Spring is sliding towards summer. It’s getting sticky earlier and earlier every day down here in Carolina. Those cool mornings will soon be all but gone around here, and that means I’m moving more towards cooling, refreshing meal choices and away from heavy cooked foods. Cue Smoothie-Mania theme music. You aren’t familiar with the theme music? It sounds a lot like a Vita-mix.
Smoothies are a complicated subject. Some people deify them, others revile them. There is a camp that considers Smoothies to be a panacea for any and every ailment, and another that views them as unhealthy sugar bombs basking in a faux-healthy glow. Me? I’m a Smoothie Realist.
What the heck is a Smoothie Realist (yes I totally made that up) you ask? I see Smoothies as a reasonable meal option when 1. You want or need something FAST 2. You’re trying to get more vegetables into your diet, but you’re also getting really sick of endlessly chewing Big Ass Salads and 3. It’s too hot and humid to even think about cooking something.
Are Smoothies the perfect food, able to cure all ills and give you a flat belly, shiny hair, sparkling eyes and clear skin? Uh, not exactly. But neither are they horrible, awful, no good pseudo-milkshakes with nothing good to offer. The trick to incorporating Smoothies in a healthful, helpful way is to choose your ingredients wisely, and then treat them as a meal. How do you do that?
Planning and Prep, of course! As with so many other aspects of cultivating a healthy diet, a few minutes spent planning and prepping your Smoothies and ingredients can save you from stress and unhealthy choices made in a fit of hungry desperation. You know, when you’re too hungry to think, and you just start shoving whatever comes to hand into your mouth as a way to stave off death. So which ingredients are good to include? And how can you make this as easy and convenient as possible, lessening the chances of turning your healthy meal-in-a-cup into a sugary, insulin producing mega calorie bomb?
The best way that I’ve found to prep for Smoothie success is to make Smoothie Packs with all of my ingredients EXCEPT for the liquid I’ll be using. I use regular old sandwich or quart size baggies and label them with their ingredients and what liquid I was thinking of when I put them together. You can give them cute names if you like, sometimes that makes them more fun for kids to get involved with. But either way, having ingredients pre-measured and put together in a packet makes life pretty easy on a hectic morning, or stressful afternoon. But what goes in the bag???
Start with the color GREEN. Adding green vegetables to your smoothie is key to keeping them on the right side of healthy. Plan on using 1-2 cups of fresh or frozen greens as a base in your combinations. Experiment with different varieties and feel free to mix it up. Using different types of greens lets you get a nice complement of flavors and vitamins and minerals. I like a combo of baby spinach and baby kale, but I’ll often add in spring mix lettuces, arugula, parsley, beet greens, carrot greens, or whatever other greens are hanging around. This is also a good way to use up some droopy veggies that aren’t quite ‘Salad Pretty’ anymore, but not yet slimy and gross. The benefits of using frozen greens are they don’t get nasty when you forget you bought them, and they help thicken your smoothie up without adding ice, which can water it down.
Next add in another non-leafy veg. Depending on your tastes beets, cucumber, celery, carrots, even broccoli stems, all add interesting tastes and more important phytonutrients. Generally, I’ll add in one small cucumber, or two carrots, or two stalks of celery depending on what flavor direction I’m headed in. Beets aren’t everyone’s favorite veg, some find them a little too earthy, but they definitely add a nice sweetness, beautiful color, and a big hit of nutrition. Try half of a beet if you’re new to them and unsure of how you’ll like them in a smoothie. Just make sure you remember you used them, or you’ll fall prey to the common ‘next day bathroom freakout’ that so many of us have experienced. Don’t worry, you aren’t sick—it’s just beets.
Now, to keep your smoothie from becoming just a thick cold vegetable soup, we’re going to add in some fruit. I like to use frozen berries in most of my smoothies, but apples, kiwi, pineapples, mangoes, cherries, etc. are all fantastic tasty additions. Just think about what flavors you like together and go for it! A nice tropical mix that pairs well the greens is kiwi, pineapple, mango. Apples, paired with carrots and spinach is a great flavor combo. Play around a bit but try to keep your fruit to about 1 cup, especially if you’re not sticking with berries. It’s easy to overdo the fruit because it’s so darn tasty, but too much fruit isn’t your friend in the long term.
Sweeteners are a controversial subject with smoothies. I generally don’t add any sweetener, but if you feel like you need to (particularly if kids are involved) try to stick with using dates or frozen bananas to up the sweetness. They are whole foods, thus they retain their nutritional benefits, and they help thicken the smoothie up as well. You can also use a little raw honey, maple syrup, molasses, or other less processed sugar sources. But again, the veggies and fruits have their own sweetness that is often quite enough. One note, I don’t recommend adding honey or other liquid sweeteners into the packets, but bananas and dates are fine to include and freeze.
Extras. You know what I’m talking about here. Nut butters, cacao nibs, maca powder, seeds, spirulina, protein powders…the list of add-ins is as long as my arm. These are all fine to add into your packet, or you can just add them last minute to the blender carafe, whichever is easier for you. I like to use Maca, and spirulina in most of my smoothies, and I’ll sometimes use hemp seeds or almonds as well. I haven’t generally been big on adding protein powders in but I’m currently trying to increase my daily protein consumption so I’ll most likely be throwing a scoop in the bags for the foreseeable future.
That’s it. Now seal that baby up and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to make your smoothie just pull out a pack, pour a cup of your liquid of choice into your blender, add the contents of your smoothie pack, put the lid on and whirl away! You can always add in some cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, turmeric or whatever other spices you like, to really jazz the flavor up. Now pour that frosty goodness into a big glass/mason jar/stainless steel pint cup….and ENJOY!
One final word of advice though. I find it more satisfying to chew my smoothie a bit before I swallow it. This gets my digestive system going, which helps assimilate all those nutrients, and helps me feel like I actually ate something as opposed to just having a big drink. We tend to not find drinking our meals as satiating as eating them, so adding in the chewing can help the brain recognize that this is a meal.
Now, what combos are you going to make? Since strawberry season is in full swing here I know I’ll be incorporating lots of those little guys in my packets! YUM!