Healthy Muffins for Kids, Toddlers and Grown-Ups: Making a Moist Muffin from Scratch

Small round quick breads that are either savory or sweet, muffins are easy to bake and come out moist and tender every time if you use a few special baking tricks.

Whether plain, filled with fruits like blueberries or bananas, or containing vegetables like pumpkin or zucchini, muffins can be made fancier by the addition of nuts, dried fruit or streusel crumb toppings.

Healthy muffin recipes call for high-fiber whole grains, natural sugars as sweeteners, and healthy fats and oils in the ingredients.

Serve healthy muffins for yourself or your kids for breakfast or as a snack, straight out of the oven or warmed up in a 300 degree oven from the freezer where they will store for up to two weeks.

Banana-coconut muffins, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/gudlyf/3689535067/ under Creative Commons Attribution License
Banana-coconut muffins, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/gudlyf/3689535067/ under Creative Commons Attribution License

Muffins, a Tasty Health Food Since the 1970s

While not every muffin recipe is healthy, you can turn very rich muffin recipes into healthy ones with a few substitutions. Muffin recipes usually include:

  • flour
  • oil
  • leavening agent: baking powder or baking soda
  • liquid (milk, fruit juice, egg, yogurt)
  • flavor enhancements, like fruit, nuts, flavoring, and cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices.

Muffins can be made healthier by the addition of beta-carotene-containing vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin. Banana muffins have plenty of potassium, and bran muffins are rich in the natural soluble fiber in oat bran or wheat bran. Protein can be boosted with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Use extra virgin olive oil as the oil in healthy muffins, especially those recipes with strongly flavorful ingredients; the taste of the olive oil will not intrude.

Muffins don't need to have refined sugar; they can be sweetened by a dollop of brown rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, honey, organic evaporated cane juice, or simply fruit juices. The addition of apples, dried cranberry or dried raisins can provide much of a muffin's sweetness. If you use a wet sweetener, decrease the liquid ingredients correspondingly. And if you do use regular sugar, halve the amount called for in the recipe.

Muffins don't necessarily even need sweetening. Savory muffins like jalapeno cheese can be spicy. Traditionally, corn muffins are made without added sugar; for corn muffins to be naturally sweet, try grinding the cornmeal fresh.

Use whole wheat pastry flour for tender whole grain muffins. For gluten-free muffins, use a coconut flour base or a gluten-free flour mix of brown rice flour, potato starch and arrowroot starch. Coconut flour also makes a great low-carb muffin. Typically, when baking with coconut flour, very little flour is needed, and eggs are used in quantity.

Low- or no-cholesterol muffins can be made by leaving out eggs, increasing the liquid proportionally and adding loft with extra leavening agent.

Muffins made without milk or other dairy products make perfectly delicious dairy-free muffins.

The Secret of Moist Muffins

These tips will help your muffins come out moist every time you bake them, even if you're not using a recipe.

Use the Toothpick Test

Most muffin recipes call for baking in a hot oven (at least 375 degrees) for as short a time span as possible to assure the least moisture loss. Making sure you don't overcook muffins is especially important with low-fat or nonfat muffin recipes.

If the recipe says cook for 20-25 minutes, check them at 20 minutes.  Check the muffins by dipping a toothpick in the center of one.  If the toothpick comes out very moist, bake them maybe five more minutes before checking again. If it comes out nearly clean but a little moist,  give them a couple of minutes more and then check again.  It's best to minimize the number of times you check muffins for doneness, because this lowers the cooking temperature and extends the cooking time - a recipe for dry muffins!

Follow Exact Directions for Adding, Mixing and Baking

When you make your favorite muffin recipe, mix the dry ingredients together in a big non-reactive bowl. Then stir in any extra "dry" additions - nuts or dried fruit - to the dry ingredients. Also add fresh or frozen blueberries, if you're using them.  Pat a well into the middle of this flour mixture.

In a separate bowl or cup measure, mix together the wet ingredients. Add any wet extras besides fresh or frozen blueberries - carrots, raspberries, pumpkin, pineapple, etc - to the wet ingredients last, stirring it in just lightly.

Pour the wet into the dry ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir gently--not vigorously--just until the flour mixture has been moistened and most flour spots are no longer visible.

The leavening agent will begin immediately to act and you'll notice the muffin batter rising. Another rising will occur in the oven (giving rise to the name "double acting baking powder).

Quickly but gently spoon the batter into greased muffin tins. Each muffin well should be filled to at least three quarters full.   If there is not enough batter to fill each muffin well at least 3/4 full, it's better to crowd the already-filled muffin tins than spread out the batter to all of them.

Secret Tip to Moist Muffins:  Water in the Well

Leave at least one muffin well unfilled - that is, put no batter into it.  This is usually easy if you spread out the extra batter into the other muffin wells.  A little more batter for the other muffins won't hurt at all - it will just give you bigger tops and probably make your eaters happier, since the crown is the part of the muffin many people find the most delicious.

Before baking, pour some water into any unfilled muffin wells. This water will help turn your muffins moist as it steams in the oven.

Basic Healthy Muffins Recipe for Sweet Additions

The following recipe can be used as a basic muffin recipe, and modified according to the various suggestions in this article. The key is to keep the ratio of dry ingredients and wet ingredients the same. Note, however, that whole wheat flour absorbs lots of moisture. Depending on the type of whole wheat flour you use and the humidity level where you are, you may need to increase or decrease the milk by about 1/4 cup.

This first basic muffin recipe is very lightly sweetened, a fluffy whole wheat muffin that's perfect for adding berries and nuts. (Recipe #2 that follows is suitable for savory muffins more like biscuits to which you can add savory ingredients like cheese or zucchini.) This recipe makes 8 medium sized muffins and is made in a 12-tin muffin pan.

