A smoothie seems like a no-brainer way to get tons of good nutrition in a portable, kid-friendly package. It can be--but make sure to avoid these common pitfalls:
Mistake #1: Too much juice
It's easy to go heavy-handed with juice, but even the 100 percent kind should be limited for kids. The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics advise no more than 4 ounces (a half-cup) of juice for toddlers each day, no more than 4-6 ounces for ages 4-6, and no more than a cup for older kids. That's because fruit juice is a concentrated source of calories and natural sugar—and it doesn't have the fiber of whole fruit.
Fix: Choose water, dairy milk, or plant-based milk as the liquid base instead. If you need extra sweetness, use just a splash of 100 percent juice or include an especially sweet whole fruit such as pineapple, apple, or banana.
Mistake #2: Not enough protein
If a smoothie is mostly fruit and juice, it's going to be digested pretty quickly—leaving your kid still hungry. If you're counting on a smoothie to serve as a meal or filling snack, be sure there's something in it that satisfies.
Fix: Use a protein-rich liquid as a base, like dairy milk or a protein-rich plant based milk such as soy or pea (keep in mind that most almond milks are low in protein). Or include protein-rich ingredients such as yogurt, nut butter, walnuts, or even tofu. Remember that some plant-based milks are sweetened, so always check labels, suggests Jenna Helwig, Parents' Food Editor and author of Smoothie-licious.
Mistake #3: Floating green bits
Putting leafy greens and other veggies into smoothies is a good way to squeeze in veggie servings, but floating bits of veg don't make for an appealing smoothie!
Fix: For starters, be sure your blender is powerful enough to pulverize (if you're in the market for a new one, here are pros and cons on some popular models). Blending your leafy greens and liquid first before adding the rest of your ingredients can also help. And keep in mind that baby spinach tends to blend more easily than kale, says Helwig.
Mistake #4: Oversized portions
I hear a lot of parents complain that their kids leave half their smoothies behind. Truth is, smoothies can be very filling, so some kids may not be able to drink a big glass.
Fix: Downsize smoothie portions or repurpose the leftovers by pouring it into ice pop molds or into ice cube trays for future smoothies—when you need a smoothie, just pop some cubes into a glass and let it melt.
Mistake #5: Unappetizing veggie combos
Green smoothies are trendy (and nutritious), but are yours going un-slurped? The flavor may not be appealing. "No kid wants a smoothie that tastes like a salad," says Helwig.
Fix: Balance veggie flavors with a pop of sweetness from whole fruit or a pitted Medjool date for a caramel flavor. Spinach is a less bitter leafy green than kale, and Helwig also recommends frozen cauliflower, a mild veggie that blends well. "Bright fruits like frozen raspberries or dragonfruit help keep drinks pink, even when there's a handful of spinach in the mix," she says. "And when it doubt, add some cocoa powder. It makes every smoothie look like a chocolate milkshake!"
Looking for the perfect smoothie combo? Here's Helwig's smoothie formula:
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of the new book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.