Who doesn’t love a cold ice pop during the summer heat? Most store-bought brands, however, are loaded with added sugar, additives, preservatives and even sugar alcohols. Luckily, you can easily make your own with wholesome, delicious ingredients. One of my favorite summer activities is experimenting with different recipes for outdoor barbecues or as an activity with my kids. Here are the basic steps to take to build a healthy ice pop:
1. Gather the tools.
You’ll need to a few essential tools before getting started, including ice pop molds or freezer-friendly mini cups with wooden craft sticks, a blender and – if you’re blending fresh berries or other fruit with seeds – a fine mesh sleeve.
2. Consider the combinations.
Ice pops can include so much more than just fruit. Think outside the box by considering ingredients like avocado, tomatoes, herbs, Greek yogurt, kefir, milk and alternative milks like almond or coconut milk. Here are a few of my favorite flavor combinations:
• Mango and pineapple
• Strawberries and milk
• Raspberries and lemon juice
• Blackberries and 100-percent orange juice
• Lemon juice and mint
• Coconut milk and lime juice
• Kiwi and strawberries
• Pineapple and coconut milk
If you want a higher protein pop, add Greek yogurt, kefir, Skyr yogurt or milk. Nut butters like peanut, almond and sunflower can also do the trick. For a little healthy fat, avocado or coconut work beautifully.
3. Sweeten naturally.
From a nutrition standpoint, you want to control the amount of added sugar in your ice pops. You can do that while still keeping them sweet by blending whole fruit. If it has seeds (like in blackberries or strawberries), use the fine mesh sleeve to strain the liquid before placing it in the mold. If the fruit is sweet enough, you won’t need to add any additional sweetener.
You can also use fruit or vegetable juice to sweeten. If you do, make sure to use 100-percent fruit juice by checking the label. The last resort – to be taken only after tasting the blended pop to see if it really needs to be sweeter – is to add a touch of natural sugar. Aim for about 1 teaspoon of sweetener per pop and choose sweeteners like 100-percent maple syrup, agave or honey. I prefer using dates in lieu of a sweetener, but don’t add more than one per pop.
4. Be inconsistent.
Have some fun with the consistency of the ice pops. If you like a smooth pop, blend and pour your ingredients directly into the molds. You can also opt to make your pops with chunks of fruit, chopped herbs or coconut flakes for an interesting eating experience. If you’re looking for adult pops, top your mold with 1 tablespoon of your favorite alcohol like vodka, tequila or rum. Don’t overdo it, though; too much alcohol can affect the consistency of the ice pop since alcohol remains a liquid when frozen.
5. Get inspired.
When it comes to ice pops, besides watching added sugar, there are no limitations on what you can create. Play with the flavors and healthy ingredients you love until you get the right one for your palate. Here are five healthy recipes for you to try:
Watermelon Pomegranate Pops
Using two ingredients, you’ll get these gorgeous-hued pops that each contain 15-percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C. (Recipe from Liz Weiss, a registered dietitian at Liz’s Healthy Table.)
One-Ingredient Grape Popsicles
Use your favorite black, red or green grapes and toss them in the blender. It’s that easy to make a healthy pop. (Recipe from Lindsey Janeiro, a registered dietitian at Nutrition to Fit.)
Pineapple Coconut Ice Pops
Besides being delicious, these pops pack a powerful nutrition punch. Thanks to the coconut, each pop is an excellent source of fiber and antioxidant vitamins C and E. They also contain a small amount of minerals including iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. (Recipe from Tracee Yablon Brenner, a registered dietitian at Triad to Wellness.)
Mango Chile Limon Paletas
These mango-licious pops are combined with chile powder for a nice kick. In this recipe, a touch of honey is used to help balance the chile flavor. Both the chile and mango also provide a boatload of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. (Recipe from Christy Wilson, a registered dietitian at Christy Wilson Nutrition.)
To make these pops, you first blend the strawberries and then add chunks of kiwi to get a variation in mouthfeel. You’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamin C in every bite. (Recipe from Brittany Poulson, a registered dietitian of Your Choice Nutrition.)