Heidi Harkopf

Hot Chocolate: Simple Tricks to Make it Healthy

This post was written by staff dietitian Heidi Harkopf, MS, RD. She works in Connecticut as the director of nutrition programs.

Hot chocolateWarm days, cool nights, and the sound of crunching leaves while I walk my dog. The time has come to switch my afternoon snack from a cold glass of chocolate milk to a mug of steaming hot chocolate.

Unlike chocolate milk, packaged instant hot chocolate likely won’t have the same nine essential nutrients.

Plus, if the only hot chocolate you’re familiar with is powder from a package that is mixed with water, get ready to tantalize your taste buds with the real deal: homemade hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate: A Brief History

Dating back 3,000 years, hot chocolate began as a bitter mix of smashed cacao beans, water, chili, and other spices. It was only when the Spaniards brought the idea home from Europe did the modern day version begin to emerge.

The Aztec military used hot chocolate for a source of strength and healing. During the United States Revolutionary War, the drink was served to wounded soldiers to speed up recovery. During the Second World War, hot chocolate was used to comfort fatigued troops.

Hot chocolate ingredients
Hot chocolate is simple: Milk, cocoa, and chocolate.

Homemade in Two Steps

Like a bag of chocolate chips, most jars of cocoa powder have recipes on the back. Flip a Hershey’s cocoa jar over and you’ll find their iconic hot chocolate recipe.

But it you really want to wow your family, use this two-ingredient hot cocoa recipe. All you need to do is warm some milk, pour it into mugs, and serve alongside a bowl of semi-sweet chocolate pieces. Family can stir in as much or as little chocolate as they please.

Busy during the day, here’s a recipe for your slow cooker! Care for some extra spice? Try Mexican hot chocolate.

There are many ways to making hot chocolate, so have fun experimenting and fine-tuning your recipe.

What Milk is Best for Hot Chocolate?

Whole milk results in that rich, creamy drink that comes to mind when thinking about hot chocolate.

But if you enjoy low-fat or non-fat milk, go for it—you’ll still gain cow’s milk’s unique nutrient package. Keep in mind that lower fat milks will result in a thinner drink.

Lactose intolerant? No problem! Opt for lactose-free milk.

Hot chocolate ingredients: Spices, cinnamon sticks.
Ingredients to add to your hot chocolate.

Healthful Ways to Improve Your Drink

Keep in mind that any toppings or mix-ins added to your hot chocolate may add extra calories, but don’t let this get in the way of having fun!

Lower-calorie options:

  • Extracts (e.g., coconut, vanilla, or almond)
  • Spices (e.g., chili powder, cinnamon, or cayenne pepper)
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Peppermint stick
  • Drinking from a smaller mug

Higher-calorie options:

  • Whipped cream
  • Marshmallows
  • Candy canes
  • Drinking from a large mug

So as the leaves continue to turn, make sure you have enough milk and chocolate in the house. Enjoy the season!
Updated October 3, 2017

Heidi Harkopf

Heidi is a registered dietitian and the Director of Nutrition Programs for New England Dairy & Food Council.   During her free time Heidi can be found in the kitchen or driving her 2 teenage children to activities all over her home state of Connecticut!  A firm believer that healthy food doesn’t need to be complicated or time consuming, Heidi loves how dairy helps her pull meals together in a jiffy. Sound like someone you want to get to know? Contact Heidi at hharkopf@newenglanddairy.com.