Homemade popsicles are a year-round essential at our house and come with dozens of health and eco-benefits over buying store-bought popsicles. For example, homemade ice pops are zero waste, while store-bought pops come with sticks, wrappers and boxes and bonus, they're free from icky ingredients. You can make ice pops for everyone from babies to kids to adults and popsicles are so easy to make that they're a great starter way to get kids into the kitchen. Homemade popsicles also cost far less per batch than store bought organic pops and make the perfect low-cost dessert or snack. Plus you can easily use up your leftover food by making pops, thus also cutting down on food waste - seriously at my house the kids will eat ANYTHING so long as I freeze it and call it a popsicle. I've made squash and carrot pops, spinach pops, sweet potato pops, pops with leftover yogurt and oatmeal, tomato pops and more. The kids gobble them up. There are so many benefits to homemade pops that once you get started, you'll wonder why you ever purchased store-bought pops in the first place. Popsicle benefits aside, there is a slight ice pop learning curve. You'll need to learn about the best molds, how to avoid rock hard pops, which ingredients to choose and more. Get started with the tips and tricks below.
Go Organic and Healthy
Making homemade ice pops offers some major health benefits for your kids, like fewer added sweeteners, zero artificial colors and no questionable added chemicals. However, homemade ice pops are only as healthy (or non-healthy) as you make them. If all you’re doing is freezing fruit juice packed with corn syrup or Jello, well, you can do better. Choose healthy whole food ingredients like fresh produce, tofu, teas and organic yogurt not fake juices and sugary kid foods like pudding and Jello. Also choose organic ingredients for your homemade popsicles whenever possible. Organic ingredients for ice pops don’t have to break the bank. Use the tips below to save on healthy, organic popsicle ingredients.
- Buy in season organics. For instance, don’t attempt to make watermelon popsicles in the dead of winter.
- Buy Dirty Dozen produce in organic form before other produce.
- Use those leftovers! Puree and freeze half eaten bananas, leftover orange segments, the bottom of the lemonade pitcher and so on.
- When organics go on sale, stock up and freeze them. If you buy organic berries in the summer and freeze them, you’ve got year-round popsicles in the making.
Invest in Reusable Popsicle Molds
Anyone can pour juice into a paper Dixie cup, pop a stick in and call it a popsicle. However, this doesn’t result in eco-friendly ice pops. All those little paper cups and sticks end up in the landfill and result in ongoing popsicle costs. You can do better. Invest in some eco-friendly, BPA-free ice pop molds. There are tons of excellent BPA-free molds on the market. If you’re unclear about what features to look for, find popsicle molds that are non-toxic and free from BPA and other chemicals. You’ll also want to purchase molds that are dishwasher-friendly and single serve if possible. Having single serve molds around allows your kids easy access to ice pops and allow you to pop out popsicles one at a time vs. holding an entire tray of popsicles under running water. Also make sure you buy molds with reusable handles – all those wooden sticks add up in the landfill over time. See some top BPA-free popsicle mold picks below.
- Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Molds – good for adults and big kids
- Tovolo Rocket Pops – smaller than the Groovy set, thus better for younger kids.
- Stainless Steel Popsicle Molds – plastic-free but need wooden sticks (a downside).
- Freshfoods Fill & Freeze Pops – perfect tiny ice pop molds for babies and toddlers.
- Norpro Silicone Ice Pop Maker Set – great for making frozen yogurt squeeze pops.
