An easy recipe for homemade jello with fruit - made with 100% fruit juice, fresh blueberries and strawberries. No artificial stuff here!
Also, read about why jello is a great snack for picky eater toddlers, how to use jello as a sensory and learning activity, and as part of feeding therapy for little ones.
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If you're just here for the jello with fruit recipe, you can scroll to the bottom to find the recipe card with instructions. But if you want to see what kind of fruit you should add (or shouldn't add!) to jello, or if you have a picky eater child, you might want to stick around and read the rest of the blog post.
This blog is about raising a toddler who is an extremely picky eater, and jello has been part of his food therapy for months now. It is one of the few foods that my son LOVED from the start, so I am glad I can make it at home for him. (By the way, if you're curious about feeding therapy for picky eating, I wrote about our experience here.)
Why Make Homemade Jello?
Most pre-made jello and jello mixes sold in stores have artificial flavors and colors. Homemade jello, on the other hand, can be made with all-natural fruit juice, which is a much healthier alternative to the fake stuff that has zero nutritional value. If your kids love jello, you probably want to fill them up with natural fruit juice instead of the funky artificial stuff. (More on jello and kids later, keep reading!)
Homemade jello is also cheaper than store-bought jello, especially if you buy the gelatin in bulk (such as here).
It's super easy to make homemade jello with unflavored gelatin and fruit juice. You can also add fruits for a bit of flavor, texture, and nutrition.
You can vary what kind of fruit juices you use to get different jello flavors. You can also use a mixture of fruit and vegetable juices for a bit of extra nutrition.
What kind of fruit to add to jello:
In this jello recipe I used fresh blueberries and diced strawberries. Lots of fresh fruits actually contain an enzyme that breaks down the protein in gelatin and prevents it from setting, so you don't want to use these fruits if they are fresh: papaya, pineapple, guava, kiwi, mango. (Source) These fruits are fine to use in jello if they are boiled or canned, but then you are not getting maximum nutrition out of them compared to fresh fruit. Why not make things simple and use fresh blueberries and strawberries?
What kind of juice to use for jello
You can use your favorite juice to make jello: apple, grape, or mixed berry juices are perfect! I would recommend checking the label to make sure you're getting 100% juice and not a "juice cocktail." You can also use a reduced sugar juice (or make your own by diluting with water), or a fruit+vegetable juice mix. Just watch out for the V8 juices - they market themselves as being super healthy and containing a serving of vegetables (which they do contain, to be fair), but they are usually only around 10%-35% juice and the rest is water + sugar + flavors.
Now that said, homemade jello made with juice is not as sweet as store-bought jello with lots of added sugar. In fact, homemade jello almost tastes less sweet than juice because you are expecting a super sweet sugary taste when you are about to eat jello. If you have a picky toddler who might not eat homemade jello at first, or you prefer a sweeter jello flavor, you have a couple of options:
- Add a tablespoon of sugar, honey, or agave syrup to the recipe.
- Start with a 1:1 ratio of pre-made store-bought jello and homemade jello, and reduce the amount of store-bought jello until your kid gets used to the taste. You can straight up melt jello and mix it into this recipe. Don't worry, it well gel up again. Just place a cup of store-bought jello into a bowl of hot water until it almost completely melts. Add it to Step 2 of the recipe so that it melts completely with the addition of the hot water. It's a hassle, but it's a good way to transition your kiddo to a healthier natural snack.
Is Jello vegetarian?
No, jello is not vegetarian because it is made from gelatin, which is a product of animal bones (think of bone broth and how it sets into a jello-like texture when cooled - that's from the gelatin). You can use gelatin made from grass-fed beef (such as this one here) if you prefer, but it's still not vegetarian.
A note about allergies: my son is allergic to beef, but he is OK to eat jello made with beef gelatin. Check with your doctor if your child has any beef or fruit allergies. You might also want to read this post: Food Allergy Testing in Babies.
How to make jello with unflavored gelatin
Making jello is super easy. You just need 2 essential ingredients: unflavored gelatin and fruit juice. Start by mixing a quarter cup of juice and a tablespoon of gelatin (that's one packet of the Knox gelatin, if you're buying it by the packet). Add a quarter cup of boiled water (or boiled fruit juice), stir, then add 1.5 cups juice. Mix well. You can add fresh fruit or a bit of sweetener if you like. Put it in the fridge to set and enjoy in about 2 hours. Easy!
