Nothing is more American than pie, but unfortunately, this year-round classic can be a dietary disaster. With buttery crust, sugary fillings and whipped or frozen toppings, a single slice can weigh in at over 1,000 calories. Trouble is, making a healthier pie isn’t a piece of cake (pun intended).
“Piecrust is basically two ingredients: fat and flour,” says Julie Fromm, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health. “Enriched flour has minimal nutritional value, and when combined with fat, the result, while tasty and flaky, is a dietitian’s nightmare. But unfortunately, a pie simply isn’t pie without the crust.”
Despite these sobering facts, Fromm says there are ways to trim the fat (and calories!) from your favorite pies while adding nutrition and flavor at the same time. So, to help you stick to your healthier guns this National Nutrition Month, here are her tummy-pleasing strategies whether you’re preparing homemade apple pie or serving a savory quiche:
- Skip the top crust. Nix the top crust altogether, or if you can’t stomach ditching a flaky topping, make a lattice. Bonus: Dessert-lovers will get a glimpse of the healthier fruit-filling peeking through the holes.
- Ditch added sugar. Select fruits that are naturally sweet (like peaches, golden apples, even bananas), and opt for fresh or frozen fruit (with added sugar) over canned pie fillings. Then, spice up your pies to make up for lost sweetness. Cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger amp up flavor (and the amount of disease-fighting antioxidants) without adding fat or calories.
- Fiber up. While most pies won’t win an award for fiber content, keeping the peel on fruits, adding a sprinkle of nuts and mixing a bit of whole wheat flour or almond flour with enriched white flour will give your dish a nutritional boost. (Try this recipe for whole wheat pizza dough.)
- Think outside the crust. Sure, pie typically comes in some sort of shell, but crust-less pies (also known as frittatas) can be equally delicious and have a fraction of the fat and calories. Bonus tip: For the perfect, portion-controlled dish, bake crust-less pies in muffin tins. (Or try this recipe for mini shepherd’s pies.)
- Load up on veggies. Whether you’re whipping up quiche for breakfast or cooking Shepherd’s pie for dinner, the key to a healthier pie is doubling up on veggies. Fiber-rich vegetables, including spinach, broccoli and mushrooms, not only fill you up, they also pack a heavy disease-fighting punch.
- Get creative. Lighten your pie’s load by choosing phyllo dough (phyllo means “leaf” in Greek). These tissue-thin layers of unleavened dough create light, flaky “pies” that allow the flavor in the fillings to shine. One example: Spanakopita, or spinach pie, a Greek appetizer featuring a mix of spinach, onions, feta cheese and pine nuts in the filling.
Whether you’re craving savory or sweet, try losing traditional pie accompaniments and toppings for a healthier plate. Whipped cream, ice cream and cheese add a lot of fat and calories to an already indulgent treat. Can’t bear the thought of pecan pie without the a la mode? Consider frozen yogurt (or at least slash your portion size in half).
Julie Fromm, R.D., is a community dietitian with Henry Ford Health’s Generation With Promise program, which focuses on empowering youth and families in the community to increase their consumption of healthy foods and physical activity and balance caloric intake.