We're (finally!) entering the dog days of summer. Those hot, steamy New England summer days when the cicadas can be heard singing, the dog is comatose in the shade in the backyard and even the pool or lawn sprinkler isn't enough to cool your kids down. Instead of spending a mint on frozen treats from the ice cream man's truck, why not try some homemade heat-busting snacks?

"In summer, the most important thing a parent can do is to keep their kids hydrated all day long," said Diane Krol, R.D., L.D.N., Program Manager-School Wellness for the New England Dairy Council. "Think nutrition — offer milk with meals and water the rest of the time to drink. It doesn't mean that snacks can't be fun; in the summer there are great ways to keep kids cool, but also provide the nutrition they need."

Krol added nothing fires up the nutrition power, or could be easier to make, than Unicorn Yogurt Bark, which capitalizes on the current unicorn craze popular with kids.

Unicorn Yogurt Bark

Servings: 8-10

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups of plain Greek yogurt

1 cup each of blueberries and chopped strawberries

1 mango, cubed

1/4 cup shredded coconut

DIRECTIONS:

In separate microwave-safe bowls, microwave half of the berries and mango for 90 seconds. Mash with a fork.

Add 1 cup of yogurt to each bowl of fruit. Stir to combine.

In a parchment paper-lined 9 13 inch dish, alternative sections of colored yogurt. Run a knife through the dish to create a marbling effect.

Top with reserved fruit and sprinkle coconut.

Freeze for 2 hours. Remove from tray and break into pieces. Eat immediately or store in an airtight container in the freezer.

***

"Kids love foods they know, but are presented in exciting new ways, like a smoothie bowl" Krol said. "It's simple — whip up a smoothie, except pour it into a bowl and have a host of toppings for kids to put on it."

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Servings: two 1 cup servings (4 ounces milk per serving)

INGREDIENTS:

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 very ripe banana, peeled, frozen

1 cup lowfat or fat-free chocolate milk

DIRECTIONS:

In a blender combine all ingredients.

Cover and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass (or bowl if making smoothie bowls). Suggested toppings for the smoothie bowls include cut-up fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and/or another swirl of yogurt on top.

***

"It's a great time to of year to utilize our local farm stands and buy our local fruits and vegetables, You can mix them with yogurt, put the mixture into pop molds and freeze them for yogurt pops," Krol said. "Vegetables and fruits can also be used as dunkers for a nutritious yogurt dip. Yogurt dips are cool and creamy, and can be made sweet or savory, depending on your choice of dunkers."

One of Krol's tried-and-true dips is Cucumber Yogurt Dip.

Cucumber Yogurt Dip

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt

1/2 cup diced, seeded cucumber

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill

1 teaspoon lemon juice

- Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Mix all together; serve with fresh, raw vegetables.

***

Patty Erdeski, kitchen director at Stamford (Vt.) Elementary School, said while U.S.D.A. requirements don't allow her to serve cool sweet treats, she does serve fresh fruits and vegetable sticks during the school year. She offered her favorite method of slicing a whole watermelon into easy-to-eat sticks: Cut the watermelon in half horizontally. Place one half on a cutting board, flesh down. Cut slices downward 1-2" wide depending how large you want the sticks. Rotate the cutting board and cut slices downward and perpendicular to the other slices. Repeat with the other watermelon half (or save that portion for another meal). Serve and enjoy!

Berkshire Eagle reader Molly Brown suggested amping up fresh pineapple and watermelon by sprinkling the sliced fruit with Himalayan salt. "It's the best ever, so refreshing and re-mineralises the body after sweating," she told us on Facebook.

Lee Ann Killackey recommended frozen grapes, which she wrote "always does the trick."

***

What would summer be without ice cream? Krol suggested having kids try their hand at making their own ice cream, which is done in a plastic bag. The kids squeeze the bags and create their own ice cream. "Who says nutrition can't be fun?" Krol said.

Squeeze Freeze Ice Cream

(Recipe adapted from Midwest Dairy)

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon salt

Ice cubes

OTHER ITEMS:

Small resealable plastic bag

Large resealable plastic bag

Measuring spoons

Plastic spoons

DIRECTIONS:

Put sugar, vanilla, and milk into small plastic bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and properly seal. Put salt into large plastic bag. Drop the small bag into the large plastic bag with salt in it. Add 18-20 ice cubes. Remove as much air as possible from the large bag and properly seal. Knead the bag for approximately 10 minutes, making sure ice in the larger bag surrounds the smaller bag.

When a soft ice cream is formed, remove small bag from large bag, open and eat right out of bag with a plastic spoon. For extra fun, add fresh seasonal fruit or other favorite ice cream toppings.

Notes: It is important to use whole milk. Other types of milk take too long to freeze. Salt is also very important. Without it, the ice cream will not freeze. One pint of half and half can be added to a gallon of milk. This makes the ice cream richer and freezes faster.

And speaking of ice cream, reader Cindy Silvagni suggested beating the heat with mini cookies 'n' cream ice cream pies.

Mini cookies 'n' cream ice cream pies

(Courtesy of http://www.tasty-recipes.us)

INGREDIENTS:

12 chocolate sandwich cookies

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup heavy whipping cream

7 ounces condensed milk

teaspoon vanilla extract

6 chocolate sandwich cookies, crumbled

DIRECTIONS:

Separate the icing from the chocolate sandwich cookies. Reserve the icing and put the cookies in a resealable plastic bag.

Pound the cookies with a rolling pin until they reach a fine crumble. Transfer to a small bowl and mix with the butter until well combined.

Evenly distribute the crumble mixture into a 6-cup muffin tin lined with cupcake liners and firmly press the crumbs to form an even crust in each cup.

In a medium bowl, combine the cream, condensed milk, vanilla extract, and the sandwich cookie icing. Whisk the ingredients until soft peaks form.

Gently form in the cookies. Transfer the mixture to the muffin tin.

Freeze for 4 hours, or until the ice cream has solidified.

Remove the cupcake liners, and enjoy!

***

And for those hot, over-stressed parents, Eagle reader William Shannon gave us the perfect solution — peach bourbon lemonade popsicles, for adults only, of course.

Peach bourbon lemonade popsicles

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups lemonade

1 cup peach puree

2 ounces Bourbon

DIRECTIONS:

In a blender mix all ingredients until smooth, and pour them into popsicle molds. Let freeze overnight.