When my friend Nicole mentioned that 40 percent of what we do on a daily basis is habit, it really resonated. For several months, a small voice in my head had been telling me that I was eating too much sugar and that eliminating my nightly bowl of ice cream might be a smart way to make a positive change.
I have long looked forward to snuggling up on the sofa with a cold, creamy treat at the end of the day. Ice cream cones were not an unheard-of addition to my weekly grocery list. Dessert, generously scooped, was easily justified as a reward for eating pretty well all day and made the down time after a busy day a little more luxurious.
But after endless weeks of succumbing to the two-for-one grocery specials (they’re hard to pass up!) and not having much success with portion control, enough was enough. Curious to see if I’d feel better and wondering if I had the willpower to prevail, I decided to give up ice cream in all forms until a family trip to Florida, at that time a little over a month away. To increase the likelihood of success, I shared my plan with my sons. I figured they’d be more than happy to hold their mom accountable!
To fill the void over the first few weeks, I made my favorite smoothie—a chocolate peanut butter concoction that, though sounding decadent, is pretty darn healthy. And guess what? I didn’t miss the ice cream. In fact, when we visited the ice cream parlor in our Florida hotel the following month, I decided I was full. As someone who’s been known to save some of her dinner to make room for dessert, I considered this major progress.
I did enjoy ice cream later in the weekend, but when I returned home, I reverted to my trusted smoothie and the following healthier homemade fudge pops when craving a frozen fix. In order to make the more indulgent ice cream treat truly special, I decided to save it for the occasional outing with family or friends. Most importantly, I felt better and realized that I actually had the resolve to break a long-standing habit.
Several weeks later, I proudly reported to Nicole that I had replaced my nightly indulgence with healthier options. Because Nicole is a nutritionist, I wondered if my recipes would meet her approval. I was delighted when she considered it a worthy improvement, noting that the smoothie provides a protein, two carbohydrate servings and a healthy fat, and the popsicles are portion-controlled and antioxidant-rich with a hearty dose of protein.
In the face of so many temptations, it can be really hard to avoid our favorite treats, so I asked Nicole how she advises her clients in this regard. She said that we often make it more complicated than it needs to be. Instead of fixating on every calorie and gram of sugar, Nicole’s coaching advice is to first focus on good-for-you things, like protein, veggies, healthy fats, and smart carbs. Then if you still have room and can enjoy it guilt-free, enjoy a treat of choice in moderation. As someone who habitually saved room for dessert, this advice struck me as simple yet meaningful.
In that vein, Nicole doesn’t condemn ice cream or any other food as off limits. If a client isn’t reaching his goal, she might say that it’s time to either reduce the frequency or find a healthier substitution—like sorbet or a smoothie instead of ice cream, for example.
Nicole is a realist, and she’s a cheerleader, too. In her ongoing effort to educate and encourage sustainable behavior changes, Nicole shares daily nutrition tips with friends, family, and clients through her Facebook page, Nicole Cascio Hagen—and she welcomes interested readers to join the conversation.
So while you may see me, drippy ice cream cone in hand, at our favorite downtown ice cream parlor this summer, rest assured that I’ll be aiming for balance over the long haul!
Yield: 8 pops (about 1/2 cup per popsicle; yield may vary depending on molds used)
- 8 ounces semisweet bar chocolate, finely chopped, or 1-1/3 cups chocolate chips
- 1-1/2 cups low-fat milk (may substitute unsweetened almond milk or almond/coconut milk)
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 level teaspoon kosher salt (use a scant 1/2 teaspooon if using table salt)
- 1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
- Place the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a medium-size glass mixing bowl or quart-size Pyrex measuring cup. Set aside.
- Combine the milk, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the cocoa is dissolved and the mixture comes to a simmer, 5 to 7 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the milk mixture over the chocolate. Let stand for 4-5 minutes, and then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the yogurt until smooth and completely incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool completely.
- Divide the mixture evenly among eight popsicle molds (about 1/2 cup per popsicle) and freeze until solid. Freezing overnight will help ensure the sticks don’t pull out of the popsicles while unmolding. Just before serving, briefly run the molds under hot water or dip in a glass of water to release the pops.
- If using wooden popsicle sticks with your molds, freeze the popsicles for 30 minutes (set a timer so you don’t forget), before inserting the sticks. The popsicles will be partially frozen at this point, ensuring that the sticks stand upright.