We declare it smoothie season, now that we’re hungry for foods that are light, fresh and nutritious.

And when fruity blender drinks cost $5 a pop at the mall, whirling up your own for pennies sounds both scrumptious and smart.

Besides, there’s no reason anymore to wait for summer fruit to make a smoothie. Processors have honed flash-freezing techniques to the point that frozen fruit is delicious, affordable and abundant.

Look for interesting berry mixes, mango and pineapple chunks and peaches. If you stop in at a Mexican or Asian market, the choices stretch to frozen pulps from passion fruit to papaya and more. Frozen fruit also makes your blender drink cold without diluting it the way ice does.

And in this country of individualists, a smoothie is infinitely adaptable to mood, dietary dogma and pantry provisions.

Make it creamy or ultra fruity, packed with protein, dairy-driven or not. You get to decide and tweak the mixture however you please.

The basic blueprint is a base of something creamy (yogurt or milk) and a fruit or two, but you can push a smoothie in all sorts of directions.

For busy kids and active adults, spoon in nut butters (peanut, cashew or almond), which boost calories and protein, and help get them to the next meal.

For folks wanting to add fiber and omega-3 fatty acids to their diet, add a tablespoon each of ground flaxseed and quick oats.

For an antioxidant blast, add some green tea to a berry smoothie.

And so on, and so on, until you reach smoothie heaven.

Just watch out for dietary potholes along the way, the biggest being extra calories the average desk jockey can’t afford. A 16-ounce smoothie, the typical size you’d get at the mall, has around 400 calories, which for most of us is a meal, except that your yummy drink isn’t likely to fill you up for long.

“I always tell people to try to limit the amount of calories you drink,” says Monica Hunsberger, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine. “It can add up really fast.” (Hunsberger recalls a client who dropped 18 pounds in six months simply by cutting out his habitual afternoon smoothie.)

You can still enjoy smoothies as part of a healthful diet, Hunsberger says, but be aware of portions. Consider a 16-ounce (or two-cup) smoothie a meal replacement; for a snack, limit your portion to one cup. And read the labels as you shop for ingredients: Look for low- or nonfat milk, and yogurt with modest amounts of sugar, if any. Use honey and other sweeteners in moderation.

And if that smoothie is intended as a meal on the run, make sure it has all the good stuff you need in a meal: protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Your base of milk or yogurt, or even tofu, takes care of the protein; fruit is carbohydrate; and “good” monounsaturated fats can come from nut butters, ground flaxseed or flax oil. Protein powder and other supplements also can go into a smoothie, but don’t think powdered or liquid extract “boosters” are any better for you than a balanced diet, dietitians say. “It’s better to get your antioxidants from the food you eat rather than supplements,” Hunsberger says.

Even if you’re watching your weight, be sure your smoothie contains some fat along with protein. You need it to balance the carbs and make you feel full, so you won’t be tempted to raid the snack cabinet before your next meal. “The message is portion size and balance, so that you’re not getting all carbohydrate, all proteins,” Hunsberger says.

Part of the fun of making a smoothie is playing around with flavors. Here are a few things we learned:

• Frozen bananas are your friend. They add cool creaminess to any type of smoothie, and they’re easy to stockpile at home when you have too many ripe ones to eat (peel, cut in half and freeze in zip-top bags).

• Branch out with liquids. Buttermilk boosts a smoothie with calcium and adds a pleasant tang (and not a lot of calories); almond milk makes a vegan smoothie that’s rich and nutty. Check the juice aisle for interesting juices and fruit nectars; pomegranate and the Brazilian berry called acai are among the trendy choices at the store.

• Try tofu. The silken kind is packed with protein, light on calories and mild. We bet you can even get it past your 5-year-old.

• Get creative with sweeteners. We loved agave syrup, like honey but without the strong flavor, and we’re also sweet on cranberry and cherry concentrate. Good ol’ honey is a fine sweetener as well, but whisk it with a small amount of warm water before adding so it doesn’t form a glob at the bottom of the blender jar.

• Cranberries are fine – for Thanksgiving. If you love tart flavors, by all means add cranberries to your smoothie, but no more than half a cup, and make sure you have other, sweeter fruits to balance it. Our test runs with the holiday favorite were too puckery for our liking, plus they produced a slightly grainy texture.

• Smoothies are for now and for later. Who knew how portable smoothies are? Not us, until we learned that freezing them offers a great pack-and-go snack for your active teen (or hungry office drone). Blend and freeze in lidded plastic containers or even ice-cube trays. When you’re ready to head off to school or the workaday grind, put the cubes in a Thermos or let the frozen smoothie thaw in an insulated lunchbox or a refrigerator.

By afternoon it will be ready to drink.

No flip-flops required.

Mango-orange smoothie

Makes 2¾ cups

To add “good fats” to the mix, drizzle in a tablespoon of flaxseed oil.

