Sign up to get our free newsletter

Sign up to get our free newsletter

Healthier cake: How to make box mixes more nutritious

red velvet cake batter with ingredients
Photo credit: Lynne Mitchell/Getty Images

When I first started baking, I found a lot of recipes never tasted how they were supposed to, no matter how closely I followed the instructions. I remember one specific cake recipe that was developed by a very famous chef. I did everything as instructed, following the directions to a T, but the final product was super dry and lacked flavor. I was disappointed.

That’s when I decided that, moving forward, I would bake smarter, not harder. Thanks to an infamous family recipe for lemon Jell-O cake that utilized a pre-boxed cake mix, I knew I could use store-bought cake mixes and simply add in ingredients to create different flavors without worrying about the science behind the recipe itself. Neapolitan. Mint chocolate chip. Cookies and cream. Strawberry lemonade. White chocolate raspberry. Mojito. Those are just some of the first flavors I created using a boxed cake mix. It gave me the confidence to push myself.

As time passed, though, I started trying to find ways to make store-bought cake mix more nutritious. How do you replace eggs in a boxed mix? Which oil is truly best? Could gluten-free cake mixes taste as good as the gluten-loaded ones? Can you use milk in place of water? And can plant-based milks get the job done?

MORE: The Best Hand Mixers of 2019

First, what cake mixes should you buy?

In today’s market, there are still some tried and true store-bought cake mix brands, but there is also a ton of new options for every dietary need you could imagine. I scoured the internet to determine which boxed cake mix options are best and categorized them as good, better and best.

Vanilla cake mix

Good: Pillsbury. This is the most affordable option. The Purely Simple line is made with simple ingredients and without colors, preservatives or artificial flavors. Gluten-free and sugar-free options are also available.

Better: Bob’s Red Mill. This brand is dedicated to making wholesome food using high-quality ingredients. It sources raw materials and produces 200 products that are non-GMO project verified. Bob’s Red Mill also has great gluten-free options.

Best: Foodstirs. This is a newer brand that boasts no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The brand mantra is “purity with purpose,” and it aims to deliver organic, sustainable and equitable products. All Foodstirs products are certified glyphosate residue-free, which basically means they’re free of a common toxic chemical found in weed killer. The brand also uses fair trade chocolate and cocoa, biodynamic cane sugar and only the highest-quality flour. Plus, it’s one of the best box mixes I’ve ever tested.

Chocolate and devil’s food cake mix

Some brands use red dye in their devil’s food box mixes. This is an ingredient you definitely want to avoid altogether while shopping.

Good: Betty Crocker. This is an accessible and inexpensive option. In terms of why it beats its comparable counterparts, for me, it’s because it doesn’t contain as much sugar as some other brands and it doesn’t add artificial coloring. Another option is the Betty Crocker Chocolate Joy Scratch Cake Mix. It boasts just seven ingredients and doesn’t use any preservatives or artificial flavors.

Better: Ghirardelli and Simple Truth Organic gluten-free. The price points are a little higher, but the gluten-free option is tasty, even if you aren’t gluten-intolerant. And since Ghirardelli is known for decadence with its chocolates and brownies, it’s not surprising that its cake is equally decadent. It also has lower sodium content than many of the other mixes. Gluten-free and/or organic cake mixes are often one of the healthiest options because they steer clear of preservatives, which is the case for Simple Truth.

Best: King Arthur takes the cake here. The brand always works wonderfully when gluten-free is necessary, and its attention to detail means you’re going to get the best-tasting certified gluten-free option. Similarly, the verified non-GMO mix comprises simple ingredients and nothing artificial.

How can you make store-bought cake mixes healthier?

Making fruitcake
Photo credit: fotostorm/Getty Images

If you want to change the recommended oil: I recommend coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil or ghee in place of vegetable oil. If you want to skip eggs and/or oil: Opt for an avocado instead; perfect for a vegan option and full of healthy fats. You can also use flaxseed meal in place of eggs.

If you’re using eggs: Make sure you’re using a high-quality egg. When I’m feeling extra health-conscious, I grab organic eggs.

If you want to swap water for milk: I love using evaporated coconut milk. If I’m using regular milk, I tend to stick to the highest quality I can find. If using a plant-based milk, you can always add a tablespoon of vinegar and set it aside for a couple minutes, like you would flaxseed meal. This will give the cake the effect of buttermilk while still keeping the cake dairy-free.

If you want a healthier frosting option: Skip frosting for fruit. If you need to use frosting, think about creating a naked cake with minimal frosting. Or create a homemade better-for-you frosting by mixing cream cheese, Greek yogurt, stevia or powdered sugar and vanilla extract. You can play around with it and modify it to be oil-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, sugar-free and soy-free.

MORE: White chocolate raspberry bars are an easy, satisfying dessert

If you want to add sprinkles: Hardcore Sprinkles are my go-to. They’re vegan, gluten-free, wax-free and are made with plant-based colors.

Healthier-for-you boxed cake recipes to try:

There are certain cakes that bring up childhood memories. German chocolate was a go-to birthday cake for my mom and aunt. Pineapple upside-down cake was always fun because it was easy without skimping on flavor. It also makes an amazing cheesecake, but that’s for another day. And while angel food cake with berries was a fun springtime cake for family birthdays, I have always been a chocolate kind of girl. But the chocolate recipe below could be done with a vanilla cake, too.

Healthier pineapple upside-down cake

Pineapple Upside Down Cake on white wooden table
Photo credit: Mark_KA/Getty Images

What you’ll need:

  • 1 box cake mix
  • Eggs, as instructed
  • Oil, as instructed
  • Coconut milk, as a substitute for the water on the box instructions
  • Greek yogurt, as instructed
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons date sugar
  • 1 can crushed pineapple, drained

Directions:

  1. Melt butter (can be vegan) in pan(s) while oven preheats to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sprinkle date sugar evenly in bottom of pan.
  3. Add drained crushed pineapple, set aside.
  4. Mix wet ingredients first, then add dry ingredients, according to instructions on box.
  5. Pour into pan.
  6. Bake for 30-36 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan for a few minutes, before covering pan with a serving plate to flip over so cake falls out nicely onto plate.

Healthier berrylicious chocolate cake

Gluten free chocolate cake
Photo credit: Aldo Garcia Mendiburu/Getty Images

What you’ll need:

  • 1 box cake mix
  • Eggs, as instructed (or flaxseed meal at 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal + 3 tablespoons water, per egg; setting aside for 5 minutes)
  • Oil, as instructed
  • Coconut milk, as a substitute for the water on the box instructions
  • 3-4 tablespoons chia wild berry fruit spread (the brand I used is baking stable and the chia seeds take the place of pectin or gelatin, making it vegan)
  • Fresh berries, to taste, for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spray Bundt pan or use coconut oil to coat sides and center. Set aside.
  3. Mix wet ingredients first, then add dry ingredients, according to instructions on box.
  4. Pour into pan.
  5. Bake for 5-8 minutes. Remove and quickly add chia fruit spread, evenly dropped over the exposed batter, so the weight of it won’t sink.
  6. Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan for a few minutes, before covering pan with a serving plate to flip over so cake falls out nicely onto plate.
  8. Once cake cools completely, add fresh berries to top it off.

Join the party

Celebrate the everyday with vibrant and purposeful content – like new recipes, DIY ideas, wellness tips & beyond – for a happier, healthier and bolder life.

Subscribe now to get

our free newsletter