While crafting three-tiered confections with frosting from scratch can be fun and even relaxing — it takes time and work, plus ingredients that you might not immediately have on hand.
Fortunately, there are better-quality boxed cake mixes to help you whip up everything from birthday cakes to cupcakes and doughnuts pretty easily. These cake mixes usually include the leavening agents and require only minimal additional ingredients, like water or milk, oil and eggs.
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"Celebration cakes — for birthday and such — should be just that. But these days we're all baking more, and if you're making a cake every week or so, it's smart to look for options that are better for you," Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN and author of Eating in Color, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"I like using organic mixes when possible. And I've found that the gluten-free ones are just as delicious as the wheat-based ones," she says.
Even if you don't have a special occasion or bake sale lined up, enjoying boxed cake is easier and healthier than ever, with options for gluten-free, Paleo and low-carb folks.
Here are some of Largeman-Roth's pointers for choosing and preparing healthier boxed cake mixes.
How to Choose a Healthy Cake Mix
1. Avoid Cake Mixes With Trans Fats
Some cake mixes pre-made frostings contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and other artificial trans fats, which are used to extend the shelf life foods.
Trans fats are the worst kind of fats for your health and may contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
"While the nutrition facts panel may state that there's no trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils contribute trans fat — just at a level that's low enough for it not to be listed," Largeman-Roth says.
Food products that have 0 grams to less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving are allowed to state that they have zero grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts panel.
But you can limit trans fats in your diet by scanning the ingredients label of packaged foods for partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils.
"Look for mixes that call for the baker to add their own oil. I usually use extra-virgin olive oil or sometimes melted ghee or coconut oil," Largeman-Roth says.
2. Choose Low-Sugar Cake Mixes
Most boxed cake mixes have 18 to 20 grams of sugar per serving — even those that have healthier ingredients, Largeman-Roth says. But there are a select few that have less sugar.
The bottom line is these cake mixes are meant to be enjoyed as dessert on special occasions.
If you want to further cut back on sugar, you can make your own frosting at home instead of buying it. "I actually like making a cream cheese frosting with a block of cream cheese, a half-cup of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract," Largeman-Roth says.
"I like to do variations by adding orange or lemon zest to the frosting, or even fresh berries. For chocolate, I mix in about a quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa powder," she says.
Some people also like to make fruit glazes for a pop of color by cooking down fresh or frozen raspberries, for instance, with some sugar and then straining it. The result is a natural food color that'll make your cake look even more appetizing.
3. Boost Fiber With Fresh Fruit
While there are cake mixes that use whole-wheat or almond flour, you're going to be hard-pressed to find cake mix with fiber.
Largeman-Roth says most cake mixes won't have more than a gram of fiber, but you can boost the nutrition of your cake by topping it with fresh fruit.
Check out some of these healthier boxed cake mixes that are lower in sugar, higher in protein and fiber and use simple, clean ingredients.
1. Best Gluten-Free Cake Mix
Simple Mills Vanilla Cupcake & Cake Mix
Per one-slice serving: 120 calories, 5 grams fat (0.5 gram saturated fat), 200 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar, 8 grams added sugar), 2 grams protein
Made with almond and coconut flours and organic coconut sugar, this gluten-free cake is moist and provides the nostalgic taste of childhood birthday cakes — minus the refined sugars.
We also love that it offers 2 grams of fiber and protein for each 120-calorie slice. To prepare an eight-inch cake, you'll need three eggs and one-third cup water and oil.
Chocolate lovers, Simple Mills also has a GF chocolate cake mix that uses cocoa powder.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.97
2. Best Vegan Cake Mix
Miss Jones Baking Co. Organic Chocolate Cake Mix
Per serving: 130 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 210 milligrams sodium, 29 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 17 grams sugar), 3 grams protein
Another top pick for Largeman-Roth, Miss Jones Baking Co.'s organic cake mixes are dairy-free, soy-free and vegan, making it easy to bake sweets for people with special dietary preferences.
There are also zero artificial colors, flavors and hydrogenated oils. Additionally, its very minimal fat content is a rare find in pre-made baking mixes and speaks to its fairly simple and clean ingredient list.