Adding all nuts and berries to the dry ingredients before blending with the wet ingredients has two advantages: 1) it prevents your having to mix the batter too much, and 2) it keeps the berry juice from "bleeding" into the wet ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons food starch (cornstarch, arrowroot powder, water chestnut starch, or potato starch)
  • 3 tablespoons finely granulated dry rapadura sugar or other unrefined granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons (equivalent to 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup honey, 100% pure maple syrup, or fruit-based liquid sweetener
  • 2 eggs, beaten (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
  • 1 1/3 cup whole or 2% milk (cow's milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, cranberries, or other berry, lightly patted dry (optional)

Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a medium bowl. Stir the wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss the nuts and berries into the dry ingredients until they are flour-coated.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the wet ingredients and stir just until dough forms (dough will be slightly lumpy).

Spoon batter nearly up to the rim of 8 tins of a 12-muffin greased standard-sized 3" muffin pan. Pour a little water in the remaining 4 tins to keep the muffins moist as they bake.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven 20 minutes, or until a toothpick or slim knife inserted into the center emerges clean. Take all the muffins out of the hot pan and serve warm.

Muffins may be frozen after cooling and thawed each morning for breakfast.

Basic Healthy Savory Muffin Recipe for Savory Additions

This recipe produces hearty, crusty muffins that are slightly dry, like biscuits. They are delicious spread with butter and drizzled with honey straight out of the oven. Warning: they are only lightly sweetened. To make them egg free, substitute 1/4 cup milk for the egg. These muffins taste great if adding shredded cheese or vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons food starch (cornstarch, arrowroot powder, water chestnut starch, or potato starch)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup 100% pure maple syrup, honey or fruit-based liquid sweetener, dry rapadura sugar or other unrefined granulated sugar (If using brown rice syrup, increase to 1/2 cup. If using dry granulated sugar, increase milk by 1/4 cup.)
  • 1 egg, beaten (or 1/4 cup egg substitute, or 1/4 cup extra milk)
  • 3/4 cup whole or 2% milk (cow's milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a medium bowl. Stir the wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss the nuts and berries into the dry ingredients until they are flour-coated.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the wet ingredients and stir just until dough forms (dough will be slightly lumpy).

Spoon batter into a 6-muffin greased standard-sized 3" muffin pan.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven 20 minutes, or just until a toothpick or slim knife inserted into the center emerges clean. Take all the muffins out of the hot pan and serve warm.

Muffins may be frozen after cooling and thawed each morning for breakfast.

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10 comments

valuk 7 years ago

Yummy. I adore muffins. Will make them tomorrow now when you reminded me.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 6 years ago from United States

Great suggestions for making muffins healthier. There are a lot of foods with the potential to be healthy but people just assume they aren't because their most popular versions aren't healthy. I've had really good bran and blueberry muffins before, and I like the combination ideas you suggest in here.


disappointed 6 years ago

Wow...so sorry to say that these muffins were horrible.

They didn't rise. The were like hockey pucks.

Checked ingredients twice just to be sure.

The dough was very, very dry and it just didn't work.

It was really disappointing.


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

Disappointed,

Can you tell me what sweetener you used, and, if a dry one, did you increase the milk as instructed? Also were there any other modifications? I'm going to make the recipe again to double check the ingredient ratios.


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

All righty, I made a batch. I substituted 1/4 cup milk for the egg so my kid could eat them and used honey as the sweetener, and since I was out of whole wheat pastry flour, I used whole wheat bread flour instead. I used potato starch as my choice of starch. They rose just fine. I'm wondering if your baking powder might have been expired?

They were, however, quite dry - more like whole wheat biscuits than the muffins I remembered. I'm now going to try another batch, this time with egg, tweaking the ingredients again, and I'll report back.


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

OK, batch two that I modified came out more like traditional moist muffins. They are delicately sweet, rather than like cup cakes.

I'm going to put both recipes up, the existing one for more biscuit-like, savory, hearty muffins suitable for buttering and the addition of things like shredded cheese or vegetables, the new one for moister, more delicate and sweeter muffins more suitable to berries and banana additions.

If you're willing to try again, please do let me know how these turn out for you.


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Thank you for these excellent ideas. I have never thought of the fruit juice idea and I am going to use it as my granddaughter loves to bake muffins, but I worry about her eating too many sweet things. This way it will still be tasty but healthy. I can be so thick sometimes as your ideas are so logical, yet I never thought of them.


love*muffin 5 years ago

OMG I stumbled onto this site searching for a decent muffin recipe and ended up getting that and a whole lot more. Not only did my muffins turn out PERFECT but there was so much info on baking muffins and great tips to use to make sure they come out perfect everytime. I have used the recipe to make several batches now, and each time they home out perfect. I just want to thank you for sharing your great recipe for muffins and am really greatful to you for helping make others out there more confident in the kitchen to whip up delicious, everyday food essentials!


curious 5 years ago

These sound Yummy and I look forward to making them. My only question is how much do I add for example if I want to add carrots and zucchini in one recipe or even zucchini & cheese in another recipe. Do I have to modify the quantity of the existing ingredients due to these added ingredients or I simply just add the shredded veggies to the existing ingredients.


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

Hi curious,

Great question. Foods you can hold in your hand, like nuts, whole berries, chocolate chips, or grated carrots, zucchini, apple and cheese are fine to add without modifying the proportions of other ingredients. As to how much, you can start by adding a half cup of nuts or chocolate, or a cup of grated veggies or fruit, per batch, then increase it if it's not enough.

But you should definitely adjust the level of liquids down when you add runny things like applesauce, mashed banana or yogurt (you'll decrease more with applesauce or yogurt than with banana).

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