Is This Cake Good Enough for Lunch?

A cake is baking in the oven as I type this post. I'm waiting to see if the health-minded tweaks I implemented will work. Even the time of day and state of mind are part of the experiment as I wanted to gauge the difficulty level of baking a Bundt-style cake in a pre-coffee coma, while juggling other morning chores. The cake in question is one I've talked about over the years: a chocolate zucchini cake, an oldie but goodie in my recipe file that I like to bake this time of year when late-season zucchinis are begging to be used.

See those specks of zucchini peeking out among the chocolate? (Kim O'Donnel)

In the past I've waxed on about this cake's nutritional virtues -- or perhaps, lesser evils -- as it contains a heaping 1-2 cups of shredded zucchini (which means Vitamins A and C, potassium, small amounts of fiber, among other nutrients). Instead of butter, the cake calls for oil (and I've used heart-healthy olive oil with great results), so that's a good news in the cholesterol department, I rationalized. However, I couldn't ignore the inclusion of four eggs and more than one cup of sugar -- not exactly a low-fat snack.

There must be a way, I thought, to up the nutritional ante. This cake was off to a good start, after all, and I couldn't shake the fantasy of serving kids a chocolate cake that simultaneously gave them a serving of zucchini. (Never mind that I don't have children of my own...)

With my mission intact, I set out to adjust the recipe, and here's what I came up with:

Instead of using 1 ½ cups of vegetable and/or olive oil, I reduced the amount to ½ cup olive oil and replaced the balance with 1 cup of applesauce.

I reduced the amount of sugar from 1 ½ cups to 1 cup and the amount of chocolate chips from 2 cups to 1 cup.

Now out of the oven and cool enough to eat, the cake, I am pleased to report, is just as luscious as ever. In fact, the applesauce substitute is undetectable, and I don't miss the extra sugar. Next time, I may extra tweaking, reducing the amount of eggs (from 4 to 3) and perhaps refraining from using oil at all.

So, with the healthier tweaks, is this cake now fit for a kid's school lunch box? Or perhaps it's more appropriate as an after-school snack. Parents, please sound off in the comments area below! I want to hear from you. This post marks the beginning of "School Lunch Rock," a regular feature of this blog that will focus on healthy, wholesome packed lunches and after-school nibbles. I don't have to be a parent to know that the challenge of packing a healthy, interesting lunch day after day is enormous. Here, in this space is an opportunity to share ideas on how to keep the lunch box varied, particularly in a refrigerator-free zone. So, let's get busy and do the School Lunch Rock!

By Kim ODonnel |  October 4, 2006; 11:37 AM ET School Lunch Rock
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Thank you for the reminder to get my mother's zucchini cake receipe! She used to make it for me when I was in school so that they other kids wouldn't try to take it away from me.

Posted by: chocolate lover | October 4, 2006 1:40 PM

Great, except for the sugar and white flour. Better just get your kids to eat fruit and veges.

Posted by: but-still | October 4, 2006 1:42 PM

Love zuke choc cake. Going to try my own recipe with the adjustments. Craving it already.

Posted by: love it | October 4, 2006 2:00 PM

Why not substitute whole wheat flour for 1/2 the white flour and use an egg substitute (like egg beaters, NFI) for the eggs?

Posted by: Sounds good | October 4, 2006 2:10 PM

How much applesauce is in the sugar you added?

Posted by: Stu | October 4, 2006 2:12 PM

Other tweaks to try: oatmeal flour (grind oatmeal in a coffee grinder) for half the white flour, 3 whole eggs and 2 egg whites. Probably need to keep some egg yolk in there for richness, especially if replace all of the oil with applesauce.

Posted by: julie | October 4, 2006 2:12 PM

Stu: Did you mean to say how much sugar is in the applesauce? I used plain, unsweetened applesauce. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 4, 2006 2:16 PM

Could you make this as cupcakes? What modifications aside from baking time would you suggest?

Posted by: Sarah | October 4, 2006 2:27 PM

Shortly after reading your article I attended a lunch interview at a prestigious DC law firm. Inspired by your post, I ordered a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of whole milk as an appetizer.

The interviewer then walked out on me. Thanks!

Posted by: Harvardgrad | October 4, 2006 2:38 PM

Is Harvardgrad (and gee, that is so important to know--where you went to school defines your life [sarcasm]) serious? what is he/she talking about?

Posted by: defined by acts not school | October 4, 2006 3:53 PM

But what I want to know is how does it taste? Is it yummy, moist?

Posted by: Didn't even complete high school but have a good job anyway, so there | October 4, 2006 4:25 PM

Bravo for your effort! By the way, eggs are very good for children. The fat in the yolk is essential for brain develpoment. Just for the record, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, avacados, etc. do not make children fat! The major contributers to obesity in children are inactivity, liquid sugar(juices, sodas, gatorade), and processed food products.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 4, 2006 8:06 PM

instead of sugar,how about slenda.

Posted by: gina | October 4, 2006 10:10 PM

Great recipe, and I look foward to more School Lunch Rock entries. I'm always looking to add new recipes and ideas to my packed lunches for work. Trying to save $$, you know! :)

Posted by: eva | October 5, 2006 2:53 PM

actually, calories make children fat, no matter the source. (you can get just as fat on avocados and peanut butter as on hohos) They should be getting their fats from healthy sources, however, to avoid the health effects of trans fats and incorporating fiber into their diet so that the calorie-laden, "bad" fat food will not be the source of the calories, as such food often does not fill up kids and they then feel hungry not very long after, and eat more chips, etc, etc, continuing the cycle. Same set of facts applies to adults, too, of course.

Posted by: DC mom | October 5, 2006 3:02 PM

Any other options for the 1 cup of applesauce? I'm allergic to apples.

In small quantities, I substitute babyfood prunes for fats, but I think I'd notice the taste if I put in 1 cup worth.


Posted by: Applesauce sub | October 5, 2006 8:34 PM

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