Robert Lawrence
An assortment of healthy alternatives that can be included in the routine of serving refreshments following church activities and at social gatherings.

Occasionally, I have observed some hesitation in the prayer offered at the close of LDS Church-related events. This pause can be felt in between “we pray that the refreshments may” and “be blessed to strengthen and nourish our bodies.”

Another hesitation is sometimes expressed after the prayer when treats are served. Some may note the unhealthy goodies and say, “Thanks, that looks delicious, but I should pass.” Others simply might maintain a safe distance from the refreshment table.

It is not that these people have anything against Little Debbie or the Keebler Elves or those who are serving the treats. It’s just that they — and, honestly, the rest of us — know that as tasty as the goodies may be, many of the standard refreshments served at activities will neither bless nor nourish our bodies and souls; in fact, they may do the opposite when consumed on a regular basis. Hence, the hesitation in the recitation of the prayer, as well as in the mind of the conflicted guest.

But we all love refreshments, right? Yes, of course! And for good reason. Throughout recorded history, the breaking of bread (or brownies) has forged bonds of kinship capable of transforming enemies into allies and strangers into friends — a justifiable miracle that is no less astonishing than the transformation of water into wine.

Refreshments are the perfect vehicle for encouraging valuable social interaction. This is the purpose of the otherwise ordinary practice of sharing brownies, cookies, ice cream, soda and so on.

Could refreshments be more healthy? If healthier fare were served at an event, would more people be inclined to partake? Would people stay longer to continue socializing? And if so, would the purpose of serving refreshments be met more effectively? If all these were answered in the affirmative, serving delicious but healthier goodies at activities for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be worth considering.

As a single adult, I have had opportunities aplenty to attend activities and social gatherings. At some point a few years ago, I decided to start replacing conventional confections and desserts with more health-friendly alternatives at some potlucks and other social gatherings where I made any kind of culinary contribution — Mormon-related and otherwise.

For example, one year on my birthday when a kind friend asked me what kind of cake I wanted, I suggested a watermelon with candles: a radical paradigm shift, I know! But, as with other scenarios, the results were overwhelmingly positive. Adults are generally much more willing to overindulge on slices of juicy, fresh watermelon than slices of heavily frosted chocolate cake. This is not a bad thing, and wherever possible it should be encouraged.

The following are a few other ideas for refreshments that can be blessed with confidence and in the spirit of sincere thanksgiving, without disappointing anyone’s taste buds. Although perhaps less convenient than store-bought sweets, these more healthy and natural suggestions may not only better serve the purpose of having refreshments, but will also shift the cultural practice closer toward the doctrinal belief that “the good things that come of the earth … are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart … for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:17-19).

When we put this into practice, we will find that it is actually the partaker that is blessed by the refreshments.

Fruit kebabs

In place of Popsicles on a hot summer day, try assembling a series of colorful chopped fruits on wooden skewers, served chilled. Choosing fruits that provide a contrast in color will make fruit kebabs particularly attractive to adults and children too. Strawberries, pineapple, grapes, chopped melons and kiwi are excellent candidates. The benefit is fewer sugars and significantly more fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than the standard Popsicle.

Fresh bread

Rather than cake or brownies, look for freshly baked bread from a local grocer or bakery — or, better yet, warm out of a home oven. Local bread companies such as Great Harvest offer fresh and delicious specialty varieties such as pumpernickel, Italian garlic, spinach feta or honey whole wheat. These are delicious alone in their simplicity, or with an olive oil-based spread and perhaps fruit preserves or honey.

Oatmeal cookies

The chocolate chip cookie is tough to replace, but it can at least be fortified somewhat with the addition of oatmeal. UCLA dietician Susan Bowerman has written about the growing list of health benefits associated with the simple grain. Among other things, she notes that "regular oatmeal consumption lowers total cholesterol as well as 'bad' — LDL — cholesterol, with no adverse effects on the 'good' — HDL cholesterol."

Although the addition of oatmeal will not diminish the high caloric content of other ingredients, it is an added benefit that will at least help shift the balance in the favor of nutrition. Substituting blueberries or cranberries for chocolate chips and using recipes that replace a portion of the butter or margarine with applesauce can also help in this way.

Dehydrated fruit chips

How can the ubiquitous potato chip and its complementary dip ever be supplanted? Try dehydrated apple, banana, mango or other fruit chips. Some grocers sell these in bulk. Although some are sold with added sugar, it is rarely needed. They are sweet, delicious, healthy and grease-free!

Yogurt

In place of vanilla ice cream, try a bowl of low-fat vanilla yogurt topped with granola and/or fresh fruit. Both the traditional and the Greek low-fat yogurt varieties are "low in calories and packed with calcium and live bacterial cultures," according to a recent U.S. News and World Report article. By exchanging ice cream for yogurt, you are also exchanging loads of sugars for protein, added calcium and the probiotic bacterial cultures that are every digestive system’s best friend.

Spring water

Americans have become quite fond of consuming flavored high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated form, which we more commonly refer to as soda or pop. This has come at the expense of water and just about every other consumable liquid, according to data released by the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

It’s odd how the most abundant molecule on the planet’s surface can sometimes be overlooked, but who among us would turn down a glass of cool spring water? Adding slices of lemon to chilled tap water works great too — especially if the taste of your city’s tap water is less than appetizing. Trading soft drinks for a simple glass of water on a regular basis is an easy way improve overall health, as discussed in a 2005 report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

These are just a few suggestions. Be creative, and watch that hesitation in the closing prayer disappear.

Robert Lawrence is a postdoctoral biochemist in the department of physics at Arizona State University. He currently serves in his ward's elders quorum presidency and on his stake's mid-singles committee.