Summertime Smoothies

In the summer, smoothies always sound like a good idea. Cold, fruity, what's not to love? But more often than not, when you buy a smoothie what you get is an overly sweet frozen drink that is closer to a fruit-flavored shake. Extra sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, no thank you. And even if you go to a fancy pants juice bar and get the real deal, smoothies out and about are pretty darn expensive to boot.

Now, I have absolutely no problems with milkshakes, but to me, smoothies are a healthy sweet treat. I want to feel good about putting them in my body, and more often than not, I'll have a smoothie as a quick breakfast or between meal snack on the go. Making them yourself is easy, healthy, and much more affordable than paying someone else. All you need is a blender and you are ready to go.

Smoothies don't need a recipe, per se. You just need a few tips and you are on the road to smoothie heaven.

Tip #1: Don't Use Ice, Use Frozen Fruit
I made this mistake when I began making smoothies. You are much better off adding water (or another flavorful liquid, more on that later) to frozen fruit. Not to mention that frozen fruit lasts a longer than fresh fruit and costs a lot less. I tend to buy a big bag of frozen mixed fruit. This base is very affordable and I can add frozen blueberries, or cherries, or whatever catches my fancy. Having a frozen fruit base also means I can use smoothies as a produce cleanup to use those fruits or veggies in my fridge that aren't bad or rotten, but that have simply gotten too soft to be enjoyable on their own. This cuts down on food waste and saves money.

Tip #2: Use Ample Liquid
When making a smoothie, there is nothing worse than turning on the blender and staring while it doesn't blend. Blenders are naturally tall and long, unlike food processors which are shorter and stubbier. The more powerful engine and tall vessel makes them perfect for "blending" liquids, but it also means that getting a smoothie started without enough liquid in your blender is a losing proposition. The area by the blades become a big air pocket and the fruit sits on top. The exact amount of liquid you'll need depends on your blender, but your options for that liquid are pretty vast. If you are trying to keep calories down, you can always use water, but milk, yogurt, juice and nut milks all make delicious smoothies, whether alone or in combination. I even use leftover perrier or club soda that has lost its fizz. Waste not, want not.

Tip #3: Don't Add Sugar
I know, I know, people love sweets. I do too. But honestly, fruit is sweet. If you are finding your smoothie isn't sweet enough, a few tweaks to your mix can make all the difference. Fruit juice is sweet, so using more juice and less water is an option. Ripe or overripe bananas are very sweet (and give your smoothie a creamier mouthfeel). And if you are still desperate for some added sweetness, a little drizzle of honey may be just the thing.

Tip #4: But Please Add A Pinch of Salt
Salt in your smoothie will not make it taste salty. Instead, salt will enhance whatever flavors you are mixing. Your smoothie will simply taste better, and incidentally, sweeter, with just a pinch of salt. But please, go easy. We're talking a pinch.

Tip #5: Greens, Veggies, Seeds... They All Belong
When I started making smoothies, I used mixed fruit, berries and bananas exclusively.  My first change was adding yogurt. But then I discovered how much veggies add to the mix. Frozen kale is a staple for me, but I'll use whatever frozen greens or leftover greens I have. Celery adds a nice brightness as well and there are lots of fun options I've been playing with, from added ginger to even chiles. Start simple and let your creativity run wild. Another staple I've been using a lot recently - chia seeds. From protein to vitamins and minerals, those babies are packed with nutrition.

And Finally - Basic Proportions
Once you start making smoothies at home, you'll come up with your favorite recipes, but to help you out, I've got some guidelines to help you get started. First, I'd start with 4 parts fruit to 1 part veggies or greens. Chia seeds, I'd suggest 2 tblsps per serving.

So if you use a 10 oz bag of frozen fruit, I wouldn't go more than 2.5 oz of frozen kale to start.  That amount of fruit and veggies would make for 2 large smoothies once you've added liquid so I'd do 4 tablespoons of chia seeds. Place it all in your blender, add water or juice and get that smoothie going.

So get blending, and let me know how it goes. And if you have a favorite smoothie combination, share it with me in the comments!

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