In March 1970, McDonald’s introduced its homage to St. Patrick’s Day: a pale green sweet treat called the Shamrock Shake. Since its creation, the Shamrock Shake has morphed into a seasonal icon, spawning countless copy cats and generating an avid following. The problem is that, like most items on fast food menus, it isn’t especially healthy.

According to nutrition information found on the McDonald’s website, a small Shamrock Shake contains 460 calories, 13 grams of fat (8 of them saturated fat), 63 grams of sugar and 150 milligrams of sodium. But, that doesn’t mean that the nutritionally-conscious or those on restricted diets must forgo one of springtime’s most anticipated culinary creations. Caregivers and seniors alike can enjoy a healthier, homemade version of this iconic drink.

The Secret to a Senior-Friendly Shamrock Shake

Making sure your loved one eats a well-rounded diet can be tricky. While many nutritionists warn that highly-processed meal replacement shakes are not an ideal source of nutrition for aging adults, homemade smoothies and shakes can be a wonderful snack for a person who has trouble swallowing or specific dietary needs. The key is to make sure that you only use elder-friendly ingredients. “Making your own shakes can also save a lot of money,” says Ruth Frechman, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here is a recipe for Frechman’s healthy take on McDonald’s minty creation:

  • 6 ounces plain, low-fat yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
  • All-natural sweetener to taste
  • 2-3 drops green food coloring (if desired)
  • 5-7 ice cubes

Directions: Toss all the above ingredients into a blender and blend until the mixture has achieved the desired thickness. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Healthful Modifications

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a homemade shake will taste the same as the fast-food version, but it’s certainly a healthier option.

Replacing the reduced fat vanilla ice cream used by McDonald’s with a yogurt and milk combination cuts down on the fat, increases the amount of bone-strengthening calcium and adds digestion-regulating probiotics. Opting for one percent milk can save even more calories, Frechman advises.

Using a small amount of natural sweetener, such as raw honey, agave nectar or Stevia significantly reduces the amount of sugar and calories in the treat. It also makes this shake more diabetes-friendly because these sweeteners have low glycemic indexes, meaning they won’t cause dangerous blood sugar spikes.

Of course, this recipe (while healthy and yummy) is still somewhat plain. There are ways to customize this basic formula to better fit your loved one’s specific nutritional needs. Here are a few examples of nutritious add-ins you can use to jazz up this shake and add extra health benefits:

  • Promote bone health. Eating a diet that is adequate in calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. Adults 50 years and older should consume anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Depending on which brands you buy, the six-ounce serving of yogurt and 3/4 cup of milk in the recipe above can pack anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of this amount.
    To be fair, a large Shamrock Shake provides 60 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium, but it comes with 800 calories and 113 grams of sugar.
    Adding a cup of spinach to the shake contributes additional calcium and vitamin K, another nutrient that helps prevent bone loss. “Spinach can be used to give the shake a naturally gorgeous green color, instead of adding artificial coloring,” says Frechman. It may sound unappetizing, but spinach has little effect on the taste of most smoothies and milkshakes.
  • Healthy weight gain. It’s not uncommon for elders to struggle to maintain a healthy weight as they age, and there are many reasons why they may not be eating properly. Seniors often lose their appetites due to side effects of medications, chewing problems, reduced senses of taste and smell, and digestive issues. Unfortunately, being underweight can cause a host of health problems. Introducing sources of healthy fats is a great way to increase a senior’s caloric intake and stabilize their weight. To easily add “good” fats to the above recipe, you can use full-fat yogurt, throw in half of an avocado for a creamy source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, or grind up a handful of almonds or other nuts in the food processor and then mix them into the finished shake.

What kind of add-ins would you use in your DIY Shamrock Shake?