“Would you like to see the dessert menu?”
You’d think there’s only one right answer to that question—yes, of course!
Yet, for many of us, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Imagine if you’re trying to lose weight. And if you’re on a special diet, you might as well forget it—unless you’re at a restaurant that happens to have vegan and gluten-free options.
Everyone has a different definition of “healthy.” To some, it means avoiding gluten. Others skip the dairy or refined sugar—or both. Still others cut out all animal products. Instead of trying to navigate a limited restaurant menu, opt to make your own dessert at home. Enter this list of 40 healthy dessert recipes, which has something for everyone with a sweet tooth—whether you’re Paleo, gluten-free, or vegan.
Paleo dessert recipes
Enjoy these 14 desserts the Paleo way—each is made without dairy, grains, or refined sugar.
Crack. The sound of the torched sugar crust on creme brulee breaking is almost as satisfying as the flavor of the rich vanilla custard itself. This Paleo version of the classic dessert uses coconut cream and coconut sugar instead of heavy cream and white sugar, but still achieves the same silky consistency.
Vegetables, for dessert? If they’re in popsicle form, absolutely! Instead of the opting for store-bought pops filled with artificial colors and sweeteners, blend mango, banana, avocado, and spinach, then freeze and enjoy.
Dairy-free matcha ice cream gets its luscious texture from creamy coconut milk—and tastes wonderful on its own. But served on top of a raw almond crust, it’s an absolutely showstopping dessert.
These parfaits look complicated, but really only require 10 minutes of active cooking. It’s all thanks to the chia seeds, which help both the vanilla pudding and chocolate mousse layers set up quickly without heavy cream or a ton of fridge time.
Five minutes in the oven totally transforms ordinary grapefruit: a layer of honey on top allows the fruit to caramelize into a thin crust reminiscent of creme brulee. Add candied ginger and fresh mint and it’s the ideal light dessert (or sweet breakfast).
When you blend frozen bananas, something wonderful happens: they turn into a dairy-free ice cream substitute. Whip up a batch of grain-free snickerdoodles, then sandwich banana “ice cream” in between for a healthy treat.
There’s no better way to satisfy a chocolate craving in a flash. These grain-free and vegan brownie bites sweetened with dates take just 10 minutes to bake and have that same irresistible fudgy texture and dark chocolate flavor.
No flour, no problem. Ground pecans and walnuts make a flavorful, crunchy graham cracker–like crust. Fill it with a traditional pumpkin custard laced with maple syrup and a medley of fall spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and cardamom), and you’ve got a dessert worthy of any Thanksgiving table.
When your garden (or local farmers market) is overflowing with zucchini, get baking! These muffins supply a serving of veggies, and they’re healthy enough to eat for breakfast yet chocolatey enough for a sweet treat after dinner.
If you want a sophisticated dessert with very little effort, try poached stone fruit. We like using floral earl grey tea infused with rosemary, orange peel, and honey. Just remember to save some of the poaching liquid for serving!
Sweet medjool dates, creamy cashew butter, and decadent cacao powder come together for the richest (refined sugar-free!) chocolate mousse you’ve ever tasted.
Dark chocolate envelops almond butter sweetened with raw honey and maple syrup for a treat that’s just as good—even more flavorful—than the milk chocolate–and–PB originals. Reese’s who?
Craving something decadent and super chocolatey? You probably have all five ingredients for Paleo fudge in your pantry. Make a big pan, then grab the cookie cutters and make fun shapes—stars, hearts, animals, or whatever you like.
When this cake first comes out of the oven, it looks pretty plain. But flip it over and ease off the pan to reveal the gorgeous topping of caramelized banana slices—no one will ever guess it was so simple to make.
Gluten-free dessert recipes
Don’t let Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity get you down. We’ve handpicked some of our favorite G-free dessert recipes especially for you.
Almond flour gives this gluten-free loaf a lighter texture and nuttier taste than traditional banana bread. Thankfully, it’s still got plenty of banana slices and chopped walnuts. To make it even sweeter, top it off with a scoop of banana “ice cream” and drizzle it with honey.
A tian is a traditional French country dessert made by layering several ingredients in an earthenware dish. Our recipe calls for an almond cream base with tangy sliced pluots layered over the top.
Folding a light meringue into ground walnuts gives this torte a light, delicate texture. Plus, the nutty flavor works well with the dark chocolate and dried cherries.
Here’s a new cooking technique to add to your repertoire: macerating, or soaking fruit in a liquid. In this recipe, you use strawberries and honey, respectively, and serve the resulting sauce over Greek-style yogurt.
