I’m going to get a bit personal in this post before I get to the recipes. Some background may inspire more of you to give this a try…

I started having periodic bone scans at an earlier age than usual. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends them generally for women starting at age 65 and for men at age 70, but earlier if you have certain risk factors for osteoporosis. My personal risk factors include being small (weighing less than 127 pounds, which makes weight-bearing exercise less effective at building bone)…having low thyroid…and now I’m post-menopausal.

I wasn’t surprised to find that I have mild osteopenia (low bone density), which of course puts me at risk for osteoporosis. There’s nothing “medical” to do at this point (and besides, my doctor knows that I prefer natural approaches for keeping my bones strong). She told me to keep up with my exercise (various weight-bearing aerobic and muscle workouts as well as yoga…plus I wear a weighted vest whenever I go for an exercise walk or am simply doing chores around the house; it’s a look!).

She also advised me to up my intake of calcium. I’m off dairy and don’t like taking calcium supplements, and so have made a concerted effort to drink more calcium-fortified almond milk, which I prefer to other nondairy milk substitutes. The calcium in the brands I buy is comparable to what’s in cow’s milk. (I also eat a lot of broccoli and butternut squash.)

I recently trained myself to put milk in my cereal—I grew up eating it dry, a habit I copied from my older brother. But I don’t have cereal every day for breakfast. My mission was to figure out something yummy that tastes great warm (in place of my first mug of tea) and that didn’t add a lot of calories. I do love my Maple-Mexican hot chocolate, but it’s about a tablespoon of maple syrup, which almost triples the calorie count (a cup of plain almond milk is 35 calories, and hot chocolate is about 100 calories). That’s fine once in a while, but not every day if I still want to have a sweet treat after dinner.

My parameters:

  1. Quick. I make this in the morning before I go to work, so I wanted something effortless and that didn’t dirty more than a mug, a spoon and my (reusable) to-go cup.
  2. Tastes good hot. When I’m not having a hot flash, I’m usually freezing-cold, and so I drink a lot of hot tea. In warm weather, I use almond milk in my smoothies or will even drink it plain. But drinking plain warm almond milk feels like a chore, and I want it to feel like a treat.
  3. Little-to-no added sweetener necessary. My limit is one teaspoon, be it honey or date honey or maple syrup. (I avoid table sugar due to a serious food sensitivity that makes me extraordinarily sleepy and itchy; I react similarly to agave syrup.) I don’t like artificial sweeteners, and I don’t like the bitter aftertaste of stevia, which many health experts tout as the best no-calorie choice. I love coconut sugar for baking, but not in my hot drinks.

My biggest epiphany through all of this is that flavor extracts add the best flavor and a negligible number of calories. I encourage you to experiment. There are lots of interesting extracts you can buy that I didn’t have handy (hazelnut, in particular, comes to mind). Adding a teaspoon of instant coffee is also tasty, but it seemed too un-gourmet to suggest. Wink wink.

My husband and two of my daughters served as taste testers. Eight options made it to the taste test. (My most disappointing fail was using tea to flavor the almond milk. Everything I tried was too bland.)

Now, without further ado, here are the five finalists. Adjust ingredients to taste. I’m sure these would work with any type of milk or milk substitute. Sweetener is not included in any of these except the last one—and is generally not even needed. They’re all good hot or cold. Enjoy!

Vanilla Mint: A dash each of vanilla extra and peppermint extract. Tastes like winter! I made this by accident one day—I’d meant to grab the almond extract. (Peppermint extract is delicious in hot chocolate too by the way.)

Cinnamond: A dash of almond extract and a shake of cinnamon

Orange Carda-Cin: A dash of orange extract, plus a shake each of cardamom and cinnamon. (This was the surprise favorite for my daughters.)

Vanillanise: A dash each of vanilla extract and anise extract. If you’re a black licorice fan, you’ll love it. (It was my husband’s favorite.) If you’re not, don’t even think of trying this one!

Honey Lemongrass: A shake of powdered lemongrass and a squeeze (or two) of honey. This has an earthier flavor than the others, and wakes up the taste buds in an interesting way.