As a classically trained chef who knows a thing or two about nutrition, I get challenged by people all the time. Whether it be with questions (“How do you feel about the new Weight Watchers program?”), suggestions (“You should really do something about the food they serve in public schools”), or requests (“Can you make me a dessert that is low in calories, fat, carbohydrates and sodium but tastes delicious, is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and has chocolate in it?”), people always have something to say.

Mostly, I enjoy it because that means there is always something to talk about, especially with people whom I have little else in common. While I imagine the career of a molecular biologist or an oral surgeon to be quite rewarding, not everyone understands the pleasure in performing a root canal, but everyone appreciates a good meal.

Sometimes I know the answers to people’s questions and if I don’t, I’ll look them up. I appreciate the suggestions (but that doesn’t always mean I follow them) and I always try my best to make the tastiest food possible (whether adhering to strict dietary guidelines or not). The most recent request came from my fiancé last night: he wanted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Low fat and chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Sounded like a challenge to me.

I do believe that there’s a time and a place for crisp bacon, towering three-layer chocolate cakes, and burritos the size of a baby (the place is ironically named Gordito’s Healthy Mexican Food). However, I also believe that one should be able to enjoy a little daily indulgence without the food coma, subsequent food hangover, and accompanying food guilt that is associated with overindulgence. How can you have your cake, err cookies, and eat them too?

I started by taking a look at one of my favorite oatmeal cookie recipes (from Cook’s Illustrated) and right away, I saw some easy changes I could make. The first was to swap more nutrient-dense whole wheat flour for regular flour. I then scaled back the butter and sugar by half, but knew that the cookies would be dry and lacking sweetness, so I decided to make a paste of raisins and dates (which are classic oatmeal cookie additions, so I knew their flavors wouldn’t interfere with the oats) which would contribute moisture and natural sweetness. For good measure, I also decided to add some molasses to ensure the cookies would be crisp on the edges and chewy on the inside.

I may not be a master auto mechanic, and I certainly know nothing about power tools or building construction (I leave those to my fiancé), but I do know how to make a damn good cookie that doesn’t skimp on flavor, texture, or satisfaction in the name of nutrition.

Secret Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cook time
30 cookies

Don’t be put off by the raisin/date paste; it provides a complex, caramelly sweetness, moisture, and chewiness, but your cookie tasters won’t be able to guess what it is. It’s worth the effort! Prunes would also probably work and we all know how good they are for the ol’ digestive system.

1 ½ cups dates, raisins, or a mix of both
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 cup sugar, granulated
2 eggs, large
2 tablespoons molasses
3 cups oats
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with silicone liners, parchment paper, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Put the dried fruit in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over it to cover. Let sit 20 minutes. In a food processor, puree the fruit with 2-3 tablespoons of the soaking liquid until it forms a smooth, cohesive paste.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held electric mixer for 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the molasses and pureed fruit and mix well.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture, then the oats and chocolate chips. With damp hands, roll the dough into golf ball-sized cookies. Put six cookies per baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes rotating the sheets after 10 minutes. Do not overcook the cookies or they will be dry.

Let the cookies cool on the pan for one minute, then remove to a cooling rack. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.