Simple Sides: Healthy Summer Fruit Drinks
By Dennis Linden
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
The consumption of sugary drinks is a major contributing factor in the obesity epidemic among children in this country. Depending on the brand, a 20-ounce soda contains the equivalent of 16-18 teaspoons of sugar or 240 calories! Now super-size this to a 64-ounce cola drink and make that 768 calories! Worse, those “liquid candy” calories are not the same as calories from solid food calories as they do not come with a feeling of being full, so kids do not compensate by eating less. Most parents would balk at letting a child guzzle down a glass of sugar-water yet that is exactly what they are ordering for their kids at the TAKE OUT window! Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease and tooth decay. Otherwise they are just fine. While they are called “soft” drinks, the category is very hard on the body’s metabolism and even harder on the nation’s healthcare costs in tending to all the collateral damage caused by these drinks.
While a child’s “sweet tooth” needs to be quenched, especially on a hot July day, there are several healthy alternative that are also fun to prepare. Fruit contains a kind of sugar called fructose that, unlike sucrose in colas or table sugar, does not cause abrupt fluctuations in blood sugar levels because the body digests it more slowly than sucrose. Also, unlike refined sugar, natural fructose contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. BTW, fruit fructose is not to be confused with “high-fructose” corn syrup, which is really a super-refined sugar to be avoided. Showing kids how to make refreshing drinks sweetened by the natural sugars found in fruits is a great way to wean them off all those empty calories of branded “sugar water” on the grocery shelf.
Here are three different types of hot weather refreshers that kids can whip up themselves with minimal adult supervision using a blender or food processor. The youngest of aspiring chefs can easily make the very simple grape soda; the fruit slush and classic smoothie recipes both have a few more ingredients that need to be prepped, so are best suited for the child with some kitchen experience.
GRAPE SODA: A child of almost any age can make this sparkling soda with a blender. Do not skip the frozen grape “ice cubes” in this recipe as the whole fruit provides the fiber that is key to digesting the sugar in the grape juice. While this drink could be made without the lemon juice or the agave, both add flavor accents that complement the grape juice. They also give the beginner cook a short list of ingredients to follow beyond just combining the seltzer water and grapes, which is good practice with refreshly delicious results!
2 cups seedless red grapes
1 TBS Melissa’s Lemon Juice
1 TBS Melissa’s Organic Blue Weber Agave Syrup
2 cups seltzer water
½ cup seedless red grapes
Purée grapes in a blender then pour the purée through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium-size bowl. Press on the solids to extract all the juice. Transfer the juice to a small pitcher, add the lemon juice and agave, then stir until the agave is completely dissolved. Add the seltzer water and mix thoroughly. Pour into a tall glasses filled with a just a few ice cubes and a lot of frozen grapes!
Fruit Slushes: Slushes can be made of just about any fruit or combination of fruits. Pictured is a strawberry-kiwi slush. The slush was popularized by a national convenience store retailer in 1966; while some of those drinks do have fruit names, the flavors are chemically artificial and the sugar content off the charts. Here’s a much healthier recipe. The fun for kids is experimenting with their own fruit combinations…a great way to spend a hot July afternoon!
½ cup fresh strawberries, halved (or any favorite fruit)
½ cup fresh kiwi fruit, peeled (or any favorite fruit)
½ cup ice cubes
½ TSP salt
Prepare and combine all of the ingredients in a high powered blender. Blend until ice is crushed but not completely puréed. Serve immediately.
Orange Cream Smoothie: This refreshing drink captures the familiar flavors of the iconic Creamsicle® Popsicle using real oranges and low-fat yogurt rather than high-calorie ice cream. A very simple prep, though the frozen OJ cubes do require planning ahead; these cubes are really the key to the rich flavor of this drink.
Orange Cream Smoothie
2 navel oranges, peeled, separated into sections
½ cup fat-free yogurt
½ tsp vanilla extract
8 ice cubes made from fresh squeezed orange juice
Combine the orange segments, yogurt, vanilla, and orange ice cubes in a blender and purée until smooth. Pour into two tall glasses.