Liberty_U_layered_smoothie4.gif Photo from Liberty University
Layered smoothies

Smoothies of the future

Operators agree, smoothies are still going strong in terms of customer love, but what’s next for these chilled-out beverages? Here’s a taste: wellness-boosting ingredients, layered looks, coffee coolers, smoothie bowls, fresh garnishes and robot-made smoothies are all in the mix.

Adding eye appeal plus fiber and more nutrients are great reasons to dress up your smoothie or smoothie bowl with gorgeous garnishes. At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., Spirit Bowls is an in-house concept featuring seven different smoothie and chia pudding bowls that are customizable.

Developed by campus dietitian Carrie Gerencher, MA, RDN, LDN, Spirit Bowls started as part of Lehigh’s Spirit Week, but was so popular it became a monthly featured pop-up. Power-packed garnishes include different combos of fresh fruit, dried fruit, granola, oat-chia puddings, nut butters, coconut flakes and more.

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Photo from Lehigh University

Another Instagram-worthy visual trend with smoothies is layering. At Liberty University, District Chef Sarah Falls, CEC, with Sodexo, has been combining two different smoothies for one cool tie-dyed look. To make the layered “power punch” smoothie, she starts with pressed apple juice, strawberry, mango and pineapple and pours half into the cup, followed by a green mixture of more apple juice, frozen berries, banana, pineapple and fresh green peppers. Another layer of the first smoothie and a chiffonade of fresh basil sets off the smoothie.

Falls says using smoothie ingredients like chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut water, herbal tea, protein powders and fresh herbs provides the wellness factor students are seeking.

“Since our smoothie station is near the main gym, it’s important to provide great smoothies to assist with overall physical health,” Falls says. “Our goal is to add more health properties to our smoothies for maximum benefit to our students.” See sidebar for more functional ingredients and how to combine them into smoothies.

Pairing smoothies with avocado toast

Texas Christian University has taken two food trends and blended them into one health-conscious concept, Rollin’ ‘n Bowlin,’ aka RnB, which was developed by Sophia Karbowski and Austin Patry, two students majoring in entrepreneurial management. The duo created a food truck to test the concept, and after one year they worked with Sodexo to add it to the campus meal plans.

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Photo from Texas Christian University 

The bountiful smoothie side of the menu includes cool mixes like “super monkey” (acai, berries, banana and coconut water with granola, coconut, chia seeds and honey on top), “don’t kale my vibe” (avocado, spinach, kale, banana, pineapple and coconut water), “guac my world” (also with avocado) and a big list of add-on extras, including hemp seeds, walnuts, goji berries, matcha, collagen peptides and even an option to sub cauliflower for banana.

The toast side of the menu features an avocado toast with a lot more than avocado: It also includes garlic, feta cheese, arugula, tomato slices, everything bagel seasoning and red pepper flakes. Two other toasts, “nuts for nanners” are available in either peanut butter or almond butter and come sprinkled with chia seeds and cinnamon, all great with a smoothie on the side.

A smoothie-making robot

Robotics engineers have created a robot that can dispense finished smoothies, making up to 36 smoothies per hour in an hour, 24 hours a day. You can see the robot in action at San Francisco University (SFU)’s Market Café, which just launched an autonomous smoothie kiosk using a robot made by Blendid, a tech startup.

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Blendid partnered with SFU foodservice operator Bon Appetit to get the robot, named Chef B, up and running. Chef B’s robot arm dispenses ingredients, washes blenders, pours smoothies into cups and then slides the smoothie across the counter, just like your old-time malt shop—except with a robot instead of a kindly bartender. Naturally, students can place their smoothie orders through an app and pick up immediately or set a time.

Smoothie shortcuts and non-blended smoothies

Of course, not everyone can have a smoothie-making robot…yet. And when humans must make the smoothies, labor can become a concern.

It was outside smoothies that in part spurred Pasco County (Fla.) Schools to start a smoothie program.

“We view our students as our customers; they truly drive our menu offerings,” says Stephanie Spicknall, RD, LDN, FNS senior program manager at Pasco schools. “Several years back, students and parents requested that smoothies be offered on our menus.”

But the last “straw” came when “we observed high school students showing up to school with smoothies from nearby establishments. We recognized the need, so the journey began.”

Two test sites were selected to pilot the smoothie program and student focus groups gathered to identify the ideal flavor profiles, serving size and price points for smoothies. But the road was not smooth.

By the time heavy-duty blenders were purchased and the pilot program launched, “we quickly realized that we could not keep up with the demand,” Spicknall says. “Due to the nature of the child nutrition program we have limited time to serve a large number of students as well as limited access to labor. The blenders required several staff to be continually preparing smoothies, taking away from other vital kitchen responsibilities.”

Finally, the district partnered with Barfresh, a manufacturer that makes real fruit, nothing-artificial, premade smoothies that don’t require a blender.

Taking cue from coffee shops

At a back-to-school convocation for Savannah (Mo.) R-III School District staff, Foodservice Director Kathi Snyder served a pick-me-up that was a huge hit: coolers with coffee and a choice of caramel and mocha.

On an everyday basis, Savannah students get smoothies as a reimbursable breakfast and as an a la carte item for high school. Flavors change throughout the year and have included pumpkin spice, peppermint and raspberry.

Smoothies fight malnutrition

Small-town students in a six-county region in rural southern Missouri have been getting more fruits and veggies by drinking smoothies, part of a health initiative funded by the USDA and spearheaded by the Southern Ozarks Alliance for Rural Development (SOAR). SOAR first studied hundreds of students in the area from 6th through 10th grade, and found that alarmingly, about 80% weren’t getting nearly enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. Schools have been given juice machines, smoothie machines and online support to help students tackle subjects like self-care, relationships and mindfulness.

The goal of the program initially was to build a healthier workforce, but shifted gears to the future workforce, focusing on kids to get them on the right path for a healthier, more productive life.

Carmen Boyd, assistant professor of dietetic at Missouri State University, told KSMU Ozarks Public Radio that hunger and malnutrition are big problems in the classroom—and beyond—for kids in rural areas with high poverty rates.

“When you look at it from a national perspective, you’ve got a large group of kids that aren’t ever going to reach their intellectual potential,” Boyd says. “And if they’re not going to reach their intellectual potential, they’re not going to be contributing to society like you would expect. You know, that impacts regions. That impacts states. That impacts nations.”

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Mango turmeric green tea ginger smoothie with activated charcoal; photo by National Mango Board/The Culinary Institute of America

Functional ingredients for the win

  • Mango turmeric green tea ginger smoothie with activated charcoal 
  • Pear kale super smoothie
  • Honey protein recovery smoothie with peanut butter and protein powder
  • Acai non-blended chia yogurt cups 

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These smoothies are made by Chef B at the University of San Francisco:

  • Tropical twist
  • Monkey paradise
  • Mango lassie
  • Kal berry
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