1½ cups frozen mango chunks

½ frozen banana, peeled

¾ cup orange juice

1 cup firm silken tofu

1 tablespoon honey

Combine mango, banana, orange juice, tofu and honey in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 187 (14 percent from fat); protein: 7.5 grams; total fat: 2.9 grams; saturated fat: 0.5 gram; cholesterol: 0; sodium: 36 mg; carbohydrate: 35.7 grams; dietary fiber: 2.4 grams; vitamin A: 17 percent DV (Daily Value); vitamin C: 100 percent DV; thiamin (vitamin B1): 14 percent DV

Peanut butter-banana smoothie

Makes 2½ cups

What works in a sandwich is also a slam-dunk in a smoothie. Nut butters of all types are a great power boost in blender drinks for active teens, tweens and grade-schoolers, adding protein, healthy fats and enough calories to get them to the next meal. Uncooked oatmeal might seem weird, but it ups the amount of fiber and good carbs.

1/3 cup natural-style creamy peanut butter

1 frozen banana, peeled

¼ cup quick-cooking oatmeal, uncooked

2 tablespoons honey

1½ cups 2 percent milk

Combine peanut butter, banana, oatmeal, honey and milk in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 397 (44 percent from fat); protein: 16.7 grams; total fat: 19.5 grams; saturated fat: 5 grams; cholesterol: 11.7 mg; sodium: 176 mg; carbohydrate: 40.9 grams; dietary fiber: 3.1 grams; calcium: 20 percent DV; riboflavin (vitamin B2): 21 percent DV; niacin (vitamin B3): 28 percent DV

Strawberry buttermilk smoothie

Makes 2½ cups

Grown-ups love creamy smoothies as much as the kids do, but without the extra helping of calories, please. This blend of buttermilk and strawberries is the answer: creamy, tangy and sweet, packed with calcium and light on calories and fat. A big frosty glass with a slice of whole-grain toast should send you out the door with a smile.

½ frozen banana, peeled

1 cup frozen strawberries

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup strawberry nectar

Additional sweetener to taste, if desired (such as Splenda, Equal, honey or sugar)

Combine the banana, strawberries, buttermilk and strawberry nectar in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste and add additional sweetener, if desired. Serve immediately.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 94 (11 percent from fat); protein: 4.2 grams; total fat: 1.1 grams; saturated fat: 0.6 gram; cholesterol: 4 mg; sodium: 115 mg; carbohydrate: 21.3 grams; dietary fiber: 2.1 grams; calcium: 14 percent DV; riboflavin (vitamin B2): 12 percent DV; vitamin C: 53 percent DV

Blackberry-ginger-green tea smoothie

Makes 2½ cups

Energy drinks? We’ll pass on the canned stuff in favor of this homemade tonic, a zingy combo of berries, ginger and green tea. Aside from being delicious, blackberries and green tea are packed with antioxidants, and ginger is used to treat everything from inflammation to indigestion. All that good stuff comes in a package that has about 150 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per serving, plus a protein boost from yogurt.

Green tea-ginger concentrate:

1 cup boiling water

4 green tea bags

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Ice

Smoothie:

1 cup frozen blackberries

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

½ cup green tea-ginger concentrate

2 tablespoons honey

To make concentrate: Pour boiling water into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Add tea bags and grated ginger, and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove bags and squeeze well over the container. Add ice to equal 2 cups. Once the ice has melted, strain out ginger. Makes 2 cups; leftover concentrate can be refrigerated for up to a week.

To make smoothie: Combine the blackberries, yogurt, ½ cup green tea-ginger concentrate and honey in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 152 (9 percent from fat); protein: 5.2 grams; total fat: 1.5 grams; saturated fat: 0.8 gram; cholesterol: 6 mg; sodium: 73 mg; carbohydrate: 30.1 grams; dietary fiber: 3.1 grams; calcium: 18 percent DV

Berry-cherry smoothie

Makes 2½ cups

Mixed berries make a dandy smoothie, but add some black cherry juice concentrate, and things get interesting. A cup of soy milk boosts the nutrition, and agave syrup, a natural sweetener that has a more neutral flavor than honey, boosts the yum factor.

1 12-ounce package frozen mixed berries

1 cup enriched soy milk

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

½ cup black cherry juice concentrate (we used R.W. Knudsen brand, see note)

Agave syrup, for additional sweetness, if desired

Combine the berries, soy milk, lemon zest and cherry juice concentrate in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste and add agave syrup, if desired. Serve immediately.

Note: Look for bottled juice concentrates (in black cherry, cranberry and other flavors) in the juice aisle or natural foods section of your grocery store.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 244 (8 percent from fat); protein: 7.5 grams; total fat: 2.3 grams; saturated fat: 0.3 gram; cholesterol: 0; sodium: 68 mg; carbohydrate: 51 grams; dietary fiber: 7.4 grams; iron: 13 percent DV; calcium: 26 percent DV; riboflavin (vitamin B2): 14 percent DV; vitamin C: 44 percent DV

Peach cobbler in a cup smoothie

Makes 3 cups

Who says vegans don’t have fun? Almond butter and peaches are the dynamic duo in this delicious smoothie that’s high in fiber, vitamin A and calcium.

3 cups frozen peach slices

2 tablespoons almond butter

1 cup almond milk

¼ cup peach nectar

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine the peaches, almond butter, almond milk, peach nectar and cinnamon in the container of a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Per serving (1 cup): calories: 164 (41 percent from fat); protein: 3.3 grams; total fat: 7.5 grams; saturated fat: 0.6 gram; cholesterol: 0; sodium: 52 mg; carbohydrate: 29.1 grams; dietary fiber: 3 grams; calcium: 11 percent DV; vitamin A: 14 percent DV; vitamin C: 18 percent DV


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