Healthy Breakfast Fruit Smoothies

We all need options when it comes to breakfast, and so I’m sharing my tips for making a quick and healthy smoothie, regardless of the fruit and other fixings you have on hand.

What makes these smoothies “better” for better breakfast month?

  • They work two servings of fruit into the most important meal of the day.
  • They bend and flex to accommodate your favorite fruit, fresh or frozen.
  • You can easily swap out dairy for plant-based milk.
  • Your favorite protein powder will feel right at home in them.
  • They are quick, easy and portable for rushed-out-the-door mornings.
  • They satisfy your morning hunger and are friendly to a weight-loss diet.
  • They are super kid-friendly.

My magic formula for delicious and healthy fruit smoothies goes like this—something creamy, something packed with protein, some kind of fruit, maybe a juice, and optional special touches, such as coconut or spices. See what I mean? Flexible! I’ll give the full rundown of how I mix and match ingredients (and in what quantity), then I’ll share specifics of my favorites. Here we go!


Something Creamy

about 3/4 cup

I usually choose plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a cultured dairy drink that is similar to buttermilk but tastes more like a drinkable yogurt. Regular yogurt is also an option, but I avoid the flavored ones and their crazy-high sugar content. Skyr is another good option—a yogurt-like product from Scandinavia. Two popular brands are Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions. For a plant-based option, choose your favorite non-dairy yogurt substitute, but lean into the low-sugar or plain options. The fruit you add will bring plenty of sweetness to the party.


Something Protein-y

about 1/2 “scoop,” or approximately 1 heaping tablespoon

Choose your favorite powdered form—I like soy protein, but whey works very well in smoothies, and so does hemp or pea protein. Almost every protein powder I’ve purchased comes with a small scoop that is roughly 2 tablespoons, and I fill it halfway for a smoothie. I recommend a plain or unsweetened vanilla option. My husband, Les, likes the chocolate protein powder, but we have found it can be less versatile for matching with fruit. Chocolate and raspberry is great, but chocolate and peaches?—not so much. Vanilla helps us keep our options open.


Something Fruity

total of about 1 cup

Yay—my favorite part! I like my smoothies to be icy cold and shake-like, so I almost always use frozen fruit, and especially bananas because of the creamy texture they provide. The greatest benefit to using frozen is that I don’t have to wait until the fruit is in season. It also saves multiple trips to the market for fresh fruit, or throwing away fruit that has gone bad. The fruits that work best for my homemade smoothies are peaches, bananas, pineapple, mango, cherries and any kind of berry (as long as you don’t mind their seeds). Fresh fruit works fine, of course. I don’t recommend citrus fruits, apples, melons or grapes, as their texture and water content would prevent them from blending well.


Juice or other liquid

1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on other ingredients

This is helpful for blending the smoothie, but it may not be necessary if you use kefir, which is pourable. Greek yogurt is much thicker and would benefit from addition of juice, especially if you are using mostly frozen fruit in the smoothie. Other suitable liquids include milk, almond milk, coconut water or coconut milk.


Special mix-ins

small amounts of each

The mix-ins can be anything you like, but my favorites are unsweetened coconut (for texture and fiber), chia seed (for fiber and additional protein) and ginger (good for digestion) or another powdered spice, such as cinnamon. Sweeteners are not necessary, but if you must, may I recommend a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup? Anything but sugar, if you are aiming to keep them in the healthy column.


Ordering the layers:

It may seem inconsequential, given that the ingredients will be whirred into one mixture in the blender, but your smoothies will come together faster and more evenly if you layer the ingredients in a way that your blender can best mix them. You want the liquids and powders closest to the blender blade, so they can get a head start on mixing before the frozen stuff enters the game. The heavier ingredients, such as frozen fruit or ice, should be at the top, providing weight to keep the mixture moving downward for thorough blending. For a standard base blender, it might look like this:

My smoothie appliance is a bullet blender, which of course goes upside-down for mixing. So I layer my ingredients in reverse order, beginning with frozen fruit. When I flip the sealed blender cup onto the machine, I give it a minute to allow the liquids to run back to the blade area for more even mixing, leaving the frozen fruit at the top, where it should be.

