These Caramel Ice Pops Are The Perfect Healthy Summer Treat

Photo by Chris Thomas

We all get cravings. Sometimes it’s hunger-related, and sometimes it’s mental, like when you walk by a pastry shop and suddenly need a pastry. Whichever kind of craving you’ve had, you can be sure pleasure plays a role. Maybe because of this, somewhere along the line cravings were demonized—something to be avoided or to stand up to. Meanwhile, a study in Appetite showed 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men have cravings! Wanting specific foods is not weak. It’s not bad. And it definitely doesn’t make you as a person either of those things. So today, we’ll dive into cravings and emerge with a plant-based caramelized banana ice pop for dessert.

Photo: Chris Thomas

What if we took a different approach to cravings and listened to what’s going on inside our bodies? What if we shifted our focus to satisfying the hunger of the mind and the body in a way that fuels you in a positive way? Over the past few years, it’s how I’ve come to live my life as a dietitian and food lover. The most succinct way to translate it is "an indulgence a day."

I share a lot of food in real life and in the work I do online. More often than not, a comment I hear is one of surprise for the dishes I make and the ingredients I use. Do I use butter? Yeah, amazing high-quality butter. Do I post pictures of pizza and cocktails? Immediate yes, but it’s only from my ultimate favorite recipes and restaurants. Accepting and making peace with the concept of cravings is a healthy exercise. The more you push away a desire for a food, the more you think about what you’re avoiding (in psychology, it’s called ironic thought process).

The foods people typically crave are higher in calories (fat, salty things, sweet things). But we can pair healthy with the aforementioned crave-able ingredients. And if we do that, it stands to reason the craving response can be tied to nutrient-dense foods by manipulating those original cravings into achieving positive goals. It creates a healthy balance between those mental cravings and biological hunger. Craving deep-fried wontons? Make a big veggie and protein stir fry and use crispy salty wonton skin croutons on top. Have a need for pizza? We make pizza salad in our house sometimes—we make pizza and put a ton of dressed greens on top.

If you want to get more down and nerdy with the science: The portion size and frequency of eating that craved food is just as important. Too much and you’ll develop a tolerance to truly enjoying the food and getting those feel-good vibes in the brain. Make the crave count by highlighting it when you cook. And don’t get me wrong: Sometimes you just want that bag of nostalgic chips—and that’s worth listening to as well. Some dishes are a mere shadow of themselves when altered to be more health-conscious.

For summer, inevitably, most of my clients want a creamy frozen treat. I know I want creamy and cold paired with a hint of sweet—caramel in particular. But let’s take it one step further. Let’s make a dessert that’s inclusive: It’s gluten-free and dairy-free, so those with lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance can still enjoy. By using a plant-powered base—I like Pacific Foods Organic Oat Vanilla Plant-Based Beverage—and pairing it with a nutrient-rich banana, you’ll ace that craving for creamy. Since banana is a total crowd-pleaser as the top-purchased fruit in the United States, it’s an easy-to-love flavor profile. Caramel is one of our highlighted ingredients with this vegan caramel recipe. And to top it all off…it’s make-ahead. You can make as many ice pops as you want to store in the freezer.

While you can definitely drink Pacific Foods’ Oat as a beverage on its own, it’s an awesome ingredient for baking, bowls, and everything in between because of its sweet creamy flavor and ability to brown well in things like muffins. And because of that creaminess, it’s good for sauces or soups as well. It’s naturally sweetened with organic whole grain oats, not added sugar. It’s an ingredient you can feel good about keeping in your kitchen since 8 ounces contains a good source of calcium and vitamin D plus 4 grams of protein. For today’s recipe, it’s that natural sweetness and creaminess we’re going to highlight.

Easy Vegan (or Dairy-Free) Banana Caramel Ice Pops

Photo: Chris Thomas

Makes approximately 6 ice pops

Yields 2 cups liquid pre-freezing

Ingredients for Vegan Caramel:

  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup coconut cream (solid part)
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

To make caramel, heat a medium pot over high heat and add brown sugar. Stir for about 1 minute as the sugar melts, then reduce heat to medium and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add coconut cream and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, reduce to medium-low heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken. Add sea salt and vanilla and stir. Remove from pan and cool for an hour on the counter. Refrigerate for at least two additional hours.

Ingredients for Caramelized Banana Ice Pops:

Method:

Slice bananas in half and divide each half again lengthwise to create quarters. Scoop brown sugar into a shallow bowl and dip each side of the banana in sugar. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt half of the coconut oil. Heat for about 5 minutes and place bananas in an even layer in the pan, but do not crowd (do in two batches). Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and lift with a spatula to check the underside of the banana. Flip when browned and cook opposite side to brown. Remove from pan and place on a plate or sheet tray. Add second half of the coconut oil to the pan if needed. Complete with second batch of bananas and place on a plate or sheet tray to cool about 5 minutes.

Add caramelized bananas to a blender with vanilla oat beverage. Blend until smooth. Fill ice-pop molds and insert ice-pop sticks (note: if you don’t have ice-pop molds, you can use small cups or even a casserole dish and cut into squares after freezing). Freeze overnight or at least 8 hours. Remove ice pops from molds. Dip partially into caramel or drizzle caramel over top. Coat with optional toasted coconut. Freeze on a sheet pan for at least an hour. Serve.

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