4 Secrets for Better Smoothies

But as easy, healthy, and luscious as they are, there are a few secrets I learned while writing my new cookbook Smoothie-licious that makes them even better.

1. Add Protein - Make smoothies more of a meal by adding protein in the form of Greek yogurt, nut butters, or hemp seeds. Another easy way to up the protein ante is to use cow's milk instead of a non-dairy alternative. A cup of cow's milk contains 8 grams of protein.

2. Skip the Ice - We all want our smoothies to be thick, creamy, and frosty, and a lot of smoothie bars achieve that goal by adding ice. A better option is to add frozen fruit instead. The fruit will add iciness, fiber, and most importantly, flavor, without watering down your drink. Frozen fruit is also convenient. Most supermarkets carry frozen berries, mango chunks, and peaches, and many also sell frozen cherries, one of my personal favorites. The one fruit you'll need to freeze yourself are bananas, but it's worth it for their stellar ability to add creaminess to drinks. Just peel ripe bananas, break into chunks, and freeze in small zip-top bags. Freeze each banana separately, since most recipes call for just one banana.

3. Know When to Add Greens - If you have veggie-phobic kids, slip a handful of baby kale or spinach into drinks that are already dark, like blueberry, cherry, or acai-based smoothies. The greens virtually disappear, and your kids will be none the wiser.

4. Taste, Then Sweeten - Add only a small amount of sweetener—or none at all—to your smoothie when blending. Then, taste a spoonful and add more if necessary. You never know — depending on the ingredients you might not need any honey or maple syrup at all!

Here is one of my favorite recipes from Smoothie-licious. It's nutrient-rich and filling enough for breakfast or a hearty snack.

Blueberry Pancake Smoothie

Makes 2 Smoothies

This pretty purple slurp is a quick and healthy alternative to a stack of blueberry pancakes. It's sweet from the blueberries and syrupy from the, well, syrup. Yogurt stands in for buttermilk, giving the drink a hint of tang. I like the sweet creaminess of regular milk here, but feel free to substitute coconut milk for a tropical twist.

1 cup milk

2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

1¼ cups frozen blueberries

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon maple syrup, plus more to taste

  1. Add all of the ingredients to the blender, starting with the milk.
  2. Cover and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  3. Taste for sweetness, adding more maple syrup if desired.

Excerpted from Smoothie-Licious, © 2015 by Jenna Helwig. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Jenna Helwig is the food editor at Parents and the author of Smoothie-licious and Real Baby Food. Most weekend mornings you will find her and her daughter happily sipping away at some new smoothie concoction. Follow Jenna on Twitter.

Kids dish on their favorite afterschool snacks--healthy and otherwise.

Images courtesy of Jenna Helwig

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