For example, the chocolate cake mix contains organic cane sugar, wheat flour, cocoa powder and leavening ingredients. If you're looking for a basic yellow cake, Miss Jones also has a vanilla cake mix, as well as an assortment of organic buttercream and cream cheese frosting.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $35.94 per pack of 6
3. Best Organic Cake Mix
Foodstirs Simply Sweet Vanilla Cake Mix
Per 1/12 serving: 150 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 75 milligrams sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 16 grams sugar, 16 grams added sugar), 2 grams protein
For a crave-worthy cake that bakes up in 25 minutes or less, Foodstirs's vanilla cake mix hits the spot. All ingredients are USDA-certified organic, and there's only one gram of fat per serving.
Their mixes have less sugar than traditional boxed cake mixes, thanks to their proprietary FlexSweet blend of organic stevia, vegetable glycerin, inulin and erythritol.
Research suggests that erythritol doesn't have an adverse effect on blood sugar or promotes tooth decay like regular sugar does, per the International Food Information Council Foundation.
Just beware that erythritol, like other sugar alcohols, may cause some digestive distress — so don't of overboard on these treats.
You'll need three eggs, butter and some milk and yogurt to prepare the batter, so make sure you have these foods on hand when you're ready to prepare this cake. Want to make it vegan? Foodstirs offers plant-based baking alternatives.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.06 per pack of 3
4. Best Keto Cake Mix
Good Dee's Coconut Snack Cake Mix
Per 1/12 serving: 170 calories, 16 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 135 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar, 4 grams sugar alcohols), 5 grams protein
Keto and low-carb dieters will appreciate that a slice of this coconut cake has only two grams of net carbs and four grams of sugar alcohols.
Almond flour and coconut supply fats and fiber, while stevia extract keeps things sweet. Because it's low in sugar, you can even top it off with some frosting and maybe even some sprinkles.
5. Best Low-Sugar Cake Mix
ZenSweet Vanilla Bean Cake Mix
Per 1/12 serving: 80 calories, 5 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 220 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar, 9 grams sugar alcohols), 2 grams protein
Nothing says "happy birthday" quite like a vanilla cake. If you have friends or family members who have certain food allergies or diabetes, this gluten- and sugar-free cake will bring a smile to their faces.
Almond, tapioca and coconut flours come together to create a deliciously moist vanilla cake that also packs some fiber.
Plus, ZenSweet's blend of erythritol, inulin and monk fruit extract sweetens the cake without spiking your blood sugar too much.
6. Best All-Purpose Cake Mix
Arrowhead Mills All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix
Per 1/3-cup serving: 130 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 390 milligrams sodium, 28 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar), 5 grams protein
Great for baking everything from biscuits to cake, this all-purpose mix is an excellent base that already includes the leavening ingredients plus whole-grain sorghum, whole-grain rice and tapioca starch flours.
This way, you can add as much sugar as you'd like and toss in your favorite seasonings.
For example, if you're craving heart-warming flavors, go for ground cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, and if you want something more citrusy, add lemon or orange zest. Want a bit of crunch? Fold in some chopped walnuts or pistachios.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $4.63
7. Best Low-Carb Cake Mix
Swerve Sweets Chocolate Cake Mix
Per one-slice serving: 150 calories, 13 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 170 milligrams sodium, 14 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar, 8 grams erythritol), 5 grams protein
What makes Swerve's cake mixes unique is that it uses erythritol — a zero-calorie sugar alcohol — and sweet-tasting prebiotic fibers called oligosaccharides, which are found in many store-bought fiber bars.
Almond flour, organic coconut flour and cocoa powder contribute to the light and fluffy cake base, which you can frost using Swerve's zero-calorie confectioners sugar.
At just two net carbs and zero grams of added sugar per serving, you won't believe how big its chocolate flavor is. Whether you're baking biscuits or cake, this all-purpose mix is an excellent base that already includes the leavening ingredients plus whole-grain sorghum, whole-grain rice and tapioca starch flours.
This way, you can add as much sugar as you'd like and toss in your favorite seasonings. For example, if you're craving heart-warming flavors, go for ground cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg; and if you want something more citrusy, add lemon or orange zest.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $4.47
8. Best Paleo Cake Mix
Sweet Laurel Chocolate Cake Mix
Sweet Laurel Bakery is a whole foods baking company that's based on organic, grain-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free ingredients — and exactly what Paleo dieters are looking for in a baked treat.
Whether you're transitioning out of Whole30 or are grain-free, Sweet Laurel's chocolate cake mix has four simple ingredients: organic almond flour, organic cocoa, baking soda and Himalayan pink salt.
If you purchase the Sweet Laurel cake kit, you'll also get a batch of Paleo-friendly vanilla extract, which uses organic tequilla instead of other starch-based alcohols that other brands use.
Buy it: SweetLaurel.com; Price: $20