Cobblers are staples at Labor Day barbecues and other summer parties, making delicious use of in-season fruits. But most recipes are loaded with refined flours and sugars, butter and milk. Paula Deen’s peach cobbler recipe uses an entire stick of butter and two cups of sugar. The nutritional value of the peaches is completely overwhelmed by the high content of sugar and fat.

So how do you create a cobbler worthy of nutritional merit?

Peaches: Naturally sweet

When selected and stored properly, peaches are Mother Nature’s summertime candy. But unlike candy, they offer important nutrients, including fiber and potassium. They are a good source of vitamin C (promotes immune and skin health) and vitamin A (important for skin, hair, eye, teeth, bone and vision health), and they also contain vitamin E, which offers protection from some chronic diseases and helps protect our bodies from cell damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease and cataracts as we age.

A good, ripe peach should feel heavy for its size. Squeeze it gently to feel for firmness; it should have a slight give to it. The skin should be blemish-free, fuzzy and firm. Another trick to see whether the peaches were picked at the ideal time is to look near the stem (or where the stem was) and view the color beneath the red hue or “blush.” It should have a yellow or golden undercolor as opposed to green. If it is green, then the peach was picked prematurely, and it probably will never reach its full potential.

If the peaches are not yet ripe, store them in a paper bag to speed the ripening process. Once ripe, store them at room temperature and eat them within a few days. You can also keep them in your refrigerator to slow the ripening process a bit.

Healthful recipe: Light Peach Cobbler

This lightened-up spin on the classic peach cobbler is butter-free, lower in sugar than traditional cobbler, gluten-free and vegan (no dairy).

To get the most nutritional benefit out of peaches (and to save some prep time), leave the peel on for added fiber. Instead of white flour, use heart-healthy whole-grain oat flour. And, for the biscuit topping, try almond flour, which is low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Almond flour also is a good source of fiber, vitamin E and magnesium, and provides iron and calcium.

Rather than loading the cobbler with butter, try substituting a bit of creamy almond butter to cut down on saturated fat and cholesterol while adding protein and fiber. And use cinnamon and naturally sweet dates and orange juice for a flavor boost. This recipe calls for only five tablespoons of organic brown sugar, relying instead on the natural sweetness of the peaches without drowning them in unhealthful ingredients.

Off-season advice

Peaches ripen by early to late summer. If you want to make peach cobbler outside of peach season, use frozen, unsweetened peaches that have been defrosted and well drained. Frozen fruits have a comparable nutrient content to fresh because they are packed at their peak of freshness.

Canned peaches can also be an inexpensive and convenient way to enjoy this dessert year-round. Plus, canned peaches have been found to be nutritionally equivalent to fresh, according to research conducted by Oregon State University. Fresh and canned peaches had similar levels of vitamin E. In fact, vitamin C levels were found to be almost four times higher in canned than fresh peaches. Folate levels were found to be 10 times higher, and antioxidants were also found to be 1.5 times higher.

You might be wondering how canned peaches could have more nutrients than fresh. In “Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits & Vegetables,” Diane M. Barrett, a food scientist at the University of California at Davis, writes that the canning process may open the cell walls of a fruit’s flesh, making nutrients more readily available to the body. This is also true for higher levels of lycopene in tomato sauce as compared with fresh tomatoes.

So, you can enjoy this recipe year-round. Just pay attention to the sugar content, because canned peaches are often packed in juices or syrups. Look for canned peaches packed in water (the label will say “no added sugar”). But keep in mind that the skin is typically removed when canned, which means a bit less fiber.

Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthful recipe site Find her on Twitter at @EatingbyElaine.

Recipe: Light Peach Cobbler

Find more healthful recipes here.