Get the detailed instructions in a printable recipe card below.
You can pour the jello into cute jello cups (such as these), or into clean baby food jars like I did.
Jello for Picky Eaters
OK, now we are getting to the meat of this blog post: why jello might be good for your picky eater.
A lot of occupational therapists who do feeding therapy recommend bringing jello to the therapy sessions. This is because most babies and toddlers LOVE jello, and it doesn't require much chewing or eating skills. It is a good "treat" in between trying foods that might not be as pleasant for picky eaters.
So when our therapist told us to bring jello to the therapy session, I was appalled that I could not find ANY pre-made jello or jello mixes made with all natural ingredients. They ALL had artificial flavors and colors, and the mixes required the same amount of work to make at home as from-scratch jello. Seriously, what's even the point?? This is why I started making jello for my son. He absolutely LOVES it.
I recently started adding fresh fruit to jello (hence this recipe) because we are working on eating different textures with my son. Most picky eaters don't like mixed textures in their mouth, which is why casseroles and soups can be hard for them to eat. Same with jello - at first my son was reluctant to have a spoonful of jello AND fruit in his mouth. But with time he got used to eating them mixed together. So jello with fruit is in itself sort of a feeding therapy exercise. Jello with fruit can be a good first "mixed textures" food, since most kids like both of those things.
Jello as a Sensory Activity
Jello also makes for an amazing sensory activity. It's squishy, sticky, smushy, fun to play with, and tasty. Making a large batch of homemade jello is a lot more economical than buying jello in stores.
We use jello making itself as the sensory activity too! My son helps put the fruit into the liquid jello mixture. His hands get sticky (which he doesn't love!), so it's a great challenging sensory activity for him. He loves counting the fruit one by one, although recently he discovered that he can just dump the whole bowl of fruit into the jello mixture without touching the sticky fruit. Smart kid.
By the way, if you think your child can benefit from more sensory play, check out 52 weeks of Sensory. It's a year-long list of sensory activities I created with a focus on picky eaters. Join me for lots of fun sensory play! Learn more.
He will also try to fish out the fruit from the set jello, which is another good sensory activity. Getting your baby and toddler to participate in sensory activities and touch different textures with their hands helps them tolerate and enjoy those same textures in their mouth. This is why homemade jello is a WONDERFUL activity to make, play with, and eat with your baby or toddler.
Looking for more sensory activities revolving around food?
You Might Also Be Interested in These Other Posts for Picky Eaters:
- Using French Fries to expose your kid to new healthier flavors, textures, and foods
- 12 Low Sugar Highly Nutritious Fruits - a great list if your kid only eats fruits, but not vegetables
- Picky Eater Foods Worksheet - I use this to make a list of my son's preferred foods, plan what to feed him, and not feel so helpless when it feels like all he eats is rice and French fries
- Toddler-Approved Hidden Vegetable Recipes - these won't all work for all kids, but my picky toddler eats a few from this list!
- 10 Easy Activities for Super Active Toddlers - most of these require no set-up and can be done both indoors and outdoors
- How to Make Nutritious High Calorie Baby Food - this is not only for babies - pureeing fruits and vegetables can help supplement a picky toddler's diet too. I make these for my son every day!
- 1 package unflavored gelatin (1 tablespoon)
- 1 and ¾ cups fruit juice, divided
- ¼ cup water (or additional fruit juice)
- ¼ cup each blueberries and diced strawberries
- Add ¼ cup fruit juice to a mediul bowl. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the juice and let it sit for a minute. Use a whisk to stir the gelatin into the juice. It won't be 100% smooth yet.
- Add ¼ cup boiling water (or boiling juice) to the bowl and whisk carefully to completely dissolve the jello.
- Add the remaining juice (1.5 cups) and mix well.
- Pour into 4 small containers. Divide the berries equally between the containers. Place in the fridge to set for 1.5 - 2 hours. Serve chilled, or let it sit at room temperature for 5 minutes to soften a bit.
If you don't want to dilute the juice with water, boil ¼ cup fruit juice in a small saucepan and use it in step 2.
If you think your kid is used to sweeter jello and will not like jello from fruit juice, stir in 1 tablespoon sugar or honey in step 3. Gradually reduce the amount of sweetener you use every time you make this jello with fruit.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 60Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 42mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 6g