Secrets to Delicious Healthier French Toast

By: Kimberly Holland

EatingWell's foolproof guide for lighter, flavorful French toast at home

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Featured Recipe: Banana Bread French Toast

Nothing says cozy Sunday morning quite like a stack of crisp-tender French toast. Arguably the ultimate brunch food, French toast feels sophisticated but is one of the easiest breakfast dishes to make.

Regrettably, French toast often comes swimming in butter, syrup and whipped cream, making it resemble dessert a bit more than breakfast. We've figured out how to make a tastier and lighter version of French toast at home. Here are EatingWell's secrets to perfect, healthier French toast.

Related: Healthy French Toast Recipes

How to Make French Toast

Baked French Toast

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Featured Recipe: Blueberry-Almond Overnight French Toast

Baked French toast is a bit more hands-off than pan-fried French toast. Combine bread pieces with egg mixture and leave the bread to soak for several hours or overnight. All you're left to do is bake before serving. Baked French toast casseroles are a great way to feed a crowd or or lighten your breakfast load when you have a busy day ahead of you.

  1. Whisk wet ingredients (typically milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon; exact quantities depend on recipe) in a large bowl.
  2. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place about one pound of sliced bread into the pan. Whisk the milk mixture one more time, then pour evenly over the bread pieces. Press the bread down with the back of a wooden spoon, making sure it's evenly moist. Cover with parchment paper, then foil, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake the casserole, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until puffed, set and lightly browned, about 20 minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve.

Try These: Breakfast Casserole Recipes

Pan-Fried French Toast

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Featured Recipe: French Toast with Pear-Cranberry Compote

The ideal piece of pan-fried French toast is crispy and browned on the outside and tender-creamy on the inside. That just-right texture combo requires quality ingredients and a little practice. Start with good bread—generic white bread is a no-go; it will disinegrate in the egg mixture. Hearty whole-wheat bread is a good option. It's OK if the bread is stale, too. The egg mixture will tenderize it as it cooks.

  1. Whisk wet ingredients (typically milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon; exact quantities depend on recipe) in a medium, shallow bowl.
  2. Soak slices of bread until fully saturated with milk mixture. (For thinner bread, 1-2 minutes is plenty. For thicker and heartier bread, soak at least 5 minutes.)
  3. Heat a small pat of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until melted and hot. Add 2 slices bread to the pan. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining bread slices. (Tip: To keep French toast warm, preheat oven to 200°F, and transfer finished toasts to the oven while the remaining pieces cook.)

Related: Healthy Breakfast & Brunch Recipes

Tips for Healthy French Toast

Pick the Right Bread

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Featured Recipe: Apple-Cranberry Overnight French Toast

For quality French toast, you want bread that is not too chewy or tough, and you want to avoid bread that has a thick crust or too many holes. This means steer clear of your beloved French baguette and artisan breads. While bread made from white all-purpose flour may taste good on a sandwich, it won't do much for you nutritionally in this dish.

To make a tasty whole-grain French toast, we like to use a medium-density, semi-soft bread like thick-sliced whole-wheat, multi-grain or oatmeal sandwich bread. These breads are soft without being too delicate or crumbly.

Use a Sturdy Pan

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Pictured Recipe: Maple-Apple Drenched French Toast

A cast iron pan is perfect for cooking French toast, as it gets nice and hot and maintains its heat evenly. Heat the pan slowly over medium-high heat and use just enough melted butter to barely coat the inside. This gives the toast a delicate, crispy exterior without drying out the interior. Think crème brulee—crackly, sugary shell on top of silky pudding.

Related: How to Clean and Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Use Low-Fat Dairy

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Pictured recipe: Overnight Lemon-Cream French Toast Cups

Traditional French toast recipes call for heavy cream, eggs and vanilla extract to make the custard. For a healthier version with less fat and fewer calories, use reduced-fat or nonfat milk in place of the cream and a combination of whole eggs and egg whites. Vanilla or almond extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon will add flavor without any added fat or calories. You can skip added sugar entirely; your toppings will provide plenty of sweetness.

Be Creative with Toppings

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Pictured recipe: Mango-Coconut Overnight French Toast

If you're eating French toast pretty frequently or just looking for a healthier way to splurge, we prefer lighter toppings for French Toast. Whip up a couple tablespoons of heavy cream and fold that into nonfat Greek yogurt. You save saturated fat and calories by cutting some of the whipped cream with thick and tangy yogurt.

Other easy, healthy toppings include fresh fruit, a spoonful of jam, or even a smear of peanut or almond butter. Finally, a French toast breakfast wouldn't be complete without a splash of real Vermont maple syrup. A little goes a long way thanks to the rich, custardy texture of great French toast.

Related: Not a Breakfast Eater? We're Here to Change That

Watch: How to Make Banana Bread French Toast