Summer is here! That means different things to different people; but to a holistic dietitian like me, I can’t help but think of all the SUGAR that happens over summer. Popsicles and ice cream and juice and Gatorade and fruit and all the “special summer treats.” Part of these are the memories that summer is made of and experiences full of laughter and family connection. I’m not trying to be “Debbie Downer” on the summer fun, or encourage you to be either. I just want to offer a reality check and give us all some tips for smoothie options and a few recipes for for fun,sweet summer treats!
First for the reality check:
1. Processed sugar decreases immunity and inhibits healthy gut function.
2. Too much sugar contributes to blood sugar dis-regulation which can alter mood and increase inflammation.
3. Most conventional frozen treats will have added chemicals, dyes, and preservatives which just adds to the toxicity and complicates digestion and overall health.
4. “Smoothies” from restaurants or even smoothie shops often have more sugar and just as much processed “stuff” as a popsicle from the grocery store.
5. Eating processed sugar often decreases the taste and acceptance of real foods.
Now for how to make the most of sweet summer treats. First, the world of smoothies is your saving grace in the sweet treat department. There is so much real, whole food health that can be packed into a blender, poured into a fun popsicle mold and enjoyed by everyone after an afternoon at the pool or playing in the sprinklers. Smoothies will still have some form of “sweet,” but the type and amount can really add or take away from a healthy summer.
Tips for revising your sweet treat options this summer:
1. Portion properly. A smoothie for kids ages 1-4 only needs to be about 4-6oz (1/2c) for them to enjoy a fun sweet treat.
2. Freeze smoothies in popsicle molds instead of buying them at the store.
3. Add a protein source to the smoothie (or serve on the side): nut butter; plant-based protein powder; plain, full-fat yogurt (when well tolerated) can all be added to many smoothies. This allows the amount of sweet/carbohydrate to remain reasonable and your child to be satisfied by the snack .
4. When extra sweetener is needed, use whole, unprocessed sweeteners like: raw honey, coconut nectar or sugar, or Stevia.
5. Add veggies to your smoothie: spinach works GREAT! I can pack up to 3 cups into a smoothie and can’t taste it. You can also add cucumber and zucchini or kale! Try it. Don’t be scared.
6. Let your kids pick what fruit combinations they want, push the button the blender, and help pour into the popsicle molds.
7. Keep kids hydrated. When they are thirsty for water, they might want more sugary drinks/treats.
8. Use real fruit, not fruit juice as the base of your popsicles.
9. When a plain juice smoothie is desired, use 100% real juice not the juice blends that sometimes only contain 4-17% of actual juice.
10. Offer fresh fruit rather than fruit leather, fruit snacks or fruit juice. Cut ahead of time and keep in containers or baggies ready to take with you on the go.
(Keep in mind that sometimes kids won’t drink smoothies, but they will eat a popsicle. That’s another great reason to make your smoothies into popsicles!)
Smoothie recipes are extremely versatile. There’s no right or wrong way to do a smoothie, but as a rule of thumb, always try to add at least some veggie to it! You’ll get more nutrition, more fiber, and feel more satisfied. All of which is great for kids on long, action packed summer days! Remember anything that is frozen will have a slightly weaker flavor because the cold masks some of the flavor. Squeezing lemon into the smoothie can enhance the flavor for frozen fruit based versions.
1. My standard morning smoothie recipe goes something like this and works great frozen:
1/2-3/4 c frozen fruit
2-3c raw spinach
Almond or coconut milk to desired consistency (about 1 c)
1 scoop plant based non-soy protein powder (I suggest a “real food” based powder when using with kids as many brands have a lot of synthetic vitamins/minerals that can be too much for young children)
juice of 1 lemon or 1/2 orange (brightens the flavor- start w/ 1/2 lemon and add more if desired)
Alternatives/add-ins: substitute protein powder for 2 tbsp nut butter (flavors still work well together), use full-fat canned coconut milk for kids to get extra healthy saturated fats,
This can be divided into smaller portions for kids, and/or poured into popsicle molds.
This is not the powerhouse that fruit smoothies are, but a great alternative to many other chocolate treats. Makes 2 servings (1 c each) or 4 servings for children- adjust portions based on servings needed. I’ve never poured this one into molds, but freeze in small cups and eat with a spoon after slightly thawed. I think it will be better in molds!
2 cups almond or coconut milk
2-3 heaping spoonfuls of cocoa powder
coconut sugar or honey to taste
1/2 tsp vanilla extract- optional
Heat milk, cocoa and coconut sugar on stove until sugar and cocoa dissolved. Taste and adjust sweetness or cocoa as needed. Remember stronger chocolate flavor will be better when frozen.
3. Blueberry Coconut Smoothie– from www.paleoparents.com
1 C frozen blueberries (we love Costco’s wild organic)
1 14 oz can full fat coconut milk
14 ice cubes (if your bananas are frozen too, you might not need ice at all)
Optional: 7-10 drops vanilla stevia*
♥ Place all ingredients in blender in listed order
♥ Blend until smooth
This makes enough smoothies for our family, about 4 servings. Let your kids help with everything on this one (♥)!
*Stevia is a low glycemic load non-caloric sweetener. We don’t use it because we find the fruit sweet enough, but a few drops goes a long way if this isn’t quite sweet enough for you.
4. Monkey Pops– makes 7 popsicles (depending on size of mold). This can also be used unfrozen as a traditional smoothie- adapted from www.fastpaleo.com
16 oz of unsweetened coconut/or almond milk
4 TB Almond/or some other nut butter
2 teaspoons of raw honey
3 TB of cocoa powder
2 (frozen) bananas
2 teaspoons of vanilla
Optional add ins: ice, carob nibs (or chocolate chips), avocado, spinach, coconut butter, coconut oil
1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend. If using frozen bananas then you may not need any ice cubes. If you are using unfrozen bananas, then throw in 5-8 ice cubes.
2. Top with raw carob nibs and enjoy or pour into popsicle molds and freeze!
Fun popsicle molds: There are few varieties at most grocery stores, especially healthfood stores (Nature’s Pantry, Natural Grocers, or Whole Foods) during the summer, but there are endless options on Amazon.com. Be sure to read the reviews for notes on leakage and type of materials used. I recommend silicone since they will not contain BPA like other plastics.
Remember that smoothie options are ENDLESS, kids can be involved in the whole process and the small cost of some fun Popsicle molds can make your summer fun and healthy!
Happy blending and feel free to post your favorite smoothie recipe in the comments section for others to enjoy!