Muffins Are My Secret Weapon

By Aarti Sanan October 1, 2019

Who doesn't love a freshly baked muffin warm from the oven? Just the aroma of cinnamon and butter and those wonderful baking smells is enough to put you in a good mood. I consider muffin making my morning meditation! Muffins are not only a great breakfast or snack on-the-go, but they can also be very useful to hide a long list of kid-shunned vegetables and fruits. Not a baker? Don't fret, muffins require almost no fancy kitchen equipment except a whisk, a muffin tray and one single mixing bowl. In fact, the trick to a light fluffy muffin is simply to fold gently. Over mixing can make them heavy and dense. 

As a mom to a child with multiple allergies including dairy and nuts, I have had no choice but to take baking matters into my own hands, and that in turn has become a good thing. I can add nutrients to these little suckers and still make them taste like little bites of heaven! The trick to muffin making becoming a zen-like art form is to make small batches. Everything in one bowl, fold, bake for 18 minutes. You can sip a cup of coffee, while you gently inhale the aromatherapy. Voila, you have breakfast, a little treat for the lunchbox and enough for an afterschool snack! 

Kid hates zucchini? Throw it in! Banana phobia? Mash it up, sprinkle chocolate chips and call it a day! Leftover salmon from dinner? Perfect for a savory lunch muffin! For super-picky kids, you can puree the fruits or vegetables (but adjust the wet ingredients accordingly), I like to simply grate them in by hand to give the muffins some texture and usually even if the kids notice they will be overcome by the deliciousness of the muffin to care! Since you are making small batches it's not a lot to grate. I use inexpensive reusable silicone muffin tin liners so no need to spray the cups and they pop out easily.  

Below is a standard small-batch muffin recipe. You can tweak it infinite ways to make it your own! Consider this the little black dress in your wardrobe that you can accessorize numerous ways to make it fresh, unique and original! And don’t forget to sprinkle a dash of magic -- aka some colored sugar on top of the muffins to make them pretty, hide the offending vegetable and give them that very appealing caramelized crunch on top! Everyone knows the muffin top is the best part of the muffin!

Standard small-batch muffin recipe


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 cup sugar (brown or white)
  • 1  tsp of baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (whole milk, almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Extra colored sugar for crunch and decoration on top 


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line muffin tin with six silicone muffin liners, use the center holes.
  3. In a medium bowl (I like to use a measuring cup so it is easier to pour the batter), whisk together the dry ingredients- flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add milk, beaten egg, and oil to the dry ingredients. Gently fold until combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be quite thick.
  5. Stir in any of the mix-ins until just incorporated, don't overmix.
  6. Scoop into prepared muffin tin,  Sprinkle colored sugar on top and bake for 16-18 minutes.

Cool for five minutes.

Have fun, make muffins your morning mantra! 

Muffin Combinations:

Morning Glory: In the above recipe, replace ½ cup flour with ½ cup rolled oats. For the other ½ cup of flour, you can substitute whole wheat flour or oat flour. Throw in a teaspoon of flax seeds and chia seeds. Add ½ a tsp of cinnamon powder and a pinch of nutmeg. 

Going Bananas: In the above recipe, replace the milk with two overripe mashed bananas, add this to the wet ingredients and continue the recipe. You can replace the sugar with brown sugar. Add ¼ tsp cinnamon, a handful of chocolate chips and if your kid can stand it, a sprinkle of chopped walnuts. 

Lemon Squash It: That dreaded zucchini will be a huge hit here! To the above recipe, add ¼  cup grated zucchini, the zest of one lemon and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds. 

Parrot The Carrot: Who doesn't love carrot cake? To the above recipe, add ½ a cup grated carrot, swap the sugar for brown sugar. ¼ tsp allspice or if you don’t have that ¼ tsp cinnamon and 1/8th tsp nutmeg. Kid loves raisins? Throw some in. Add any chopped nuts you like, walnuts are a good addition here. You can top them with cream cheese mixed with honey or maple syrup for a hasty frosting. 

Pumpkin Apple Spice: Nothing says fall like apple or pumpkin pie! Finely chopped, peeled apples or pumpkins or both and cook with a dash of vanilla, a big pinch of cinnamon, some sugar or maple syrup until soft. ¼ cup cooked fruit should do. Cool and add to the above recipe. I like the depth of flavor you get from brown or coconut sugar here so substitute that. Add ¼ tsp allspice or cinnamon to the dry ingredients. 

A Berry Good Morning: How many times have you had to throw out expensive moldy berries from the refrigerator? That box of soft berries are just pleading to be baked into a muffin! Add half a cup of any berries to the recipe above. Add in a zest of lemon and ¼ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. You can also add chia seeds here. 

Maple Staple: Replace sugar in the recipe above with maple syrup. 

Chocolate Swirl: Divide prepared batter into half and add a tablespoon of sifted cocoa powder into half the batter and mix till combined. Scoop equal batter from both halves into each muffin tin and swirl with a toothpick for a lovely marble effect. 

Honey Herb: Replace half the sugar with delicious honey. You can customize this by adding lavender or rosemary or basil. If using dry herbs, crush them in your hands to release the oil and aroma before adding. ½ a tablespoon will go a long way. If using fresh herbs like basil, chop finely and add to the batter.

Savory Options: Smoked salmon, leftover cooked salmon, ham, cooked spinach, cooked mushrooms and even canned tuna will shine here. Remove the sugar from the above recipe and add your protein and veggies. Chopped herbs, cheese, finely diced peppers, are all good additions. I like to soften peppers, onions and garlic before adding them. 

Flour Power: We are all trying to stay away from the white stuff. So feel free to substitute and experiment with the flour here. I like to use half whole wheat or oat or even teff flour. Buckwheat and quinoa flour can also make their way in. Because kids can be totally flaky, I only substitute half the flour at a time so they don’t get put off. If nut allergies are not an issue, almond flour is also a healthy option.

Mix-Ins: When it doubt, throw in a few chocolate chips! Kids usually like to find something interesting in their muffin and if its a tiny bit of indulgence but it gets them to eat it, go for it! Then you can smuggle in the stuff they normally would not go for, like flax seeds or chia seeds or rolled oats. 

That Extra Oomph: A hint of cinnamon, a touch of lemon or orange zest, a shot of turmeric. Unleash your inner mistress of spices. Play around with herbs and spices to make your muffins unique and interesting. 

Go Nuts: Nuts have superpowers! If allergies are not a concern, add them with abandon! Nut flours and even peanut butter are all great muffin pals! 

Aarti Sanan is a mom to two very misinformed kids who think their home is a restaurant. Between navigating the idiosyncratic ideologies of a 10 -year- old vegetarian animal activist and feeding an 8-year-old paranoid gourmand allergic to nuts, dairy, sesame and boring food, she cooks a LOT. A trained chef, yoga teacher, former journalist and full-time volunteer for all causes, she spends any free time tweaking and creating recipes, thinking up intriguing lunch box ideas, scheming to poison her kids with healthy food and slaving over the stove. She loves every minute of it!

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