Fine. I’ll admit it.
Some days… when I’ve been sweating in the garden all day (seriously– my EYELIDS were dripping sweat a few days ago…) and it feels like the heat just won’t quit, I dream of a Coke.
Yes, you read that right.
A tall, frosty glass of Coca-Cola. You know, the kind with high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring. Yep– that kind.
Every so often, I give into my craving. (And I don’t freak out… because balance, baby.)
But most of the time? I’ve gotten pretty good at coming up with much healthier (and more satisfying) alternatives.
This is also my sneaky mom way of keeping everyone well hydrated on hot summer days, along with things like homemade fruit popsicles, homemade honey lemonade, or a tall pitcher of one of our family’s favorite drinks (I’m sharing some recipes below).
Yes, I know sugary drinks that come in fancy packaging are a common choice for many moms to appease the kids’ summer thirst. But I discovered long ago that simple drinks, made with real ingredients, are not only much better for the kiddos, but they’re not difficult to whip up either.
6 Tricks to Up Your Summer Homestead Hydration Game
- Add fruit to every day… Think citrus and melons (watermelon is 90% water, but cantaloupe and honeydew are also strong contenders), and add fruit to your drinks. Cut a little slit at the bottom of a strawberry or an orange wedge to garnish a glass, and turn any old drink into something they’ll be excited about. Or slice up some fruit and let it sit and infuse into a pitcher of water. Or–now we’re talking ultra-cool-mom level–freeze some fruit in ice cubes for the fanciest of hydration (especially if you combine this idea with #3).
- Use seltzer, with abandon… Change up any hydrating drink, from lemonade to kombucha to orange juice, by adding some bubbles (aka seltzer water). Hint: seltzer adds the soda-pop fizz to any of the drink recipes below for an added “wow.” My kids are instantly impressed if something is fizzy.
- Keep ’em cold without diluting the drinks … On a hot summer day, ice cubes turn even the best drinks into pretty-colored water very quickly. But if you prepare a pitcher of the drink in the a.m. and fill a few ice cube trays with the drink, voila, problem solved. And your drinks will not only be full strength, but they’ll be cold to the last drop.
- Change things up… Add in some no-sugar-added fruit juices, like white grape juice or orange juice, for unique mixes. You could also try something like this blueberry juice concentrate to mix things up and add pizzazz.
- Take Delicious Drinks on the Go… You don’t need to rely on silly drink pouches for convenience. Fill the kids up with fabulous immune-boosting drinks they love by just taking a few minutes to prepare them the night before and have them nice and cold in the fridge. Then fill up a thermal bottle (like this one), grab individual cups, and hit the road.
- Use the best ingredients… simple little things can turn a drink from nothing more than a sugary cup of empty into an antioxidant, immune-boosting little cocktail. Read on for some of the best ingredients in a hydrating drink.
Bonus: Boost your Cool Mom factor even more, and encourage your kids to stay hydrated, with some fun new straws, like reusable stainless steel ones, or fun patterned paper straws. These lids designed for drinking out of mason jars are pretty nifty, too. My kids will drink anything if it’s through a straw…
6 Ingredients Upgrades to Try in DIY Soda Alternatives
While soda has all those ingredients I can’t pronounce, and the average soda-loving person adds 17% more empty calories to their daily diet thanks to the fizzy pop (source), soda contains no essential nutrients. Not one little tiny bit.
Instead, try out some of my family’s favorite alternatives (recipes below). And have fun tweaking these recipes to match your family’s preferences. Here’s a list of some great ingredients you can try mixing into almost any pitcher of a DIY soda alternative:
Elderberry syrup… This delicious syrup, sweetened with maple syrup, adds lots of antioxidants and vitamins–from the berries as well as the maple syrup–that can give your immune system a huge boost. Make your own with this fabulous recipe and these dried berries.
Stevia leaves… This 100% all-natural sweetener option is so easy to use when brewing iced tea. Simply add just a little of the crushed stevia leaves (a little goes a long way, with stevia) to your tea leaves before you steep them. Bonus: using stevia adds zero calories. And these organic stevia leaves are the best price I’ve found, anywhere.
Honey… Many feel that raw, local honey honey may be a natural allergy remedy. (See more on that here.) This is the honey that I love. They’re a small, family owned company, which ya’ll know I love to support, *and* the code “JILL” will save you some cash at checkout. Sweet, right?
Maple syrup… Genuine maple syrup is 100% all-natural. This is the one I buy. It’s loaded with natural polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that help your body fight diabetes, germs, and inflammation. Listen in on this podcast episode for the full scoop on maple syrup as an ingredient you should use often in your kitchen. It’s quickly becoming my most-reached-for sweetener here on the homestead.
Fruit… Fresh or frozen fruit adds more sweetness, not to mention even more hydration. Score. (P.S. looking for flavorful frozen fruit at bulk prices? Azure Standard is a great source and where I buy most of my bulk food.)
Herbs… Herbs add a nice little kick, and fresh ingredients always top any artificial ones. Lavender and ginger pair nicely with lemonade, and mint is great in many drinks. If you grow your own herbs, I tip my hat to you all the more.
