I've had a few questions about this topic, so I thought it would be a helpful thing to discuss. Smoothies for kids... what to put in them, protein powder or no protein powder, how to avoid so much natural sugar from fruit... the list goes on. I love incorporating smoothies into my day, and especially for my one year-old, because I can pack a whole lot of nutrients in one small glass. She goes crazy for them, and I feel like it starts off her day with a boost of good, nutritious energy.
I'm not a nutritional expert by any means, and these questions don't just have one right answer, but here are some of my tips for building smoothies for kids. Remember this post I'm specifically talking about smoothies for kids. (If you ever want me to do a post about smoothies for adults and what I include in my smoothies, let me know!)
1. Start with ingredients you know they'll love:
My little Ellie loves bananas and eats them by the whole every day. I always know if I throw half a frozen banana in there, it has a strong enough flavor to pop out over some of the other things, and she'll gulp it down. When I'm doing a fruit smoothie or even a chocolate/peanut butter smoothie, I almost always add a half of a frozen banana to the mix. Any time she hears the Blendtec going, she always comes over to see what I'm making. I think she secretly hopes it's going to be a smoothie. Now that I have her hooked, I feel like I can add in some more of the foods she might not have liked in the beginning (spinach, carrots, chia seeds, etc.). I usually just make sure the consistency is runny enough to easily sip through her straw on her sippy cup. Sometimes she can get frustrated when it's too thick. :)
2. Watch the quantity:
This is something I often tell adults. If you to take everything you just put into your smoothie and spread it out on a plate... would you eat that much? Would you really eat an entire banana, handfuls of other frozen fruit, yogurt, honey, chia seeds, half a plate of spinach, etc in ONE sitting??? I don't think so! I used to have a coworker who came into work with the most giant green fruit smoothie I've ever seen. Some people would say, "Geez, you're always eating so healthy." In my mind, all I was thinking was, 'I wonder if she really understands how much food and sugar she is eating for breakfast right now.' Fruit contains a lot of natural sugar, so try to keep it limited in your smoothies. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE our fruit smoothies around here, but just be conscious of how much you're putting in. It helps me to imagine it out on a plate, and keeps my portions more controlled.
3. Make it a family thing:
When I make Ellie a smoothie, I am having one too. She tends to drink the whole thing when she knows I am by her side drinking it with her. She is really into doing "cheers" right now and banging her cup into mine before she takes a sip, so I happily oblige. I truly believe that eating healthier is something that would be so hard to do alone. If you involve your entire family in the process and get those kids involved, it becomes something fun for everyone. Get them involved. Have them make smoothie bags with you to put in the freezer on meal prep day, have them choose and experiment with different flavors, put on "Smoothie Week" at your house where each kid gets to choose a flavor of smoothie to try... be creative! Make it fun, and your kids are bound to get on board.
4. Play "Hide 'n Seek" with the greens and veggies:
I always add greens or some sort of vegetable to Ellie's smoothies, and I don't think she'll ever know. The darker the greens, the more nutritious. I usually use spinach and sometimes kale. I love it because I'll buy it for the week for my salads, and freeze all the leftovers. It lasts in the freezer for weeks, and I will always add a handful in. If you have picky eaters, there's your chance to sneak in some good veggies. I also have tried adding carrots, celery, kale, cucumbers, and ginger. Give it a try and be brave!
5. Smoothie popsicles:
If it's a "texture thing" for your kids, try smoothie popsicles! All you need are those cheap popsicle molds you can get at the dollar store. Make your smoothies, pour them in, and enjoy them frozen. I mean, what kid can argue with getting a popsicle for breakfast? I don't know of many who would. This also might make it easy to grab on the go, especially if you have kids running late for school in the morning.
6. BE CREATIVE and mix it up:
I hardly ever make the same smoothie twice in a week. I love to experiment. Some are better than others, but you never know until you try! Some things we like to add are healthy fats like natural nut butters: peanut and almond butter and avocados. Some of our favorite fruits to add to smoothies are bananas, mangos, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, and pomegranates. When I do fruit smoothies, I usually add greens, some plain non-fat Greek yogurt to the mix, water, ice, a small scoop of chia seeds and a small scoop of frozen orange juice concentrate. I never use juice for my liquid base- too much sugar. Opt for water or almond milk. When I do chocolatey or peanut butter smoothies, I love adding a small amount of raw cacao and almond milk, a half a frozen banana, a scoop of peanut butter or powdered peanut butter (less fat and good amount of protein), and ice to thicken. I've heard mixed things about raw cacao in young children. My advice is if you want to use it, use it in smaller amounts. Also, honey is something that is not recommended for children under age one, so sweeten it up with fruit instead.
7. Build it in style:
START WITH A LIQUID:
I like starting with a liquid because it goes in at the base of my blender where I know my blender will mix more easily when it's at the bottom. I'd try to avoid fruit juices for your liquid and opt for milk, almond milk, water, or coconut water.
CHOOSE YOUR NUTRITIOUS CONTENT FOR TEXTURE:
To get some creamy texture, try adding some nonfat plain Greek yogurt, avocado, nut butters, frozen fruit, vegetables, and/or ice. I find that when I add too much ice, my smoothie is more grainy. I like mine creamier and so I go easy on the ice and I usually add it in the end if the smoothie needs some thickening but I don't want the extra calories.
Sweeteners fall under this category. Sometimes my smoothie just isn't quite sweet enough and so I'll add a drop of vanilla stevia, or some pure maple syrup, or some honey. These can enhance the flavor quite a bit with only a small amount. I've even heard of people adding a dash of real sea salt for some healthy minerals.
I usually always sprinkle some chia seeds on top for extra fiber (this can be especially great for any of your kids who struggle with constipation). Other add-ons we like are unsweetened coconut, oats, and ground flaxseed.
Here's my deal with protein powder for kids.. first of all, this topic is very controversial in the health and nutrition industry. Bottom line: every kid is different, and there are TONS of different kinds of protein powders out there. My advice is to ask your pediatrician what they would recommend. If they don't know, they'll refer you to someone who does. You might have a teenager who is engaged in competitive sports and expending a huge amount of energy throughout the day... they might benefit from some extra protein. Some kids require higher amounts of protein, even than adults, and some kids require much less. I have a cousin whose son has PKU or Phenylketonuria and needs to limit his protein intake drastically throughout the day or else it leads to serious health problems. So bottom line: ask your doctor.
I've let Ellie have some of my smoothies with protein powder in them before, but most times I leave hers without and I'll add it in mine when I feel I want it. That's just my personal philosophy. There's nothing wrong with an occasional smoothie that includes a scoop of protein powder in it, but the problems occur when that becomes the only source your kids are getting their protein from. Our whole foods can and should give us all the protein we need throughout the day, and that's the best source we can get it from: eggs, nut butters, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. So for Ellie's smoothies, I stick with whole foods for protein rather than protein powder.
I hope this post was helpful for some of you. Good luck with your smoothie-making and let me know how it goes!!