Invest in Ice Pop Equipment
If you’re new to popsicle making, you’ll need some basic equipment – but it won’t cost you much. Over the last 10 years I’ve paid about $100 for ALL my popsicle equipment (not counting ingredients), which is a super bargain. We eat popsicles year round, and a box of organic store-bought ice pops can easily cost $4-5. If you buy one box a week, that’s about $2,340 vs. the $100 I spent. Homemade even beat cheap artificial popsicles, which are around $2 a box, or $1,040 over the years. First, as discussed above, invest in some really nice ice pop molds. Don’t go for cheap dollar store molds. Quality molds are safer and pay for themselves over time because they last forever. A blender is not absolutely necessary, but it does make homemade popsicles way easier and allows you to make more complex ice pop flavors. Don’t spend a lot on a blender though. I’ve been using the same $30 blender for over 10 years, and it works just fine, considering we make ice pops all the time. Other nice popsicle equipment to have includes a little coffee bean grinder so you can chop up nuts, oats and herbs for more nutritious ice pops, a decent spatula and if you’re short on freezer space (like me) a little extra freezer shelf. Also get some decent popsicle recipe books. I like the books below best…
- Pops!: Icy Treats for Everyone
- Ice Pop Joy
- Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas
Use the Correct Amount of Sweetener
Newbie popsicle makers often think ice pops are as simple as pouring apple juice (or god forbid Kool-Aid) into a mold and freezing away. However, if you freeze plain old liquids, you’ll end up with rock hard ice pops that lack flavor and your kids won’t like them. Sure, it’s wise to limit sugar, but not at the expense of popsicle quality. Think about ice cubes, which are pure frozen liquid and not flaky or soft, but rock hard. That’s the same deal with pure liquid ice pops. What your goal should be are ice pops that offer crunch, but also a bit of icy flakiness. To get the perfect popsicle consistency you usually need to add a sweetener. You can use plain granulated organic sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave or nectar. Play around with the amounts, to see how sweet different sweeteners make your pops. If your goal is truely no added sugar pops, you have a few choices. You can make whole fruit pops by simply pureeing sweet fruits (like watermelon or oranges) or use a yogurt, vegan gelatin, organic milk or tofu base, which are more creamy, thus resulting in softer popsicles naturally. Note that the sweeter the fruit, the less sugar you need. For example, melon can usually be frozen as is, while pureed pears freeze up harder if you don’t add a sweetener.
Avoid Sticky Freezers
A common issue surrounding homemade popsicles are sticky, messy freezers. This is one perk store-bought pops have over homemade – the wrappers keep your freezer tidy. Still, you can cut down on the sticky mess with the following tips.
- Never overfill your molds. Ice pop mixtures expand as they freeze, spilling out of the mold and into your freezer. Always leave a bit of space at the top when filling your molds.
- Use decent ice pop molds that won’t crack vs. cheap molds.
- Leave even more room when freezing soda. We don’t make soda ice pops often, but once in a while we will make root beer float pops (blend one can of organic root beer, one scoop organic vanilla ice cream and 1 cup organic milk). These are yummy, but soda is bubbly and really expands. First, you should open your can one hour before you make your pops, and allow the soda to get flat. Then leave extra room at the top when filling your molds.
- Get a freezer bin. No matter how much room you leave at the top of your molds, opening and shutting the freezer door allows warm air in which unfreezes your ice pops somewhat, meaning, some liquid will drip out. As you can see in the photo above, I take my ice pop, once frozen, and place them in a small plastic bin. Not only does this keep drips confined, but it makes it easy for kids to grab a popsicle.
Be Creative & Document Your Efforts
Boring ice pops are well, boring. Sure you can easily puree some berries and pour them into a mold, but why not be more creative? Experiment with flavors and aesthetics to encourage optimal ice pop enjoyment at your house. Try oddball flavors like pureed carrots, spinach and orange juice or practice making layered ice pops. You can add nutritional texture ingredients to ice pops as well, such as granola, chunks of fresh fruit, chopped nuts, grated coconut, wheat germ and much more. You can brighten pops with a splash of natural food coloring. Try to keep it fun and creative. If you mess up a batch, so what? It’s just one batch. Lastly, be aware that the only thing worse than a boring or icky ice pop is the best ice pop ever that you can’t remember how to make again. Be sure to document your ice pop concoctions in a kitchen notebook. This way you can remember your ice pop fails and your major successes. For example, my son and I made some AMAZING sparkling pink grapefruit and citrus strawberry ice pops. My mind being crammed with parent stuff as it is, it’s unlikely I’d remember how to make these again if left to my own memory devices. Luckily, I documented the process and now we can make these pops again and again. Look to recipe books or check out more creative ice pop recipe ideas via the links below.
- Tropical pina colada ice pops
- Watermelon popsicles
- Strawberry ice pops – two ways
- Freeze berry smoothies into popsicles
- 30 homemade popsicle recipes to cool you off this summer
- 100 homemade organic popsicle recipes
All images © Jennifer Chait