To Smoothie or Not to Smoothie: A Question of Costs and Benefits

To Smoothie or Not to Smoothie: A Question of Costs and Benefits (October 1, 2017)

There’s a lot of hype about smoothies.

They’re full of nutrients!

You can make them in a flash!

You can sneak kale into the mix and never know!

They can curb your hunger without making you fat!

In my experience, homemade smoothies are:

  • Expensive.
  • Time-consuming.
  • Complicated.
  • Delicious.

It’s kind of a problem.

It’s a problem I’ve been trying to solve, however, because I’ve upped my exercise game since moving to Arkansas, and when you start looking into pre- and post-workout foods, you run across a lot of smoothies. Rather than debate the merits of smoothies as a workout snack (as opposed to bars/gels/eggs/trail mix/etc.), I’d like to share some things I’ve learned after making about a dozen different smoothies within the past two weeks. Let’s begin by looking at the three objections I’ve already mentioned.

Objection 1: Smoothies are expensive.
My experience: Smoothies are, in fact, expensive, but maybe they don’t have to be.

Here’s a sampling from last weekend’s grocery bill:

  • Organic Beets (2): $3.60
  • Ginger Root (0.12 lb): $0.66
  • Organic Blueberries (1 carton): $4.49
  • Almond Butter (raw bulk, 0.24 lb): $1.92
  • Chia Seeds (bulk, 0.08 lb): $0.32
  • Mango (2): $1.96
  • Raspberries (on sale at 2/$5): $5.00

You can see I spent well over $15 on ingredients for a few smoothies. Moreover, this isn’t the extent of what I purchased. I also stocked coconut water, almond milk, bananas, kale, and yogurt. Here’s what I learned:

  • Berries really are expensive. Either buy them on sale and freeze them or use something less expensive, like mango.
  • My grocery store sells overripe bananas at a discount. (Yours might, too!) These look terrible on the outside but are usually fine if I peel and freeze them.
  • Vegetables are worth the investment. More on this in a minute.
  • There are ways to cut costs by making your own almond butter and/or milk that I haven’t explored yet. I did make hazelnut milk for one round of smoothies, which was both easy and delicious. (I already had hazelnuts on hand; they had been sitting in my fridge with no purpose for a while.)
Objection 2: Smoothies are time-consuming.
My experience: This depends on your blender.

One day, I want a Vitamix. Nothing is more frustrating than having a blender full of cucumber, avocados and cilantro that won’t blend, even after adding almond milk. (Why?? How is any of those things a challenge??) It shouldn’t take fifteen minutes to make a smoothie, but it can if you own a weak blender.

On the other hand, smoothies are easy to prepare and highly portable. I like knowing I can (hopefully) make a smoothie in the same amount of time it would take to toast a sandwich. I like being able to sip on that smoothie while I work. I like knowing that if I rinse the blender right away, I probably don’t need to run the whole thing through the dishwasher because smoothies don’t contain a lot of ingredients that require intensive scrubbing. I’ve found that I can also increase the convenience factor of my smoothies by washing/slicing/freezing/bagging fruits in advance.

Objection 3: Smoothies are complicated.
My experience: This depends on your pantry.

I’ve learned that I have to stock smoothie ingredients the way I would stock flours, spices, or cooking oils. If I have almond butter, almond milk, coconut water, chia seeds, yogurt, and bananas on hand, I’m in good shape. I can then combine those ingredients with a lot of different leafy greens, root vegetables, or fruits to get a nice snack with some substance. The smoothie only gets complicated when I’m trying to follow a recipe. Which brings me to the next portion of this post…


A Few Recipes I Liked

I tried a handful of recipes for this experiment. By far my favorites were the Can’t Beet Me Smoothie and Coconut-Kale Smoothie from Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky’s excellent book of recipes for athletes, Run Fast. East Slow. If you’re curious, I would urge you to check your local library to see if this book is in stock (which is where I found my copy). You can also visit the Resources page on this site, where I’ve posted a link to the Kindle version on Amazon.

Meanwhile, here’s a smoothie I made up myself:

Banana-Peach Smoothie with Almond Butter

You Will Need:

  • 1 handful frozen banana slices
  • 4–5 frozen peach slices
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter (I used Justin’s brand with honey, not the bulk raw almond butter from earlier in this post)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla-chia protein powder (if you don’t have protein powder, just add a splash of vanilla extract and extra chia seeds)
  • Several large spoonfuls Australian-style vanilla whole milk yogurt
What I Didn’t Like

My worst experience was a tie between a kale/grapefruit smoothie that literally tasted like bile and a radish/fennel juice that felt as if I had swallowed a third grader’s vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano. From these experiences I learned that grapefruit is too bitter to include unless I juice it, and juicing in general is not for me. My radish/fennel juice also included a sweet potato and three citrus fruits, and I hated seeing the giant bag of pulp left over at the end. I felt as if I had spent good money on expensive produce and was throwing most of it away. After that experience, I abandoned my other juicing plans and looked for better ways to use my vegetables.

My Verdict

I’ll probably be making a lot more smoothies, but I’ll be focusing on vegetable-based smoothies with ingredients like roasted beets and raw kale. I probably wouldn’t have eaten those ingredients before this experiment, but they’re really healthy and I’m now acquiring a taste for them. They’re also much cheaper than fresh berries and can be sweetened with less expensive options like citrus, mango, or banana, and they contain lots of fiber to balance out the sugars from the fruit. I’ll also consider blending in cooked grains such as oatmeal or farro when I want something more filling. I tried this once and didn’t quite get the result I was after, but I came close. I can get behind the time and expense of a smoothie if it means I’m eating something that is truly good for me.


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