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How to make healthy smoothies with one easy, delicious formula

Editor's Note: This story originally ran May 12, 2020 

One morning, I woke up and decided to give smoothies a whirl.

I've always enjoyed the creamy concoction of blended fruit and yogurt, but for some reason, I tended to buy them on the road, because I'm constantly on the go.

While my days are still as long as ever, I now have a shorter commute, less than 10 minutes from my remote office versus my usual 35 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Not only is there a little less rush in my life, but I've also found myself with a greater desire to be creative, to be healthy, and to create bright moments in what can often feel like dark days.

Smoothies, I've found, are relatively quick to make, filling and pretty, well, pretty, especially when poured into a clear, wide-mouth, 16-ounce glass Mason jar.

I've been documenting my smoothie game on my Instagram feed and had a lot of fun guessing what color my projects will end up and deciding how to garnish them. As I'm writing this, I'm enjoying a tasty blend of peanut butter, banana, blackberry, and coconut, which may sound strange at first, but it tastes like a soft-serve version of PB&J, no sugar added.

Rather than keenly measure, I love to experiment with ingredients, both out of curiosity and sometimes by necessity of what I actually have on hand. But, after reading a Time magazine article about making healthy smoothies versus glorified milkshakes, I keep two key consistencies: 1) Build your smoothie like you are plating a salad or a healthy meal. Go for color and variety. 2) Go easy on the sugar. Ripe bananas add most complimentary and palatable sweetness to nearly every smoothie combination.

I also prefer whole ingredients to protein and other powders to save money and also know what's going into my smoothie, but I'm not going to judge. I tend to start my smoothies with a base of liquid, either a type of milk (I use organic, unsweetened coconut milk) or yogurt, and a handful of oats or oat bran (for the benefits of fiber and a thicker texture). The rest, I'd say, is all up to taste.

Add your favorite fruits, veggies (yes, leafy greens or steamed rooted veggies are unexpectedly delicious adds) and healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds (keeps you full), and swirl on!

Don't worry if you don't have a fancy industrial-grade blender, like a Vitamix — I've found that if I give frozen ingredients a few pulses in "ice breaker" mode in my hand-me-down Hamilton Beach, the rest blends in "smoothie" mode just fine.

Build your own smoothie

Two cups of ingredients fill a 16-ounce Mason jar or pint glass.

1.  I almost always start with a base: a handful or so of oats or oat bran (equates to a quarter to half cup) to two parts liquid of your choosing to cover (I use unsweetened coconut milk; sometimes I'll add or substitute with plain or vanilla yogurt).

Remember, Greek-style yogurt is thicker and tangier and will redefine your smoothie's flavor and texture profile.

You can let this soak overnight in a covered blender pitcher, or soak for a bit while you're checking emails or trying to get your kids dressed.

2.  When ready to make, add your other ingredients.

I've enjoyed these pairings with the above base:

• Peanut butter (two generous tablespoons), a spoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder (hot chocolate mix also works, but adds sugar), a banana (broken into pieces)

• Raspberries (half cup, fresh or frozen), a banana (broken into pieces), shredded coconut

• Apples and pears (about a cup, fresh, diced, slightly overripe is better), a drizzle of maple syrup, a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg (has a nice apple pie vibe to it)

• You can also layer it up. Search for recipes, and remember the rules of density. Fill your glass with a heavier layer first (strawberry and banana) with a frothy, lighter layer (coconut milk and matcha green tea powder), and you'll discover science never looked and tasted so good!

3. Pour into a glass or Mason jar and add any desired toppings. My healthy go-to's include chia seeds, a hint of spice, some shredded coconut, bee pollen, a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, some bits of fruit, granola, whatever!

Don't forget to rinse your blender right away, or everything sticks!

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