8 Healthy Alternatives to Soda
Steer your kids away from sugary, addictive drink that lead to poor health, even cancer (source), by experimenting with some of these delicious alternatives they’ll love:
1. DIY energy drinks
Energy drinks that you make yourself can be a fantastic source of electrolytes. Haymakers Punch, also called Switchel, was the gatorade of the 1800s (and, of course, all-natural goodness, unlike today’s sport’s drinks.) I share my Haymaker’s Punch recipe on page 222 of The Prairie Homestead Cookbook. Michelle Visser, author of Sweet Maple, and a member of The Prairie Homestead team, shares her family’s Maple Switchel recipe right here.
2. Fresh-squeezed lemonade
Lemonade is always a hit around here. Use maple syrup instead of refined sugar and you have a refreshing all-natural drink… Add 3/4 cups of maple syrup to 2 cups of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 5 cups of water.
3. Fruit-infused water
Water is always better with a little subtle fruitiness, yes? We have fun experimenting with what fruit we add and how much. One of my favorites is raspberry mint… Simply float the fruit and herbs in the water for many hours, to let the tastes infuse the water. It’s a very subtle, refreshing taste, and bonus, it sure is pretty.
4. Sweet iced tea
Iced tea can be a wonderfully delicious way to hydrate, especially if you’re choosing organic teas with no added sugars or coloring (and definitely no bleached bags, or ones made with microplastics). Skip pre-packaged, bleached tea bags and try organic sweet tea. While you can use the same teas found in many popular tea brands, the flavor is much better because you’re using the whole tea leaves (instead of the crumbs of leaves that they use in tea bags). And you’re using a steeper like this, so the leaves have room to “breathe” and create amazing flavor. Steep 1 TB Assam tea (I always buy the 1-lb bulk size) and 1/2 TB Nilgiri tea in a few cups of hot water. Stir in 3/4 cup of honey (or any sweetener of your choice– I’ve been using these dried stevia leaves lately) and add enough ice water to equal 3 quarts of iced tea.
If you’re like I was not long ago, before I met the delicious, organic, loose leaf teas over at the Positively Tea Company, and you think iced tea is always made with a standard black tea, oh boy do I have some more exciting recipes for you! Keep reading…
Oh, and if you want to try any of this amazing tea, right now if you use code HOMESTEAD you’ll save 10% off your entire order. But hurry!
5. Strawberry Rhubarb Tea
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1 TB dried mint
6 cups water
1/2 TB dried stevia leaves
3 TB black tea (I love this one in this recipe).
Heat the rhubarb, berries, mint, and water in an uncovered sauce pan, on high, until it comes to a boil. Then reduce to medium heat, stirring often, until rhubarb is mushy, about 8-10 minutes total. Remove from heat and add stevia leaves and tea leaves, cover pan, and let steep for a few minutes. Strain tea into a pitcher and serve cold.
6. Tropical Elderberry Tea
1 cup elderberry syrup
7 cups of water
Place the tea in a steeper and immerse in a few cups of hot water for many minutes. Remove steeper and add ice water until you have a total of 7 cups of this immune-boosting, delicious iced tea. Steep more tea leaves or add less water if you’d like the tea to taste stronger.
7. Green Tea Lemonade*
3 TB of this loose leaf tea (it’s lemonade with a green-tea kick)
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup orange juice
12 oz sparkling water
Strawberry, for garnish (optional, only for the days you want to be the really cool mom)
Steep the tea in hot water. If you’re a tea snob–I’m not–go with 180° for 3 or 4 minutes. It is kinda important because green tea is a little sensitive. If you steep it for too long, in too hot of water, it releases all it’s wonderfully good-for-you polyphenols too quickly and your tea tastes bitter. So as long as you use hot water, but not too hot, and don’t steep too long, you’re good. Stir in honey, OJ, and pre-chilled sparkling water and serve with a strawberry garnish. You can of course use less water or more tea, or any other ingredient here, if you like a stronger flavor.
*p.s. this and the two black teas above are caffeinated. All the rest of the tea recipes use caffeine-free teas.
8. Root Beer Seltzer
20 oz hot water
3 TB maple syrup
6-12 oz plain seltzer water
Steep tea leaves in hot water. Because this is rooibos tea, made from a hardy plant grown in Africa, it (unlike green tea) can be steeped a long time in boiling hot water and it will never become bitter tasting. Remove tea and stir in maple syrup. Then add the amount of sparkling seltzer that tastes best to you.
Recipe Notes for These Soda Alternatives
- Feel free to switch up what sweetener you try with any of these drinks, depending on what tastes your family loves or what you have on hand. These drinks are even delicious without any sweetener in my opinion.
- Take liberties. That’s the best part about DIY real food and drinks, right? You can totally customize the recipe to your family’s tastes.
- Many of these recipes for soda alternatives call for loose leaf tea. You can steep the leaves and strain them with any old strainer you have in your kitchen, or use a tea strainer, or use this handy strainer that also doubles as a strainer for cold brew coffee.
- When choosing teas for brewing, make sure you’re ordering organic loose leaf teas without any added sugars, colorings, or other junk. Every tea made at Positively Tea Company is organic, without any additives, and truly the best price I’ve found anywhere for this quality of tea. BONUS: I always buy the bulk size and get 4 times as much for only twice the price.
- Don’t forget, for a limited time, use code HOMESTEAD and take 10% off your entire order with Positively Tea Company (even off the discounted bulk prices)!
More healthy alternatives I think your family will love:
- From-scratch Peanut Butter
- 5-Minute Homemade Mayo
- Homemade Ketchup Recipe
- How to Bottle Kombucha at Home
- How to Use a Grain Mill to Make Your own Flour
Check out my Homestead Mercantile for all of my favorite homesteading supplies.