Enough talk—let’s make a smoothie! Below are some of my favorite blends, and a list of ingredients I use for each of them. I’ve given the ingredients in order for a conventional blender. If you use a bullet-style blender, reverse the list order. Each combination yields a 12 oz. (340 g) smoothie.


Kefir, pineapple and spinach

I think of this smoothie as a power breakfast for all the nutritional benefit I get from it. Plus, the flavor is so delicious, it is a treat at the same time.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup kefir, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop soy protein powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1 medium handful baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits.


Yogurt and banana-berry blend

This one feels very protective, with lots of antioxidant benefit in the red and blue berries.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup yogurt (I used coconut flavor skyr for this one), 1/4 cup blueberry juice (any juice or milk will do), 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen berry blend (with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry).


Plant-based yogurt and mango

There are many great flavors of plant-based yogurt available, and this one was mango, so I played up the tropical flavors throughout the smoothie.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks.


Peach cobbler smoothie

For this one, I soaked 1/4 cup rolled oats in 1/2 cup kefir overnight (in the fridge) and then built the smoothie in the morning. It’s an easy way to work some whole grains into your breakfast drink (because September is also “whole grains month”). From that point, the process was the same for layering and blending. You get the idea, right?

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, kefir-soaked oats, 1 tablespoon almond flour, 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen peaches.


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Strawberry Mascarpone Ice Cream

If you love the idea of homemade ice cream but don’t feel like messing around with a cooked custard base, this recipe will be right up your alley. The cream cheese (or, in this case, mascarpone) gives it a luxurious, silky texture, but it comes together quicker without the extra, fussy step of tempering eggs and straining a custard. Greek yogurt helps lighten it up a bit without compromising the creaminess. The layers of fruit syrup and crushed graham crackers bring home all the memories of a fresh summer cheesecake.

I’ve broken the recipe into tasks over a couple of days, but you could easily start this in the morning and finish it the same evening. Just be sure you give the berries enough time to macerate, and the cream mixture time to thoroughly chill before freezing.

Not wild about strawberries? Feel free to swap them out in favor of another favorite fruit, but consider that some fruit might need to be cooked first. Blueberries and raspberries, to name two, aren’t as juicy as strawberries so they would need a little help getting there. I think fresh summer peaches would be amazing in this recipe—and, of course, cherries.

In a bowl, off the spoon, in a cone. However you take it, this ice cream is delicious!

This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. Each year in July, my community celebrates with a fundraiser called “The Big Chill,” an entry-by-donation event offering tastings of exquisitely crafted homemade ice creams, live music by local artists and “cold-calling,” during which various community leaders quite literally freeze their buns off while sitting on blocks of ice in quest of a fundraising goal. This year, because of our city’s commitment to safety during the coronavirus, the live event has been sidelined and all activities will be virtual instead.

The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing non-profit organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, unexpected, intriguing or just plain pretty, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this life-giving project. Link (here) for more information or (here) to donate, and thank you!

*The link to donate leads to my Key Lime Pie Ice Cream recipe on the Big Chill page, but your contribution will go to the same great cause!


Ingredients

8 oz. mascarpone* or cream cheese

3/4 cup caster (super-fine) sugar*

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup Greek yogurt* (plain or vanilla)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 cups fresh organic strawberries*

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional for improved texture)


*Notes

Mascarpone is an Italian-style creamy cheese, a bit denser and definitely silkier than regular cream cheese. It will lend an ultra-creamy texture to this ice cream which, unlike most of my others, does not begin with an egg custard. If mascarpone is not available in your market, use full-fat cream cheese (the brick kind) for similar result.

Caster sugar is sometimes called “super-fine” sugar. I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it is easier to dissolve in cold ingredients. In my custard-based ice creams, I use pure organic cane sugar, which I’m certain would not fare well in this recipe because we are not cooking the base.

From top, clockwise: pure organic cane sugar, fine organic cane sugar, caster sugar.

Caster sugar is pure white and extremely processed (a quality that makes it practically against my religion), so it’s rare for me to use it at all. It’s also pretty expensive compared to most sugars. If you can’t find caster, put your regular sugar in a blender and grind it into as fine a powder as you can. Measure the amount after grinding. Otherwise, warm the milk called for in the recipe and dissolve your sugar into it, then cool completely before proceeding.

