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Simple Sides: Healthy Summer Fruit Drinks
By Dennis Linden


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 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 some basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.


Rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories; a 64-ounce cola drink could have up to 700 calories! People who drink this “liquid candy” do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same amount of calories from solid foods, so 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! Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease and tooth decay. 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.

And what about those natural sugars in fruits, are they healthy? Fruit contains a kind of sugar called fructose. Unlike sucrose, or table sugar, fructose does not cause abrupt fluctuations in blood sugar levels because the body digests it more slowly than sucrose, due to the fiber content of all fruits. Also, unlike refined sugar, natural fructose contains vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and hydrating water. 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 will quench the thirst on a hot summer’s day with beneficial nutrients rather than all those empty calories of harmful sugar water.

Here are three different kinds of hot weather refreshers that kids can whip up themselves with minimal adult supervision using a blender or food processor. The preparation of each recipe ranges in difficulty from a very simple grape soda that the youngest of aspiring chefs can easily make, to slightly more complex recipes for a fruit slush and a classic smoothie for the child with a little more culinary 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 they provide the fiber that is a key to digesting the sugar in the grape juice. While this drink could be made without the lemon juice or the agave, both do add accent flavors that complement the grape juice. They also provide a short ingredient list for a beginner to follow – good practice with delicious results!

Grape Soda
Serves 2


Ingredients:
2 cups seedless red grapes
1 TBS Melissa’s Lemon Juice
1 TBS Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 cup seltzer water
½ cup seedless red grapes (frozen)



Puree grapes in a blender. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium 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 glass filled with a few ice cubes, but mostly the frozen grapes. Enjoy!



Fruit Slushies: Pictured in the prep is a strawberry-kiwi slush as an example, though slushies can be made of just about fruit or combination of fruits – the preparation is the same. The slush was popularized by a national convenience store retailer in 1966, merchandising the drink using a slightly different name. Some of the flavors offered do have fruit names, but the flavors are artificial and the sugar content is off the charts. Here’s a much, much healthier recipe and a few fruit combination suggestions. However the fun for your kitchen helpers will be experimenting with their own fruit combinations…a great way to spend a hot August afternoon!

Strawberry-Kiwi Slush
Serves 2




Ingredients:
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

Preparation:



Combine all of the ingredients in a high powered blender. Blend until ice is crushed but not completely pureed. Serve immediately.



Orange Cream Popsicle Smoothie: This refreshing drink captures the familiar flavors of the iconic Creamsicle® Popsicle using real oranges instead frozen orange-flavored sugar water and low-fat yogurt rather than high-calorie ice cream. A very simple prep, though the frozen OJ does require planning ahead; these cubes are really the key to the rich flavor of this drink.

Orange Cream Smoothie
Serves 2


2 navel oranges, peeled, separated into sections
½ cup fat-free yogurt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
8 ice cubes of fresh squeezed orange juice

Preparation:


Combine the orange, yogurt, vanilla, and ice cubes. Process until smooth. Pour into a tall glass.