Now that we’re enjoying crisp autumn days, have you put away your blender or Vita-Mix? Have you stopped making smoothies as your thoughts turn to steaming bowls of oatmeal? While there’s no denying that hot breakfasts can be a wonderful way to start the day when there’s a chill in the air, you still might want to mix it up. Smoothies are nutritious, portable, easily digestible, colorful and well…fun to make, especially with children. Or indulge in that hot breakfast, and offer the kids a nutrient-rich smoothie as an after-school snack.
You can find a multitude of smoothie recipes on-line and in books; however, my suggestion is that you dispense with the recipes and just experiment on your own. Brainstorm with your child or grand about what flavors might work well together. For instance, do you adore pumpkin pie? Think about a smoothie using organic boxed pumpkin purée, greek yogurt, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. Check the fruit bowl, your fridge and the freezer to see what you have on hand. Outdoor farmers markets are open until the end of this month, so you have one more opportunity to pay a visit to your favorite farmers market. Maybe you’ve gone apple picking and have lots more apples to use up. As you become more confident, branch out and be creative.
In fact, making your own smoothie recipe book with the child or children in your life is a great project, whether you do it on the computer or the old-school way with paper, a hole-puncher, yarn and crayons or markers. Take pictures of each other enjoying the finished product. Make notes of what you liked—or didn’t; devise a rating system. Make up descriptive or silly names for the various smoothies.
When creating smoothies for young children (or picky adults), you might want to use more fruits than vegetables. On the other hand, young children can be less resistant to trying certain foods, as they have not built up a prejudice, yet. A child who is introduced to spinach, for example, in a smoothie, might be more likely to sample it on a pizza or in scrambled eggs. Although local summer fruits are no longer available, apples, pears, oranges and bananas are excellent additions to smoothies. On your next trip to the grocery store, check out the frozen organic fruit and choose your favorites.
Start with a liquid base—this can be as simple as filtered water. Right now, I am loving the organic apple cider I found at Green City Market (my absolute favorite farmers market). You might want to use your preferred juice, milk (cow, goat or sheep), or depending on allergies/dietary restrictions, any of an array of non-dairy milks made from nuts, seeds or grains. I also like using coconut water and my son is a big proponent of kefir, a type of liquid yogurt. Try combining a couple of these or using water to lower the amount of sugar.
Take the opportunity to include some healthful greens in your smoothie. My favorite is baby spinach which seems to disappear into the smoothie, taste-wise, but gives it a nice, green color. An alternative is kale. If I have micro-sprouts, I also throw in some of those. Although I like arugula, in general, its peppery taste doesn’t work well in a smoothie.
My favorite smoothie ingredient is avocado—it’s fairly bland, but lends richness and body to the smoothie, along with healthy fats. I would use 1/4 to 1/2 per person.
Children seem to really enjoy sweet, creamy (frozen) bananas in their smoothies. When your bananas are quite ripe, peel them and cut them in half or in coins, and freeze them. I typically use 1/2 banana per person.
Some other good vegetables to use are peeled cucumbers, cooked beets, and carrots. Carrots go particularly well with apples and orange juice.
Cinnamon, ginger and turmeric all have anti-inflammatory properties and work in a smoothie. Feel free to add lots of ground cinnamon. I love putting in a piece of fresh ginger, but ginger does have a bit of a kick to it, so start small and work up to what feels right. Also, be judicious with the turmeric if you’re making the smoothie with children.
As I mentioned, frozen fruit is perfect for smoothies. Currently, I’m liking dark sweet cherries, but whatever appeals to your crew is fine. I probably wouldn’t use more than 1/2 cup of one type, unless you want that flavor to dominate the smoothie.
Squeeze a little fresh lime or lemon juice into the smoothie for additional vitamin C and a little zip.
Yogurt will add protein and body to the smoothie. I suggest that you don’t use a heavily-sweetened yogurt. Let the sweetness come mainly from fruit.
Nuts and seeds are another source of healthy fats and some protein. Again, keeping allergies in mind, you might want to throw in a handful of nuts or a spoonful of nut, peanut or sunflower seed butter.
As you become more sophisticated in your smoothie-making, you might consider boosting the nutritional value with ingredients like chia seeds, flax seeds, goji berries and acai powder. A spoon of cacao powder will add antioxidants and chocolaty flavor.
I have organic mint growing by my kitchen window and like to add a snip to the smoothie.
If possible, aim to use organic ingredients in your smoothies.
Adding about 4 – 6 ice cubes (depending on the power of your blender) is a good idea for extra volume and chill.
You and your child might want to taste your creation before pouring it into glasses. At that point, if you think it needs more sweetness, you can try adding some juice, more fruit, one or two pitted dates, a spoon of raw local honey, apple butter or even, jam.
Many things work in a smoothie, but one caveat I’d like to offer is not toss everything in that you can think of, especially when you are just starting out.
If you have some left-over smoothie, it will keep in the refrigerator until later that day or even the next day. You can whirl it up in the the blender again or just stir well with a spoon. Adding a squirt of lime will freshen it up.
Try one tomorrow!