Pancake Day – healthier options
On Tuesday 25th February, most of the UK will be reaching for their frying pans to celebrate Shrove Tuesday – the traditional day for cooking and eating pancakes!
The 40 days immediately before Easter (known as Lent), are observed by Christians to remind them of the time that Jesus travelled into the desert to fast fasting in the desert before starting his ministry. To mark this, in days gone by, many Christians would give up certain foods for this time including fish, eggs, meat as well as fats and milk.
The period of lent officially starts on Ash Wednesday, which is the day after Shrove Tuesday, so it was customary for people to hold festivities so they could use up their stocks of milk, fats and butter. Pancakes became the perfect food to make, not only because they did this perfectly, but who wouldn’t want to hold a feast in anticipation of leaner, fasting days to come. ‘Pancake Day’ was born!
Now I love a good pancake like the rest of you – my mum’s pancakes were legendary – and not because they stuck to the ceiling each year…but they were delicious with a simple recipe and using only lemon juice and sugar, we kids thought we’d won the lottery! Now a lot has changed since I was under 10(!) and culinary tastes have expanded almost exponentially. We never thought about putting anything else on our pancakes, but today, there are all manner of wonderful things that you can try.
Another thing that has changed since the 1970s is the advice on nutrition. So whilst piles of sugar and syrup may well have been the ‘treat’ we wanted back then, nowadays, most of us want to give our children something a little healthier.
So how can we bring our traditional Shrove Tuesday celebrations a little more up-to-date and make them a little bit healthier this year? Now I don’t claim to be a good cook by any means. In fact for years I had to phone my mother to ask her for the recipe, but I don’t think that matters. What I’ve learned to do with my own children is not worry too much about trying to be the ‘best cook’ – only to have a bit of fun and spend some quality time with my children.
So here are some of my favourite top tips to help you keep the tradition alive and give your pancakes a healthier twist too.
1. Start with a healthier pancake mix
A traditional and simple pancake batter includes:
- 300ml (or half a pint) of milk
- 100g flour (plain or self-raising)
- 2 eggs
- A tablespoon of fat (e.g. vegetable oil or butter)
- Pinch of salt
These ingredients should all be beaten together and then lightly fried in a frying pan to make the pancake. The wonderful thing about pancakes is that the recipe amounts are not set in stone and you can vary the amount of eggs, milk and fat you use, according to your own taste and the texture you want to achieve.
If you want to make your pancakes a bit healthier, try reducing the fat content slightly. You could also change the milk to a semi-skimmed or skimmed variety, and even try taking out the butter entirely. Have fun and experience to see which combinations you prefer.
Another option is to add some protein powder to the mix to increase the protein content. Protein is needed by the body to build cells and for many, an extra bit of protein can help stave off those hunger-pangs too.
If you’re feeling particularly creative (and my children often are) then a fun alternative that they love is to use some food colouring in the batter mix to create some colourful and edible pancakes!
2. Make the toppings healthy but still delicious
So my family’s tradition of ‘sugar and lemon juice’ is a one topping which can literally pile on the calories; especially if like many people, you are not carefully watching how many Mary Poppins ‘spoonfuls of sugar’ you are using! There are other culprits here that are favouite toppings to: Maple syrup, ice-cream and full-fat cream can also have the same unwanted effect. However, you could try out some of the following option to not only increase your fruit (and vegetable) intake, but trying something completely new too:
- Berries, bananas and honey
- Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt mixed with pears and/or peaches
- Baked apples with a dash of cinnamon
- Raspberries, blueberries, and a sneaky drizzle of chocolate sauce (my favourite!)
- Fresh strawberries with reduced-sugar compote or jam
- Chocolate chips and bananas
- Kiwi fruit and grapes
- Rasperries with white chocolate chips
Some of the best pancakes are savoury, so why not try a couple of these different toppings too?
- Tomato, ham, and pineapple cubes
- Goat’s cheese, bacon and spinach
- Chicken and rocket salad
- Reduced fat hummus and olives
- Carrots, spring onions and cucumber
- Reduced fat cheese and pickle
- Scrambled egg and grilled
- Smoked salmon and reduced-fat cream cheese (another one I love!)
Another thing to remember is that children love to make pictures and faces with their food, and if it helps them to eat some healthy fruit and veg, then I’m all for it. So encourage them with their creative cookery and you could surprise yourself too.
3. Gluten-free and allergy-aware options
Nowadays, due to a variety of factors, many people have food intolerances (if not a full-blown food allergy), so some foods are ‘off-the-menu’ for them. Or they may simply feel better avoiding certain foods such as wheat, eggs or dairy. Traditional pancake recipes have flour as one of the 3 main ingredients, so you would be forgiven for thinking it might be difficult to replace flour in a pancake recipe. However, making nutritious, pancakes that cater for people with allergies does not have to be difficult.
You can mash up two large bananas, add a pinch of cinnamon and some baking powder, mix it with a whisked egg and you will create a batter that is gluten-free.
If you are inviting people in to share your pancake creations, ask them if they have any food allergies and make sure you avoid those ingredients in your recipes.
Another ingredient that can cause problems for some, are eggs. Again, you can get around this easily by using coconut oil or vegetable oil instead of eggs. But remember that this substitution will increase your overall fat content.
Swapping cows’ milk for soya or Almond milk is another tasty alternative.
4. Vegan and vegetarian options
Swapping cows’ milk for soya milk and using self-raising flour instead of plain flour and 1 teaspoon of soya flour instead of eggs will also give you a vegetarian option.
Finally, Pancake Day is not just about eating – a traditional pancake race can add to the fun too!
As the history books will tell you, the ‘shriving bell’ (from the Latin word ‘shrove’ meaning ‘to confess one’s sins’) would be rung in medieval times on Shrove Tuesday. The purpose then was to call the ‘faithful’ to church to not only atone for their sins but remind them or the fasting of Jesus and their own fast to come.
One surviving legend tells of a local woman who realised she was late for church when she heard the bell ringing. Fearful for her soul, she ran out of her cottage with such haste that she was still clutching her frying pan of pancakes. And so she became the first ever entrant into the local ‘pancake race’!
Across the country since, communities have held pancake races for fun. Sometimes you have to enter in fancy dress, some are run for charity, but most need a smile and a lucky ‘flick of the wrist’!
Whatever you do and however you celebrate, have a wonderful ‘Happy and Healthy Pancake Day!’