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August, 2009

Have a Glass of Fruit

By Dennis Linden

While the competing schedules of today’s busy modern family make it difficult to share a home cooked meal together, it is not impossible with a little planning and can even be fun.

Cookin with the Kid Image
The heat of August provides both an opportunity and a challenge for parents looking for healthy ways to quench their children’s thirst. Beverages can be a great way to get kids into the kitchen. With the safe use of a food processor or blender and a few fresh ingredients, kids can learn how to follow a recipe, measure ingredients and combine different flavors.

One blender handling note: the liquefying process may have to be helped along by pushing down the fruit chunks from the sides of the standard upright blender, so supervise your sous chefs in doing this without damaging the blades using a rubber spatula and, of course, with the machine turned off. Better yet, there are several brands of hand blenders on the market that come with a locking grinder/chopper attachment that is perfect for making these drinks. They are all extremely efficient and very safe for a child to use.

A summer beverage for kids should be tasty, refreshing, fun and healthy. Unfortunately, even in these times of curbing child obesity and healthy eating, it is amazing how many drinks for kids still include sugar. So let’s examine this sweet issue. First of all, most ripe fruits offer plenty of natural sweetness without the need of any additives at all. Teaching a child to appreciate the unique, natural flavor of each fruit variety is great training for the palette that will serve them well in years to come. When shopping for fresh ingredients destined for the blender, choose fruits that are obviously mature ripe or be sure to ripen the fruit fully at home to a soft stage when the natural sweetness is at its peak.

In the case of a drink like lemonade or a lemon-lime slush, which needs a sweetener because of the natural tartness of these fruits, you can use honey. While both sugar and honey do contain glucose and fructose, during the process of manufacturing sugar the organic acids, protein, nitrogen elements, enzymes and vitamins in the sugar cane are destroyed. This leaves only “empty” calories, which are a major contributor to child obesity. Processed honey is subjected to only minimal heating, so beneficial antioxidant and antimicrobial properties are altered very little. Even better, use raw honey that has not been processed. Due to its higher fructose content, honey is sweeter than table sugar, so less of it needs to be used and that means fewer total calories per serving. The general rule is to use half the amount of honey as sugar called for in a recipe.

Another thing to watch for is drink recipes that call for fruit juice as an ingredient. Always make your own juice or purée from fresh fruits if possible; if not, make sure the label says 100% all-natural juice or juice concentrate with absolutely no other ingredients on the label. Watery fresh fruits, like pineapple and melon or pear chunks, liquefy in a blender quite nicely and also add a little “body” to the texture of the drink. Do not believe that over used slogan on juice bottles, Tastes Like Homemade. Nothing tastes like homemade except the real thing, which is always cheaper and takes about a minute in the processor for your kids to make.

Fresh fruit smoothies and slushes offer the healthiest refreshment on a hot summer day and are fun to create. The basic smoothie ingredients are a fresh fruit (or two) for flavor, a non-fat, unflavored yogurt for texture, and a little non-fat milk or soy milk to help with the liquefying. Add a few ice cubes to give the drink a milkshake texture without the fat content of ice cream. Another great way to get that same icy texture is to use slightly thawed frozen yogurt and/or fresh fruits that have been frozen. If your kids are not into the taste of yogurt, a very ripe banana can also be used as a tasty sweet thickener.

Slushes are basically crushed ice blended in the processor or blender with fresh fruit combinations and a little water or juice to help liquefy, but without dairy products. For an even richer flavored slush, instead of using regular ice cubes have the kids blend fruit into purée then freeze in ice trays. A quick run through the processor will turn the purée cubes into slush with, again, just a small bit of water or liquid juice. Here are just a few recipe suggestions that take advantage of the fresh fruits of the summer to get your young kitchen helpers started. Use them as templates to familiarize the kids with the basic formulas. However, this is also a great opportunity to demonstrate that recipes can be flexible, so encourage creativity by suggesting they come up with flavor combinations using their own favorite fruit ingredients. Happy summer!

Simple Pineapple-Banana Slush (Serves two)
Simple Pineapple-Banana Slush (Serves two)

Ingredients

2 cups pineapple chunks (pureed until smooth)
1 ripe banana (broken in small chunks)
1 cup ice cubes

What the supervising adult should do:
- Cut the pineapple into chunks for the kids or simply peel and core it, then let the kids do the chunks using hands, spoons or a knife if an older child is involved.
- Supervise the use of the blender or processor, including explaining the settings. In fact, this is a great opportunity for a whole lesson on this machine from proper use to cleaning up!

What kids can do:
1. Measure all ingredients
2. Puree the pineapple separately
3. Add the banana & ice cubes (with blender turned OFF)
4. Blend until smooth & enjoy
5. Other favorite fruits they have picked out themselves be substituted.

Basic Fruit Smoothie (Serves Two)

Ingredients

1 cup Honeydew melon chunks
1 cup non-fat plain frozen Yogurt or 2 bananas
1 cup ice cubes
½ cup non-fat Milk or Soy Milk

What Kids Can Do
1. Scoop the seeds out of a melon that has been cut in half.
2. Make the melon chunks by scooping them out with a spoon
3. Use a blender to puree the melon until smooth.
4. Turn the blender off and add the rest of the ingredients
5. Blend until smooth and serve

Some Good Fruit Combinations (but let little imaginations run wild!)
Orange + Strawberry + Banana
Strawberry + Peach
Grape + Lemon + Honey
Blueberry + Summer Melons (like Cantaloupe, Canary, Casaba, Honeydew, and Tuscan)
Kiwi + Raspberry

Caution: too many colors together will result in an unappetizing cement grey colored drink.