Popcorn gets the Rice Krispies treatment in this gluten-free recipe. A melted blend of honey and almond butter take the place of marshmallow, while popcorn, dark chocolate chips, pecans, coconut chips, and cranberries stand in for rice cereal—an upgrade, if you ask us.
Using brown rice in lieu of white in rice pudding yields a wonderful texture and more robust flavor, and adds a serving of whole grains. Slices of pineapple slowly caramelized in orange juice and coconut sugar really put the dish over the top (in a good way).
Fresh Bosc pears bring floral sweetness to this buttery gluten-free loaf cake, while sesame seeds and tahini adds just a hint of salty flavor.
Classic carrot cake recipes almost always include pineapple, nuts, and cream cheese frosting. These cupcakes have it all, plus a little shredded coconut for good measure.
You don’t even need an ice cream maker to whip up this summer treat. Bust out your trusty food processor to make a four-ingredient frozen yogurt sweetened only with honey—and because it’s full of beneficial probiotics, it’s as healthy as it is tasty.
Called gateau mille crepes, the name of this classic French dessert literally translates to “thousand crepes cake.” Though it takes a bit of time, the result is well worth it; slicing into the cake reveals layer after layer of fragrant orange-almond cream sandwiched between thin, airy crepes.
No need for substitutions here—macaroons happen to be naturally gluten-free, and our recipe is even Paleo-friendly. Earthy matcha green tea and raw honey add mellow sweetness to the chewy and slightly crunchy treats.
If you haven’t yet tried baking with olive oil, you’re missing out. The robust oil adds a slight citrus flavor and plenty of moisture to anything you bake with it—including a Bundt cake drizzled with a luscious dark chocolate ganache.
While the rest of the world is busy adding pumpkin spice to everything from lattes to Jell-O to protein powder, stick to the classics. It doesn’t get better than this easy, gluten-free pumpkin bread.
With a flavor reminiscent of caramel or molasses, dates are nature’s candy. Raise the stakes by filling them with mixed nuts spiced with cayenne and cinnamon, then dipping them in dark chocolate.
Vegan dessert recipes
There’s not an egg, pat of butter, or drizzle of honey to be found in the recipes below. Dig in, vegans!
No need to wait for the county fair to get your chocolate-covered banana fix. Making them at home is oh-so-easy, and allows you to customize the toppings however you want.
The duo of hazelnut and chocolate works so well in Nutella, we figured it was time to try it in cookies. Ground hazelnut flour adds nuttiness and keeps the batter gluten-free, while coconut oil subs in for eggs.
Thick, creamy coconut milk comes to the rescue yet again in our vegan sundae. Medjool dates not only add sweetness to the raw ice cream, but also make up a caramel-like sauce to drizzle over the top.
The recipe above has all the sweet cinnamon flavor and chewiness of classic oatmeal cookies, without the refined sugar or dairy.
Fun fact: You can pop quinoa just like popcorn on the stovetop. Here, we’ve used the resulting “puffs” instead of rice in a healthier take on Nestlé Crunch bars.
Cacao powder can be a little overwhelming, even for chocoholics. Here we mellowed out the super rich flavor by adding elements of brightness—zesty orange and spicy candied ginger.
Of all the recipes touting a “surprising secret ingredient,” this one takes the cake. In the last few months, aquafaba—or the liquid from a can of chickpeas—has started popping up in hip vegan restaurants everywhere. Since it whips up just like egg whites (and doesn’t taste like beans!), it works in everything from vegan whiskey sours to fluffy chocolate mousse.
Coconut lovers, do we have a recipe for you. These bars use your favorite ingredient in three different forms—shredded, butter, and oil—for a creamy, tropical dessert you’ll want to make over and over again.
Caramel apples are a great way to get a serving of fruit and dessert in a single dish. Instead of slaving over a pan of homemade caramel, just melt a few vegan coconut caramel candies—simple, sweet, and perfect.
Somehow, chocolate doesn’t seem so indulgent when it’s topped with goji berries or hemp seeds. That’s the beauty of making your own candies at home: you can customize them with whatever healthy (or not-so-healthy) ingredients you like.
It just wouldn’t be fair to leave chia pudding off the list. If you’ve already been there, done that with plain old vanilla, try matcha—the earthy tea livens up an otherwise simple dessert.
Upgrade from typical peanut to gourmet pumpkin seed and pine nut brittle—it’s still chewy, crunchy, and sweet, but feels a little more special, especially when coated in dark chocolate and sprinkled in sea salt.
So brew yourself an espresso or hot cup of tea—with so many sweetly satisfying recipes to choose from, we know you saved room for dessert.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont