and then melt it? Looking forward to trying these!!
Hi Debbie. You melt it. Here is more info on cooking with coconut oil: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/02/07/how-to-cook-with-coconut-oil/.
I swear, I have said your entire first paragraph word for word! It makes me sad that I feel like I can’t treat my own kids. But I do feel a bit better doing it with real food treats and not artificial junk.
I am trying some of your recipes, but I have a few kids who are gluten free. What would you suggest to substitute as a flour? the gluten free flour mixes usually have brown rice, white rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and I am assuming that these aren’t any good?
Hi there. You may have to bend the rules a little with GF flours. Here is a guide for making your own blends: http://glutenfreegirl.com/2013/02/how-to-make-a-gluten-free-whole-grain-flour-mix/. Also, Bob’s Red Meal Whole Grain Gluten Free blend is a good option. ~Amy
Was trying this recipe and noticed that there was no salt. I don’t know a lot about baking and I hope this isn’t a stupid question. I have just never baked anything that didn’t have a little salt. Was it left off of the recipe by mistake or do you not need salt? Thanks!! Love all your recipes. Have been trying to switch my family over to real food.
Hi Tisha. There is no salt in this recipe….and there are no stupid questions here either. :) ~Amy
So I made these today and when I took my first bite I guess I expected them to taste like the store bought ones I always make, but they didn’t, they were not chewy or gooey, more cake like, but they do taste pretty darn good, I added chopped walnuts and choc. chunks to the mix and I am glad I tried them b/c I know what all the ingredients are in them unlike the boxed ones. Yum.
Just wanted to share a tip – as noted by many reviewers and Lisa herself, these are more cake-like brownie and can be a bit crumbly. To zazz them up a little, after baking mine I treated it like a poke cake – poking holes all over the brownies and then poured organic half & half (maybe 1/3 cup?)in the pan and let it sit for about an hour. I also whipped up some organic peanut butter (no sugar – just peanuts), honey and a little bit more of the half and half to get a nice spreadable consistency and spread that on top of the brownies. The “poke” treatment really made them moist and more brownie like and the peanut butter icing was a decadent combo! A real treat – they were a big hit at a party we went to and no one could believe they had no sugar!
I love most of Lisa’s recipes, but this one was a total flop for me. I followed the recipe exactly-I used the honey to sweeten instead of maple. They were extremely dry brownies and had no taste. Worst of all, i wasted a lot of expensive cocoa, honey, organic eggs on this recipe. I won’t make these again.
You took the words right out of my mouth.
I am a big fan of real foods & had been looking forward to making this recipe. I even baked a double batch. A complete waste of some excellent & expensive items.
I tried out your brownie recipe with a little spin of my own for my college lifestyle blog Your Best Four Years – here’s a link to the post http://www.yourbestfouryears.com/journal/2014/2/26/a-rich-brownie-experience. I love your recipes and this one is no exception! Thank you :)
Is there a recommended substitute for the coconut oil? Thank you
The brownie flavor was great but they were SO dry. I know it says they are cake like and I was expecting some dryness but this was a lot. I think if I topped them with mixed fruit or something it might make it better but I didn’t have any on hand because I am pet sitting at someone elses house. I won’t be bringing them in for the bake sale tomorrow unfortunately because they are just too dry.
Here’s a post on my experience with this recipe. Thanks for continuing to give us true “real food” desserts.
I was really surprised to see negative comments about this recipe because I loved it and will continue to make it. I used 2 eggs, maple syrup and coconut oil but may try butter instead of coconut oil next time. It definitely kicked my chocolate craving to the curb :)
First, the brownies were great! Second, and more importantly, thank you for your website. I have always been a label reader but not an ingredient reader. WOW what I have learned in such a short period of time. My husband keeps saying “this is on the new ‘diet’?!” because all of your recipes have been wonderful, nutritious and we don’t feel like we are missing anything. If anything they are more delicious that my other recipes because I am using whole fat products and we are getting them fresh from our co-op! Thank you for opening our eyes!
I really love this recipe!! The first time I tried it, I followed the recipe exactly. The brownies were a little dark for me… (my personal preference is for a lighter brownie) :) They also seemed not sweet and a little dry. (I hope that doesn’t sound rude!) I tried the recipe again. This time, I replaced the coconut oil with butter. I also used a lighter cocoa and a smaller amount of cocoa. I was very happy! The brownies are moist and delicious. They still are a more of a “cake like” brownie but I’m still a huge fan!
We were having a chocolate craving last night and I just had to try these out. They were delicious! And I must say I felt a lot better about myself satisfying my craving with these rather than some loaded with sugar! I only had 1/4 cup maple syrup left so I actually used half maple syrup and half honey and I used 2 eggs and the taste was great! My husband, three year old and myself scarfed them down. My daughter couldn’t get them in her mouth fast enough!
Thanks for the recipe! I will replace this one with my old brownie recipe and test it out over the weekend! I prefer using maple syrup over honey for baking but is pretty expensive when I buy it at my local grocery store. Do you have any recommendations on where to purchase some online? Thanks!
Hi April. Trader Joes and Costco have pure maple syrup for good prices. You can easily compare prices on Amazon if you want to order online and it is hard to beat their large selection. ~AMy
I LOVE the idea of the heart shaped fruit on kabobs, I am SO going to do this for my kids :). Also one way we cut back on the “treats” at holidays is get them little gifts in place of the candy. My plan for valentines day was to get them each a tiny little heart box of chocolates with some type of craft for my 4 year old and a puzzle for my 2 year old then a book each. We do the same at easter. When I was a kid I remember getting huge baskets of candy where my kids get about 90% toys, movies, clothes that kind of stuff and 10% candy.
Where do you get the heart shaped cookie cutter for the sandwich and fruit? Or do you cut yourself? Thanks!
Hi Carrie. You can find Lisa’s favorite here: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/08/24/my-favorite-school-lunch-supplies/. This time of year, you will easily find heart shaped cookie cutters throughout US stores. :) ~Amy