Healthy Outlook: Some family-friendly, super healthy alternatives to green beer
These green smoothies are lucky charms
There’s a holiday coming up this weekend that this town takes pretty seriously.
At least for the 21-and-older crowd, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to celebrate … well, drinking, mostly. And with that often comes a fun tradition: green beer. But hey, Lawrence — you know what’s even more fun than green beer? Green smoothies.
Yes, I hear your sighs, and I know your eyes are rolling. Bear with me, though — I was slow to assimilate into this health trend, and I understand the hesitation. When I imagined how something called a “green smoothie” might taste, I did not expect anything like the delicious creations I’ve been whipping up in my kitchen for about a month now.
I have consumed more spinach and kale in the past few weeks than in my entire life combined, and if I were downplaying my enthusiasm, I’d say I feel amazing. Also, I always thought smoothies couldn’t fill me up, but if they’re done right, you’ll be comfortably full.
The trick of green smoothies — practically of leprechaun caliber — is that you can hardly taste the green stuff, if at all. I couldn’t believe how good even my first attempt tasted. That’s not to say I don’t like green leafy vegetables, but I can’t even imagine how many salads I’d have to eat each day in order to consume the same amount that I can in a single smoothie.
Naysayers argue that you don’t get as much benefit out of foods that aren’t whole, but to that I say something is far, far better than nothing. Juices definitely take out a ton of fruits’ and vegetables’ fiber content, but smoothies leave behind a lot more. If smoothies can make veggie-haters or picky kids (and spouses) take in a serving or two that they otherwise wouldn’t, blend away.
Now, in the many long weeks since I started my new favorite breakfast craze, I have mastered a few basics of green smoothie-making:
• Bananas seem to be key to getting the right amount of sweetness. If you aren’t a big fan, it may help to know that if you use a small amount — say, half a banana or less — or if you use several other flavorful ingredients, you really can’t pick out its individual flavor. If you really, really can’t stand bananas, unsweetened applesauce could be a healthy compromise.
• The right ratio of liquids is important. Some people like their smoothies thicker than others. Experiment a bit, and most importantly, write down the results so you don’t forget next time. (I now have a notepad in a kitchen drawer full of smoothie hits and misses, poised and ready to go when I want to write up my next creation.)
• Add some fat for staying power. Peanut butter or nuts are a good, healthy addition, as are avocados. However, those don’t go with all the different flavors you might want to mix. My go-to source of fat in smoothies is a combination of ground flaxseed and chia seeds. They’re both flavor-neutral, but they are rich in omega-3s. A little added fat will help your body better absorb the other nutrients you’re taking in, and it will help you feel fuller.
• Kale has more flavor than spinach. If you’re skeptical starting out, try a smoothie with kale and spinach first. Even if you don’t love it, you can try to make it again with just spinach, which seems to magically disappear — but kale is a powerhouse of nutrients, and if you can tolerate it, you should. (Some people taste the bitterness more than others, based on genes.)
Here’s a recipe I’ve been working to perfect: Top o’ the mornin’ tropical green smoothies. (Note: My blender has a specific order to follow when adding ingredients, and these are listed in that order. Make sure you know how yours works best.) It will get you ready to dance a jig.
The liquids are flexible — you can try various proportions of the ones I’ve listed, try others, such as orange juice, or it’s still surprisingly good (and, naturally, lower-calorie) with just water. If you’re not using protein powder, you won’t need nearly as much liquid.
Top o’ the mornin’ tropical green smoothies
• About 3/4 cup spinach, packed (21 g)
• ½ cup kale, packed (14 g)
• ¾ cup coconut water
• ¼ cup milk of choice (I prefer almond milk)
• ½ cup water
• ¾ scoop vanilla whey isolate protein powder
• 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
• 1 tablespoon chia seeds
• About ½ cup banana slices, frozen (40 g)
• About ? cup each pineapple and mango chunks, frozen (~45 g each)
• ¼ cup avocado chunks, frozen (30 g)
All of these ingredients are optional, really, and you can substitute them for others you enjoy more, but this is a very powerful and nutrient-packed smoothie that will make you feel fantastic until lunchtime and beyond. (394 calories, 11.7 g fat, 45.2 g carbs, 29.7 g protein.)
Of course you can substitute fresh fruit for the frozen ones I’ve listed, and I’d encourage it, but then you might also want to add ice, which can water down the flavors in the smoothie (unless, of course, you freeze juice or coconut water ice cubes).
Another delicious option: Peanut butter banana smoothies. In the above recipe, instead of using pineapple, mango and avocado, double the banana and add some peanut butter. If you like chocolate, adding a bit of cocoa powder (½ tablespoon or so) adds a deep, chocolatey richness.
One smoothie I like to make in the evenings substitutes cherry juice, banana and frozen cherries instead of the other fruits and coconut water above. It’s perfect for dinner — or, dare I say, dessert? — because the cherry juice contains natural melatonin that will help you sleep better. (Disclaimer: This one doesn’t turn out very green in color.)
The options are endless — add your favorite fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be amazed what you can concoct.
Here’s a bonus delicious green thing: I’ve not thought of a more concise name for them yet, so I’m calling them cheesy green spinach eggy muffins.
Green smoothies are fabulous, but unless you’re adding protein powder, it can be difficult to get enough protein packed into them. Even with the addition of flaxseed and chia seeds, they still might need a bit more fat, too — cue eggy muffins.
Cheesy green spinach eggy muffins
• About 1 ½ cups spinach, packed
• 4 eggs
• 4 egg whites
• ¼ cup shredded cheese of choice
• 3 ounces cubed ham or sausage, if desired
• Pepper, garlic powder and other seasonings to taste
Mix those ingredients (I like to pulse the spinach with the egg whites in a blender just a couple of times to chop it quickly) and scoop into a lightly greased muffin pan; bake at 375 F for about 12 minutes, then check to see if they’re done. They might need a couple more minutes, but they’ll pull away from the sides of the muffin tins as they cook. Let them cool and keep them in the fridge for a few days; cover when reheating in the microwave (a lesson I learned the hard way).
With this recipe, too, you can add whatever you want. I’m looking forward to trying them with added zucchini and mushrooms. I’ve also added cooked quinoa to them. They’re only about 50 calories, and they help keep you full through the day.
Even if you do plan to indulge in some green beer this weekend, please do so responsibly, and remember these recipes when you’re struggling to get out of bed the next day.