I love to take my boys out for ice cream. My friends are shocked that I embrace such a processed, sugary food, but I relish witnessing my sons’ sweet, stained smiles in between licks. An ice cream cone on a hot summer day brings me back to my childhood when pleasures were mostly sensory and entirely simple. In my complicated adult life, I appreciate those simple pleasures.
But a serving of vanilla ice cream contains about half the calcium of the same size serving of whole milk, and is higher in fat and calories, so I limit our outings. Because my boys delight in the whole ice cream experience, including the anticipation, we often make our own version. This way they enjoy it without the health hazards.
I know, I know, you don’t have time to make your own dinner let alone your own ice cream. Just try it. It takes very little time, and kids of all ages will get a kick out the process.
The trick is a sliced and frozen banana. Slice a bunch, freeze on parchment paper, and store for when the urge for ice cream hits. To prepare, whip a handful of the frozen banana pieces in a blender until creamy. Right here, you have the equivalent of soft serve without the plastic-like aftertaste or the chemicals. Then blend in other foods such as strawberries or pieces of dark chocolate to flavor. It is that simple!
My boys have concocted some rather unusual flavors. Not surprisingly, chocolate is the big winner in our family. Peanut butter and jelly, made with half a tablespoon of peanut butter and a handful of fresh strawberries, was surprisingly good. Raspberry, lemon-lime and orange were refreshingly sweet. I served a honey lavender flavor at a dinner party and had to scoop out seconds. My boys also made some kind of kitchen sink variety that combined seemingly conflicting ingredients but was surprisingly delicious. I decided not to ask what exactly was in it.
If you aren’t sold on making these more healthful alternatives to ice cream, consider this:
— Many of the frozen treats you might buy from the ice cream truck are made from 20-plus ingredients, many of which are chemicals. They are not food; they are food products with minimal nutritional value.
— Frozen yogurt might appear to be a more healthful alternative to ice cream, but most frozen yogurts do not contain the beneficial live and active cultures found in healthful yogurt (those that do often have a “live and active cultures” seal on the label). Frozen yogurt is often created like a soft serve ice cream by essentially blowing air and chemicals into a machine.
— If you’re buying from the freezer section, Haagen Dazs produces a product with just five whole-food ingredients that gets my vote. It still should be eaten in moderation, because it is high in fat and calories, but being free of chemicals is a huge plus.
So start freezing those bananas!
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.