Project Smoothie: Soylent Green is purple!

Last week I had an initial intake appointment with a nutritionist, thanks to an employee wellness program at work. I found it extremely helpful, and while I didn’t get my “just tell me what to do” outcome in the form of a detailed meal plan, I learned a lot and got some immediately actionable advice. All of this will strike the healthy reader as blindingly obvious, but hey, that’s why you’re healthier than I.

File under “eat less, eat smarter:”

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Don’t be afraid to snack, but choose wisely
  • Make dinner the smallest meal of the day, as far as calories and carbs
  • Add some vitamin supplements
  • Set a daily caloric goal (1800-2000 kcal)
  • Set a daily macro goal of 45% carbs/25% protein/25% fats

It’s the vegetables, stupid

I’m not proud of this, but I’ll admit it: I don’t eat enough vegetables. I’m both picky about which ones I’ll eat (no zucchini, please) and unreliable about ensuring I get enough. It often just doesn’t occur to me when I’m putting together a meal for myself. This is ridiculous. I know better.

Do as I say, not as I do

When my daughter was growing up, I was aware of the need to make sure she ate enough veggies. There were all sorts of tricks passed around the parenting world, even before the internet brought us “mom blogs.” (No misogyny intended.) One that sticks with me from those days was the old “hide the veggies in the pasta sauce.”

Fortunately, my daughter turned out to love her veggies, with the notable exception of announcing at age four that she wouldn’t eat peas until she was five. She did keep her promise). Despite being the progeny of a veggie hypocrite, she turned out fine, and is even pursuing her Masters degree in Nutrition.

All these years and pounds later, I lack the ability to do now as I said then: eat your veggies. So I’m grateful for my new nutritionist to give me some impetus to form a new habit. Her solutions? Add veggies to every meal, including breakfast. How?

I get to make smoothies. Something I’ve never really been inclined to do. But “just tell me what to do,” right?

Project Smoothie: Put a fern on it

The last time I made anything approximating a smoothie, it was probably ten years ago, and consisted of some (lactose-free) milk, a couple of raw eggs, some wheat germ, a banana or two and maybe a splash of vanilla extract. Not very sophisticated, and these days probably verboten due to raw eggs. And did you see what it didn’t have?

Clearly I need to learn. My nutritionist provided a helpful guide. Not a specific recipe, but a template:

Source: Tumblr

Ok, I can work with that. Liquid, fruits and veggies, greens, and perhaps some optional goodness. Let’s go shopping! To the Food King!

How will it blend?

Not so fast. Before I buy a bunch of perishables, I need a blender. I used to have a classic Osterizer, but since I started using an immersion blender for any cooking, I no longer had an upright blender. Which one to get? Time for some internet research.

For selecting a smoothie blender, my resources included Consumer Reports, The Wirecutter, some advice from friends, and a glance at my budget.

Vitamix definitely leads the pack in reviews. But it also leads the pack in price. GIven my track record of starting something but not being great about keeping it going (thanks, depression!), I opted not to spring for the most expensive choice. (Also, I don’t need to make soup in my blender. I make soup in my Instant Pot, and puree with my immersion blender.)

As for Nutribullet, the reviews were a real mixed bag. Some people swear by it, yet Consumer Reports assigned their lowest rating for reliability.

Which led me to the Ninja product line. A friend endorsed the BL770 line, which looked great, and included all sorts of extras:

It’s got a lot of power, and gets good reviews. However, I have a small kitchen and storage space is precious. Do I really need the food processing bowl and the extra smoothie cups? No. I have an old Cuisinart food processor and attachments. The extra cups are alluring, but maybe I can order one later.

The model that kept popping up in online reviews was the Ninja Professional NJ600

It’s lower powered than the BL771, and doesn’t have any extra accessories in the box, but for a dedicated smoothie machine, maybe that’s just ok.

Off to Costco!

With one more chance to look at the competition, shown above, I picked up the Ninja. And maybe a few more things.

You can’t just buy a single item at Costco – it’s the law!

I’m gonna be a Fruit Ninja!

So – come up to the lab, and see what’s on the slab.

With the smoothie recipe template in hand, I also picked up some ingredients while I was at Costco:

Ghost dog!
  • Libby’s canned pumpkin (not pie filling! I checked twice!)
  • So Delicious coconut milk (not coconut creme, for my overseas friends)
  • Power Greens (kale, chard, and spinach mix)
  • Spinach
  • Frozen fruit blend (peach, mango, strawberry, pineapple)
  • Orgain plant-based protein powder, vanilla flavor
  • Costco’s Kirkland brand Mixed Nut Butter (almond, cashew, pumpkin seed, chia seed, flax seed)
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Quaker Simply Granola

I already had some Greek yogurt (which agrees with my lactose sensitivity).

I’m thinking about whether I should blanch the produce to keep it from going bad in case I don’t get all the way through it in time, but haven’t made up my mind. For now, I’ll keep it in the fridge and see how quickly I use it.

Now I’m ready. Let’s do some alchemy with greens!

Day 1: The Monster Mash

For my first attempt, I kept it simple:

  • 3 big handfuls of Power Greens mix (I can’t believe I’m eating raw kale)
  • 2 scoops of protein powder
  • approximately a cup of coconut milk
  • a big handful of blueberries

Put it all into the Ninja

Thanks to the Ninja’s (removeable) helix-like blade setup, no plunging or scraping was needed. Easy! A few seconds of pureeing, and I poured out a glass of purest green.

Yep. Thick, green veggies. Drinkable, but I should have pureed it longer. I was definitely aware of some uneven texture from the greens. A friend said it looked like “mint oatmeal.” It poured…slowly. It drank….slowly.

At least it tasted good.

Day 2: Soylent Green is purple!

Our mix today:

  • Handfuls of spinach (no kale or chard)
  • a mixed cup of blackberries and blueberries
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • 1 T mixed nut butter

The result? Still very thick but creamier (yogurt and lack of chard/kale?), and a much more appetizing color.

All the greens, none of the green.

Lessons so far? Creamy is good. I’ll try the pumpkin for texture, and I’ll see if blanching the greens helps at all with the graininess (as well as preservation). Since the water-soluble vitamins in the greens will be reduced if I over-blanch, I’ll take care when I do it. And of course, longer puree time can’t hurt.

Stepping back from the preparation process, I’m happy so far with the results. It’s really not time consuming to make a smoothie, they taste great, and seem to satiate me until lunchtime. My glucose monitor also shows that they don’t seem to spike my blood sugar or cause drop-off. More on that topic soon.