No-Sugar-Added Cheesecake Squares {and why I limit sugar in my diet}

During my freshman year of college I found out that I have a genetic heart condition that requires me to stay active and eat healthy (nothing that will kill me if I don’t, it just causes a lot of pain). My doctor told me to cut out caffeine and sugar from my diet. Having caffeine taken away from me as a college freshman (when I stayed up until at least 2am every night and often 3 or 4) was difficult. But after two years of back and forth, in May of 2006, I finally settled into my new diet. I didn’t realize it until I started writing this post, but it’s been nearly a decade ago now!

rach2004Celebrating my 17th birthday just before I started my freshman year of college in the late summer of 2004. Look at me so blissfully unaware that I’m about to be told I can’t have sugar or caffeine anymore. 😉

People often apologize for eating desserts in front of me, but it honestly doesn’t bother me. It’s been so long that I don’t miss it anymore. Every now and then I’ll have a craving for something sweet and so I’ll either eat fruit or make something with Splenda or Stevia. My preference is Stevia because Splenda upsets my stomach, but Splenda is a cup-to-cup ratio exchange with sugar so it’s much easier to bake with. Stevia takes a lot of guess work. But when you get it right, it’s awesome! 🙂

Cheesecake Squares (1).JPG

While I was in college my mom made a point to still make me desserts for my birthday even if they had to be sugar-free. She came up with two winners that I still make from time to time when I’m craving something sweet. And today I’m going to share her Cheesecake Squares recipe that she adapted from Pillsbury (original recipe here).

Cheesecake Squares (2).JPG

(No-Sugar-Added) Cheesecake Squares


2 (8oz) cans refrigerated Pillsbury Dough Sheet
2 (8oz) packages fat free cream cheese, softened (this is important!)
1 cup Splenda OR 1/4 cup granulated Stevia (I used Stevia for the squares you see above)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp Splenda or granulated Stevia
1 tsp ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13” pan. Press one dough sheet into the bottom of the prepared pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together softened cream cheese (if it’s not soft, this is a lot harder to do), 1 cup Splenda or 1/4 cup granulated Stevia, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spread over the dough layer in pan.

3. Unroll the second can of dough and lay on top of the cream cheese layer. Do not press down. Pour melted butter over the entire pan. Combine the remaining Splenda/Stevia with cinnamon and sprinkle on top.

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is crisp and golden. Serve hot from the oven or let cool and refrigerate until they easily hold together.

If sugar isn’t a problem for you, you could easily make these with sugar (using the same Splenda measurements). And if you want to try for Stevia – it just takes a little trial and error. Read the instructions on your Stevia to find the appropriate ratio for one cup of sugar. I went with Stevia for the Cheesecake Squares photographed in this post and they turned out wonderfully!

These are delightful. They are incredible straight from the oven as well as after they cool and go in the fridge for a few hours. I usually eat them both ways. One when they initially come out of the oven and then a chilled one the next day. Yum!

Have you tried a dessert like this before?

How would you have reacted as a college freshman to the news that you needed to give up sweets and caffeine? It definitely took me two years of back and forth before I really got it, ha!

Love Rach


36 responses to “No-Sugar-Added Cheesecake Squares {and why I limit sugar in my diet}

  1. I’m a huge coffee drinker and I love sweets, I think I would have been devastated if I had to give both up. You have such a great outlook on it I’m probably one of the few people who actually enjoy the taste of coffee. I do switch to decaf in the afternoons. Can you have decaf? Those cheesecake squares look so good. I use to be really addicted to sweets but I have been getting alot better with it. Although, it does make me sad that you can’t have most birthday cakes. My sister’s friend also can’t eat most things, almost nothing, and he is like it doesn’t bother me at all because it has been this way since he was a kid. If he goes out to eat, he usually can only get salad.

    • Yes! I can have decaf! A couple of times I’ve had decaf coffee at night time and even the small amount of caffeine in it has kept me up because I’m so sensitive to it now. College me would be so embarrassed, ha!

      Oh wow! Your sister’s friend has it rough! I’m glad he can handle it so well since he’s used to it, but that would definitely be hard for me! My body handles a paleo diet the best, but I love my pasta too much to give it up. 😉 I mean, I would if I really needed to, but I can handle a little bloat to be able to eat my favorite foods. 🙂

  2. These look amazing!!! I will definitely be trying these! I don’t have sugar issues but Nick and I have been trying to cut out sugar and added sugar so this is perfect!! You have such a bring outlook on something someone might be really down about! I love that!

  3. The last handful of months I’ve been able to tolerate both of these substances less and less. I get an immediate headache from processed sugar and have had to cut out coffee altogether for bits at a time. I try to have one small cup here and there, and eat fruit when the sugar monster hits. I have to watch my fruit intake too though as I often overdo it and feel heavy and uncomfortable. These look delicious!

  4. Those cheesecake squares look yummy! I’m trying to cut back on sugar, so this recipe is perfect 🙂

  5. These look delicious! And I love that they’re low in sugar–I’m also trying to cut back, mainly because I think I eat too much of it!