Because the mascarpone already has cream in it, I’m using less heavy cream than I normally would for ice cream. To make up the difference, I’ve opted for Greek yogurt, and the one I chose is vanilla with a touch of cinnamon, which I think is going to play really nicely against the strawberries. I’m always on the lookout for a twist, which typically leads me to develop favorite new recipes.

Unfortunately, strawberries top the 2020 “Dirty Dozen” list of potentially toxic produce items. Each year, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, issues a list of produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other questionable chemicals. You can learn more about it here, but in the meantime, choose organic strawberries whenever possible.

The vodka in this recipe is optional, and it does not affect the flavor, but it helps with the final texture of the ice cream, making it easier to scoop straight from the freezer.

This time, I did not add the vodka at the end, and I can feel the difference as this ice cream is very solid.

Instructions

Day one:

Clean and hull the strawberries, and slice into pieces. I use an egg slicer for this task—it’s quick and simple, and I end up with uniform slices. Add the berries to a medium size bowl and stir in brown sugar. Give the berries time to fully macerate at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator.

If you’re cool with having a pink-colored ice cream, feel free to skip this next step. I’ve decided this time around that I want to create a ribbon of strawberry syrup through the white ice cream, so I’m going over the top, even though it means I’ll add a day to my ice cream prep. Care to join me? Allow the strawberries to macerate overnight, then use a large mesh strainer to drain off the liquid and simmer it over medium-low heat until it is reduced by half and has the consistency of a thin syrup.

After reducing, I have about 1/3 cup of strawberry syrup– more than enough to create my “ribbon.”
If there’s enough left over, I’ll drizzle it over the first serving of ice cream!

Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature, then return it to the fridge in a separate bowl from the drained berries.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the mascarpone together with the caster sugar, milk and Greek yogurt until fully combined. Slowly beat in the heavy cream, taking care not to whip it too much. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Transfer the cream mixture to a sealed bowl and refrigerate several hours until fully chilled.



Day two (or three, if you went down the rabbit hole with me on the strawberry syrup):

Stir the cream mixture to reincorporate all ingredients, as some separation will have occurred. You don’t need to whip it here—just mix or gently whisk until the mixture has a uniform, creamy appearance. If you didn’t make the strawberry syrup, drain the berries at this point and blend their liquid into the cream mixture.

Pour the cream mixture into the ice cream machine and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes 20 to 25 minutes to freeze. For the final few minutes of freezing, spoon in the strained strawberries (and vodka, if using), allowing them to blend in before adding another spoonful, and repeat until all strawberries are used.

Place the graham crackers into a paper or zip top bag, and gently crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a bowl or measuring cup. I didn’t want it to be fully crumbs—try to keep a few bits of the crackers for texture in the finished ice cream.


Layer the ice cream in an insulated container, beginning with ice cream, then staggered layers of reduced syrup ribbon (if using) and graham crumbles. Finish with the leftover fine crumbs. Cover the container and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.

The strawberry syrup pushes this treat right over the top!

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Just for fun, and because we had already licked the bowl, the spoon and the ice cream maker paddle, I gathered up the dregs that freeze hard to the freezer bowl and made miniature ice cream sandwiches with a couple of graham crackers. They were not the prettiest things, but it was a delicious taste test!


Hearts of Palm Citrus “Ceviche”

In case you haven’t tried them (or maybe even heard of them), hearts of palm are exactly as the name implies—the inner core of a palm plant. For whatever reason, you don’t often see them on restaurant menus, unless you’re in a swanky place with chandeliers and linen napkins and one of those servers who is compulsively whisking the crumbs off your table. I first learned of them during my tenure as a part-time catering kitchen helper, and though I didn’t mind hearts of palm, I have largely ignored them.

Until now.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about hearts of palm on their own—they’re neither strong in flavor nor impressive to look at. They’re just slender, creamy white-colored stalks which you might occasionally find playing a background role in a salad. But ever since I spotted a faux crab cake recipe on Pinterest, where hearts of palm stood in for crab, I’ve had it in my mind to give them a starring role in a vegan version of ceviche, and you know what? It works!

