Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Ice pops to make kids (and their parents) say 'Oh yeah!'

Tara A. Trower

Kids love ice pops.

What's not to like? Icy, drippy, fruity and sweet. For a 4-year-old kid (or a 37-year-old mom) they are a decadent treat during the sweltering summer months.

My family keeps a stash of Blue Bell Bullets pops in the freezer. But for many parents who are ever-vigilant about sugar consumption, doling out the pops usually involves dizzying mental calculus: proximity to dinner multiplied by the amount of mess, and then divided by the desire to see the pure joy on a kid's face as they devour the sticky goodness. (Of course you can get the sugar-free variety, but some parents are not fans of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.)

So, too often, the answer to "Mom, can I have a Popsicle?" is "Sorry, sweetie, not right now."

But then I decided to check out "Ice Pop Joy," a cookbook by Anni Daulter (Sellers, $18.95) that takes homemade pops beyond their Kool-Aid and sugar roots. Daulter's pops are made of fresh fruits (strawberries, pineapple, blackberries) and veggies (tomatoes, squash, cucumber, zucchini). Think smoothies that have hit the deep freeze. And they are delicious.

My household tested two recipes over the Independence Day weekend. Both batches were hits. My first thought when I saw the book was that surely the sugar content would have to be fairly high to cover the taste of some of the vegetable choices, but Daulter, a mother of four kids, makes very clear that her purpose is to expose kids to healthy choices and the variety of tastes that fresh fruits and vegetables bring to the palate. No hiding the vegetables here.

Quinoa? Red beans? Lavender? Balsamic vinegar? Granola? Walnut? Daulter has recipes for those, too.

The genius is in the ingredient combinations, which produce vibrant colors and great tastes, plus the use of some nontraditional sugars, such as agave nectar and coconut palm sugar. The sweetness factor is fairly subtle and much lower on the glycemic index than cane sugar or corn syrup (good news for parents wary of the sugar rush). The cold diminishes the intensity of the stronger flavors, lemon juice gives the pops some zing and I could still taste traces of the cucumber and zucchini in my Cool-N-Fresh pops.

Daulter, who owned an organic baby food company that spawned her first book, "Organically Raised," says "Ice Pop Joy" has something for everyone.

"My teenager likes super-sour things and he would go for a straight lemon or grapefruit. My daughter is the opposite and likes sweet tastes, and my little one, Bodhi, likes anything with chocolate. You aren't going to please everyone's taste buds with individual recipes in the book, but at the same time, people don't give kids certain things because they have an idea of what kids will like. Kids will surprise you if given the chance."

At my house, the kids had a blast helping me fill the blender and filling the molds. They also happily sampled the excess, served in cups as a beverage. And when snack time came, I had no reservations about letting them have one — a 4-ounce pop contains more zucchini and cucumber than I can get my kids to even look at for dinner. If you make one of the versions with tofu or yogurt, you have your protein represented, too.

The alternative sweeteners do add to the cost. (My xx oz. bag of coconut sugar cost me $4.99 at H-E-B.) But my husband has already started playing with the sugar in some of his meat marinades and an Asian salad dressing for our kale salad. If you are buying fresh fruits and veggies anyway, then the cost is less noticeable. It's not going to beat a 25-cent pack of Kool-Aid, but the nutritional content can't compare.

My older daughter already has ordered "Blackberry Swirl" pops for next weekend, and I'm thinking about trying the "Mexican Spice Fire Pops" (chocolate, carob, cinnamon, cayenne and kale.)

I suspect our brand-new ice pop molds are going to get quite the workout before summer is done.

Cool-n-Fresh

1 whole cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped fresh pineapple

Juice of ½ lemon (1½ to 2 Tbsp. juice)

1 whole zucchini, peeled and chopped

3 Tbsp. coconut sugar

½ cup water

Combine cucumber, pineapple, lemon juice, and zucchini in a blender, and purée until smooth. Add coconut sugar and water and puree for a second time. Pour mixture into chosen pop molds and put sticks in place. Freeze pops until solid.

Makes 8 (4-oz.) pops

Pure Sunshine

I ran out of time and couldn't find any Meyer lemons at the grocer, so I just used ordinary lemons. The result likely would have been slightly sweeter, but it was still pretty tasty. The amount of water added to this recipe makes purified water preferable to reduce the aftertaste from the tap.

2 cups chopped strawberries

Juice of 1½ Meyer lemons (4 to 5 Tbsp. juice)

½ Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

4 Tbsp. honey

1 cup purified water

1 cup ice

Put the strawberries, lemon juice, mint, honey, water and ice into a blender, and blend all ingredients together into a smooth texture. Pour mixture into chosen pop molds and put sticks in place. Freeze pops until solid.

Makes 6 (4-oz.) pops

The molds

You don't need special molds. Paper cups and old-fashioned ice pop sticks work fine. Just freeze the cups for a bit before adding sticks to make the sticks stand up straight. Wait at least four hours, and then peel off the paper cup to serve.

Zoku Quick Pop Maker — Makes three pops at a time in 7-9 minutes. $49.95, available at Williams Sonoma, Breed & Co., Kids Cook and online at zoku.com.

Tovolo — Makes a variety of plastic pop molds (Shooting stars, "groovy" pops, rocket pops and ice cream pops). Available at many local retailers. Sets start at $10.99.

Prepara Volcano Ice Pops — Individual, colorful molds that can be filled with nonfrozen treats and surrounded by a frozen ice pop. Breed & Co. and Sur la Table. $10 for four.

Onyx — Designed by a mom who wanted a choice besides plastic, these stainless steel individual molds provide an alternative to plastic and silicone. (The small disk that holds the sticks is made of silicone, but the rest is stainless steel.) Available online at thetickletrunk.com and amazon.com, $39.95.

Zoo Pops — Super cute, plastic animal molds in bright colors from Hog Wild Idea Kitchen. Available at Kids Cook and amazon.com, $14.95.

Pop tips

If you use plastic molds, use with care. If you drop frozen plastic (say on a concrete driveway) it will crack, because of the rigidity. Unfrozen, the plastic will bounce.

Removing pops from metal, plastic or silicone is easy. Just warm with a hand or some warm water and pull. Just make sure you've given the pops enough time to freeze (at least 4 hours) or you will have a mess on your hands.