My mom, brother and I skipped our Christmas dinner last week to fly to Arizona. After lugging our duffels through the terminal and renting a plum Kia Sorento, we cruised south for an hour before pulling into the hospital parking lot. Mom’s parents always spent the holiday at our house, but with Grandma hooked up to IVs throughout the entire fall, we brought the presents (and tree!) to her bedside instead this year.
After exchanging hellos and taking turns tearing tissue paper out of gift bags, we left Grandma to rest and stopped by Walgreens—the only store open on Christmas night—to grab frozen entrées and Greek yogurt for a late smorgasbord dinner. Bags in tow, we drove a few miles down the road to meet Grandpa at their house.
Despite 6 years elapsing since my last visit, the familiar scent of birdseed and bread, red dirt and yesterday’s coffee filled my nose upon opening the front door. We passed over the same adobe-colored family room tile floor to the spacious kitchen to snack and talk before falling asleep. As I wove back to the guest bedroom, a new stiff-springed mattress greeted me instead of the squishy waterbed from the past, but I gratefully collapsed and barely budged until the next morning.
Upon rising and walking to the main part of the house, empty rooms and a countertop packed with prescription meds greeted me. Not Grandma, resting in a cushy chair and staring out at the birdbath nestled in their Astroturf backyard over a steaming mug of tea. It felt different—really different—until we sped back to the hospital and found Grandma in the exercise room with the PT nurse.
I sidled over to where she sat perched atop a reclining elliptical trainer and began chatting like we used to, nibbling on oversized pieces of Grandpa’s famous coffee cake or her Christmas fruitcake at the breakfast table. She peddled slower than the Tortoise, distracted by my mindless gabbing, while I babbled on faster than the Hare. By the time I paused for a breath of air, we realized that she had ridden much longer than the nurse originally required!
Once the sun disappeared behind the desert landscape, we checked Grandma out of the hospital like a library book and carefully tucked her into the front seat of Mom’s rental car. We meandered up and down the neighborhood streets, mesmerized by the twinkling Christmas lights. As she softly uttered her favorite expressions—“Oh my!” and “Oh goodness!”—my brother, Grandpa, and I pointed out the dazzling displays at upcoming homes like tour guides squashed in the backseat.
Just like our visit, this Whole Wheat Cranberry Banana Bread tastes familiar and comforting, with a few little bursts of flavorful surprises. Its natural sweetness, coupled with a bright tartness from the cranberries, draws you in bite after bite. And nobody can resist those pretty pops of red!
Although most banana bread recipes require all-purpose flour, I opted for whole wheat flour instead. It adds a subtle nutty undertone, and with its healthy and clean-eating benefits, it turns this banana bread into the perfect treat for New Years Resolutions!
When developing recipes for 100% whole wheat baked goods, I almost exclusively choose Gold Medal whole wheat flour. Other brands leave my loaves dense and dry, but Gold Medal flour actually gives the banana bread a light and airy texture. (No, this isn’t a sponsored post; I just really like Gold Medal whole wheat flour!) If using another brand, I recommend swapping out about 2-4 tablespoons of the whole wheat flour for all-purpose.
The mashed banana naturally sweetens and moistens the loaf without lots of added sugar or fat. The browner the bananas, the better! As the fruit ripens, it breaks down its starches into sugar, which makes them sweeter. If your bananas sport lots of dark brown spots, you’ll only need a tiny squirt of honey. I also mixed in a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt for extra moisture (and a teensy bit more protein too).
Fresh cranberries contribute a bright tang to this sweet banana bread. Try not to skip them! But if you can’t find fresh, you can still rehydrate dried cranberries instead. The loaf will taste a little sweeter since most companies add a sprinkle of sugar to the berries as they dry, so adjust the amount of honey accordingly.
I baked this low-fat banana bread in an 8” x 4” loaf pan. I think it looks prettier when tall and skinny, but you could spread the batter into a 9” x 5” loaf pan instead. The bread will bake faster with more surface area, so start checking it about 5-10 minutes before the time written in the recipe.
Like many other banana breads, this one tastes even better on the next day. It develops that soft, thin sugary film on top—my favorite part!—while the fruity flavors meld and intensify. Due to delays at the doctors’ office, I (impatiently) let this loaf sit for two whole days before photographing and sampling.
As I sliced into the banana bread, I smiled at the small chunks of beautiful red berries. Their natural tang paired perfectly with the sweetness of the bananas and honey, while the whole wheat flavor and tender crumb still felt comforting and homey—absolutely ideal for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
And I did just that. I savored a slice with breakfast, another after lunch, and two more as a post-dinner dessert. Yes, I polished off half of the loaf by myself in a single day! With the rate I buy bananas, I foresee many more rounds of this Whole Wheat Cranberry Banana Bread in my future… Including one or two to mail to Grandma once the doctor lets her eat real food again!