  6. Look at you !!! You look sooo cute and adorable. ❤
    If someone told me I would have to give up on caffeine(sweets I can give up maybe not coffee!!!) I would have gone to depression for quite a long time I guess ! My day just does not kick start without that morning cuppa coffee. I am a huuge coffee person. Hats off to you to have taken it in your stride and whip up these amazing desserts and share it with everyone ❤

    • Haha! I was such a baby back then! I look back at photos from a decade again and I can hardly believe how much time has passed. 🙂

      Girl, I hear ya. I remember how hard it was to give up coffee. I never slept enough my first two years of college so I liked to use caffeine as a sleep supplement. 😉 But after a couple of years, I finally figured it out. Mostly because I was really tired of the chest pain, ha!

  7. It would be hard for me to give up coffee!! My husband and I went sugar free for a month last summer and it was such an eye opener to see how much sugar we consume without even noticing!

  8. I totally commend you for giving up sugar and caffeine. Both of those are such integral parts of my diet, though they definitely don’t do me any favours (maybe other than staying awake at work!) These squares look delicious!
    Evelina @ Fortunate House

    • It wasn’t easy at first – especially as a college student who hardly slept and used caffeine as a sleep supplement, ha! But I figured it out eventually. 😉 I definitely wouldn’t have done it voluntarily, though! I’m always impressed by people who cut back on their sugar/caffeine just for their general health. I was not that disciplined back then, haha!

  9. i don’t drink coffee, but i do drink soda and tea so i would stuggle wth the caffeine as well! and i eat a lot of sugar, so that would suck. but i guess if a doctor told me to, i would do it in a heartbeat! lol. i’m really good at doing things that doctors/dentists etc tell me to.

    • ​That’s such a good habit (to have the willpower to do what a doctor tells you)! Go you! It took me two years of going back and forth before I finally stuck to the diet like I should. In general I listen to doctors and do what they tell me, but giving up caffeine and sugar as a freshman in college was haaaard, ha! ​

  10. I think that it’s so much easier now to not have sugar or caffeine as there are healthier alternatives everywhere. I am very thankful for that as I can’t have caffeine because of my heart too.

    • Oh wow! Are you okay? Just a dietary change or anything serious happening? Hopefully all is well! I know my mother-in-law limits her caffeine because she has a murmur and her heart will race uncomfortably if she has too much caffeine.

      And yes, I’m so with you on being grateful for alternatives! Even though I rarely eat Splenda now, I had it all the time when I was first transitioning from sugar-to-nonsugar. It made the transition much easier to still have favorite tasting sweets. ​

  11. I REALLY need to cut back on sugar from my diet, as I feel as though I’ve let my sweet tooth get the best of me. 😉 But it would be hard to give it up completely! At the same time, when you know it’s for your health, it’s totally worth it!
    I love my coffee, but I did give up caffeine when I was pregnant for (and breastfeeding) Brady. I learned to enjoy other beverages like steamed soy with a shot of vanilla, or decaf tea, or lemonaid. Or even just good ol’ fashioned water with a slice of lemon. 🙂 It was really hard at first, but after all I didn’t even think about it…
    P.S. You are GORGEOUS in that first pic! 🙂

    • Girl, you gave us SO much while you were breastfeeding Brady. You were such a champ in that department. I was continually amazed at your willpower to make your diet something that worked for your baby. You’re so right that it’s easier to give something up when you have a reason (like my heart for me or pregnancy/breast feeding for you).

      I was just about to ask when your next fitness blog post was going to be, but then I checked your blog and I see you already posted! I’m excited to go and read it! 🙂

  12. I lived with one of my aunt’s for a summer and we made this dessert (with regular white sugar) alllllll the time. Like twice a week. We joked that its name should be “The I’m Going To Weigh 900 Pounds By The End Of The Summer Dessert”.

  13. This sounds so good. I wish I was eating a piece right now. Your story is interesting and props to you for figuring out a better diet! That picture of you is so sweet!

  14. Okay, you’ve mentioned not drinking coffee and haven’t oooozed over sweets, but somehow I never thought about WHY this might be so! Thanks for stepping up and talking more about that. What’s the condition called? How long did it take you to get use to this new way of eating?

    I’m glad that you have found ways to live with your condition and that you can honestly say it’s not sooo bad! 🙂

    PS – Those cheesecake bars look SUPER good!

    • I have mitral valve prolapse (MVP). It’s pretty common and tends to run in families. My grandfather and aunt have it as well. A lot of people are on medication for it, but thankfully I’ve been able to control it with diet & exercise! 🙂

      It took me nearly two years to really get the diet down. I would go weeks without caffeine/sugar and then have a really bad day and think “I just want ice cream. Surely one time won’t hurt…” But I had terrible self control so once I broke the diet it was easy to do again the next day and the next. I was diagnosed in the fall of 2004 and went back and forth a lot. The following summer I was a camp counselor and the director asked each of us to fast from something for the summer. I chose to give up sugar & caffeine and stuck to it all summer, but come the fall I went back to yo-yoing. I was a little better than my freshman year, but still not stellar. That next summer I was a counselor at the same camp and they asked us to fast again so I chose to give up caffeine & sugar again for the summer. That was May 2006. I’ve stuck to the diet ever since. 🙂

  15. No caffeine or sugar as a freshman in college?! That would be so incredibly tough!! I suppose when your health is on the line, you make it work! So sorry about the heart condition, but I’m glad to hear you’re able to control it with your lifestyle changes!

    Also, the cheesecake squares sound and look delightful! How sweet of your mom to make you a special dessert for your birthday. Moms are the best 🙂

  16. Pingback: Chocolate Eclair Squares (and a video with bloopers) |

  17. The food is very delicious! Love it

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