Ceviche is traditionally a tropical appetizer type of dish, centered on raw fish cured with citrus juices, and it is usually flavored up with some combination of onions, hot peppers, cilantro and avocado. But this is a Kentucky Derby party, so we are putting a classy twist on those ingredients, serving it up salad style, and swapping out the tropical notes for fresh spring flavors—cucumber and mint. Along the way, I’ll show you some of the easy tricks I learned from my catering mentors for making a dish prettier—which, obviously, also makes it tastier. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1/2 large pink or ruby red grapefruit, cut into sections, reserve juice
Juice of 1 fresh lime, divided
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar* (see catering tips)
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil (mild flavor)
2 Persian cucumbers, peeled* and cut lengthwise, then sliced into half moons
1 can (14 oz.) hearts of palm, chilled in fridge
2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1/2 small, firm avocado
Mixed baby greens or leaf lettuce
Chopped parsley and mint leaves for garnish

Instructions

Section your grapefruit by cutting in half crosswise, then running a knife first around the outside edge of one half, then up close to each side of the section membranes. Spoon out the sections into a medium bowl and strain the remaining grapefruit peel over a measuring cup to save all the juice. Wrap the remaining grapefruit half and save it for another use.

Juice 1/2 of the lime, and add about 1 Tbsp. of the reserved grapefruit juice. Whisk in Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly, until dressing is thick and emulsified. If your olive oil is very robust, substitute something neutral—avocado or canola oil would be good.

Cut the avocado in half, carefully split the halves apart and use a paring knife to cut a crosshatch design into the flesh, then spoon around the edges to release the avocado pieces into the bowl with the grapefruit pieces. Immediately squeeze the remaining half of lime over the avocado to prevent browning. Squeeze any remaining lime juice into the dressing.

Drain hearts of palm. Blot dry on paper towels, cut lengthwise into quarters, then slice into 1/2” pieces and empty into a medium bowl with red onions, grapefruit sections, cucumbers and avocado pieces.

Pour dressing over hearts of palm mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula to coat the salad with the dressing. Don’t stir the mixture, lest you reduce the avocado and hearts of palm to a mushy mess. Refrigerate up to an hour before serving a generous spoonful of “ceviche” atop a mound of mixed greens, and garnish with the chopped parsley and mint. If you happen to have some of my grandmother’s beautiful Depression glass fruit bowls, use those!

On a bed of baby greens and spinach, this is so pretty.

*Catering Tips

If you’re making the cucumber or mint simple syrups for the Kentucky Derby Sips recipes, substitute a couple teaspoons of that for the sugar here. When you repeat a flavor across different elements of your meal, it’s called “echoing,” and it helps tie things together in your senses. You don’t want to go overboard, of course, or everything will taste the same. But here, it will be cool and refreshing, a contrast to the rich hot browns, and in harmony with your Sparkly Britches or Kentucky Love Child (you can’t imagine how goofy it feels to write that sentence).

This weird looking little thing is one of my favorite tools for creating a prettier presentation. You should get one of these.

A garnish zester can be used in a couple of ways—a quick scrape of a lemon with the five tiny holes produces tiny shreds of zest, and in this recipe, I’ve used the channel blade to strip away part (but not all) of the cucumber peel. It’s also fine to peel the whole thing, but I think this elevates the look of the pieces. In hindsight, I could have also prepped some of the grapefruit zest for the top of the salad. Next time!

The bed of baby greens is edible of course (everything you put on a plate should be, including flowers), but it also serves two other purposes—visually, it’s prettier than the salad in a bowl by itself, and the lettuce also allows excess dressing to run underneath, which keeps your salad from getting mushy.

If you’re serving a salad for a crowd (Have hope—one day we will meet again this way!), consider a platter rather than a bowl. Line it with greens, as suggested for single serving on this recipe, and spoon the mixture over the leaves. It’s an easy way to really show off the pretty dish you’ve made and gives the impression of a larger dish. (Don’t forget to use a clean damp towel to tidy up the platter!)

A professional would never leave drips on the plate. Be a professional.

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