Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day) was an opportunity to clear out some of the richer ingredients in the pantry before the start of lent. And as most will know, fried batter in combination with sweet toppings can make for a dish high in fat, sugars and carbohydrates. In previous years, due to the traditional ingredients used, Pancake Day has also not been an occasion particularly friendly to people with gluten allergy or lactose intolerance.

So, to mark the day this year, we thought we’d collect some healthier recipes for those who might have special dietary requirements, or are just looking for more nutritious options.

If you’re making a day of Pancake Day this year with friends or family, we’ll also discuss some ways you can cater to allergies and make it a healthier event.

Catering for allergies and intolerances on Pancake Day

While traditional pancakes (containing flour, milk and butter) are off-limits to people with dairy, wheat or gluten intolerances, replacement components for these ingredients are now much easier to come by than they have been before.

  • For those who are gluten intolerant, cornflour and ground rice provide an alternative to regular wheat flour.
  • Non-dairy milk, such as hemp milk or oat milk, can be used to cater to those with a lactose or dairy intolerance.
  • And for people who can’t eat eggs, vegan-friendly recipes containing egg replacer can be a useful substitute.

So if Pancake Day is going to be a social occasion and you’re cooking for multiple people, be sure to ask friends you’re having over in advance if they have an intolerance to eggs, milk and flour, or any allergies that you need to be mindful of.

This not only helps to ensure you have the right ingredients at the ready, but also helps you to keep in mind cross-contamination when cooking.

For instance, if someone has a lactose intolerance and you’re making different batches, with some containing milk and some not, you’ll know to wash implements (like your whisk and spatula) thoroughly in between uses.

And if someone in the party has a nut allergy, you’ll know not to offer anything containing nuts as a sweet topping (or even open a bag of nuts in the same room, as some nut allergies can be airborne).

How to limit your sugar intake on Pancake Day

Pancakes are often presented as a sweet option, with toppings like chocolate sauce and syrup. It goes without saying that toppings like these should be enjoyed in strict moderation.

But if you want to enjoy a pancake themed-meal with friends and family, there are healthier alternatives you might consider. Savoury pancakes with vegetable toppings such as spinach, mushroom, red peppers and courgettes can present a more nutritious option.

If you’re hankering for a sweet pancake though, but want to keep things healthy, whole fruit (such as strawberries, berries and bananas) is a more sensible choice than high sugar confectionery items like chocolate sauce. Although fruit contains sugar, this type of sugar can usually be processed easier by the body and comes with the addition of essential vitamins and fibres.

Those looking for a healthier replacement to syrup and chocolate sauce might consider using local honey or hard dark chocolate made from 70 or 85% cocoa solids (however, still be sure to use these in moderation).

The daily recommended limit of foods containing added sugar is around 30g, so if you are offering options like chocolate and sweet sauces, bear this in mind when portioning out at the table.

For more information about the differences between sugars in fruits and processed foods, visit the guide on how much fruit you should eat and its benefits.

Healthier pancakes: butter, oil or oil spray?

Really, pancakes need to be fried, and frying is a typically less healthy method of cooking than baking or grilling; it enables fat to penetrate food and this adds to the saturate and calorie content. 

Frying with small amounts of olive oil and sunflower oil is a healthier alternative to frying in butter. Butter and margarine contain higher levels of saturated fats; which, over time, can raise cholesterol and contribute towards heart disease.

A healthier way to fry is with an olive oil or sunflower oil spray, which distributes the oil evenly enough to lubricate the pan and helps you use less fat. But in order for this method to work for making pancakes, using an effective non-stick pan is definitely recommended.