There is something about smoothies that makes me think of the Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s the notion of having a meal without consuming anything solid. In Roald Dahl’s book, if you chew Willy Wonka’s incredible gum, you feel like you’re eating whole a dinner, complete with roast beef and a baked potato. With the smoothie trend, there’s a similar illusion that you’re consuming a balanced meal, thanks to the handful of greens and scoop of chia seeds that you’re sucking through your straw. At least you don’t turn into a blueberry after you have a smoothie.
I enjoy a smoothie every once in a while, but I have a hard time appreciating their popularity. First, the whole idea of drinking something substantial is not particularly appealing. Besides smoothies, when else do people drink their food? When they go on trendy diets, or sometimes after medical procedures. Neither of those situations is enjoyable. It’s undeniable that the act of chewing and eating makes food more pleasurable. Moreover, it lets us experience texture. Wouldn’t you choose a bowlful of thick, creamy yogurt topped with fresh, ripe berries over a homogenous yogurt/fruit/juice beverage? Or, let’s imagine that you get to choose between a gorgeous, fresh navel orange and….a glass of orange juice. Or between a cool, crisp apple and…a bowl of applesauce. Which do you choose? Almost 100% of the time, I’d choose the whole fruit over its liquified or puréed form. In a smoothie, juicy strawberries, firm pineapples, and buttery mangoes all get sadly blended away into plain old strawberry, pineapple, and mango.
Second, let’s talk about that kale and spinach that found their way into your smoothie. I don’t know about you, but I’m an adult who likes leafy greens, and it’s been quite a few years since anyone has had to use any gimmicks to get me to eat my vegetables. Unlike my coworker’s son, whose peas and zucchini have to be diced into infinitesimal pieces and elaborately disguised in pasta sauces and meatloaves, I actually choose to eat vegetables because I like them. There’s not really a need to drink green veggies that taste like pineapple and strawberry when you’re getting enough in the salad you’re having for lunch or vegetable frittata you made for breakfast.
Lastly, I’d like to give the muffin (aka “cake for breakfast”) some company by embracing the smoothie for what it really is: a milkshake for breakfast. Okay, okay—smoothies are not completely devoid of nutrition, and they can help people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables increase their consumption of produce. But they can also have quite a bit of sugar, and they don’t usually stick with you for a long time. So, when I make a smoothie, it’s not with the goal of adding extra fruits or veggies into my diet, or because I’m convinced that they’re nutritionally superior to other breakfast options. It’s because it’s hot out and I want a milkshake for breakfast. Or at least something cold, sweet, and creamy like a milkshake, but not quite as bad for you as a milkshake.
The combination that I keep coming back to has banana, peanut butter powder, and dates. (Powdered peanut butter is kind of gross as a reconstituted substitute for the real thing, but it’s great for smoothies, or peanut butter pudding pops.) If I were in advertising, I would also tell you this smoothie has “no added sugar” and “more protein than an egg”! But honestly, the dates are really high in natural sugar, plus there’s extra sugar in almond milk if you go that route, and even though it has some protein, I’ll freely admit that it doesn’t keep me as full as things like oatmeal. However, none of that matters if you’re embracing the smoothie as a milkshake. Instead, you can just enjoy the classic peanut butter-and-banana combination in a cold, creamy, not-overly-sweet breakfast form.
Note: You can use regular dairy milk or light vanilla almond milk. If you choose regular milk, it will make the smoothie creamier and increase its protein content, but it will be less sweet. If you go for light vanilla almond milk, the smoothie will be sweeter and nuttier but have less protein. I’ve never tried it with plain almond milk or fully-sweetened vanilla almond milk.
- 1 very ripe medium banana
- 2 dates, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. powdered peanut butter
- 1 cup milk, regular dairy or light vanilla almond (see note)
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract, optional, only if using dairy milk
- 5-10 ice cubes
- One night to several weeks in advance: Peel the banana and cut or break it into chunks. Place the banana pieces in a plastic bag and freeze until solid.
- The night before: Pit the dates, chop them, and place in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add the peanut butter powder, milk, and vanilla extract (if using). Put the lid on and shake to mix. Refrigerate overnight. (This will help the dates plump up and blend more easily, and it will make the smoothie a little thicker. If you skip this step, you could end up with unblended date chunks (if your dates are especially dry and/or your blended is especially crappy, like mine) or a slightly watery smoothie.)
- The morning of: Place the frozen banana chunks in a blender, then add the milk, date, and peanut butter mixture. Blend well. Add ice cubes and blend until you get the desired texture.