As a mother, I know just how hard it can be to make kids eat healthy. And as a nutritionist, I know just how important it is to keep trying. But what if they just won’t eat any vegetables (or too few to make it count)? Sadly, studies confirm what we knew all along: the diet of children across all ages falls very short of the RDA for fruits and vegetables.
Typically, it’s easier to get children to eat fruits. But vegetables are a whole new ballgame altogether. Especially the green ones.
What does this mean, and why should you care if you children eat enough fruits and vegetables?
Several studies have shown that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is essential to good health. The more a child eats fruits and vegetables, the healthier he or she is and better equipped to deal with mental and physical challenges in school. Not just that, but a diet high in fruits and vegetables is also essential to proper functioning of the immune system and we know just how important that is. Another important point is this. The more fruits and vegetables a child eats, the less he or she will be inclined to having unhealthy snacks (less hunger from eating healthy fruit and vegetable snacks, and less cravings). This is very important because childhood obesity is a major problem worldwide and is also linked with chronic diseases. Constipation is another reason kids need more fruits and vegetables in their diet – the fibre keeps them regular. I’ve seen too many parents distressed about their child not having had a bowel movement in days.
So what’s a parent to do? Just forget about it and let them eat whatever they want to?
Not so fast. There is a better way. Enter smoothies, but with caution.
Why caution? Simply because it’s very easy to make smoothies unhealthy. There is a delicate balance between healthy and unhealthy smoothies and it’s very easy to go wrong with them, especially when trying to please a child.
For instance, you want to steer clear of these smoothies:
What can go wrong with smoothies? It’s very easy to add too many fruits and too few vegetables. It’s actually more veggies we need to add to smoothies, especially the green ones because those are much harder to get a child to eat. Fruits are best eaten whole because of their natural sugar content, which is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream in a smoothie form. Now we all know that fruit juices are very unhealthy for this reason – the sugars are highly concentrated and the fibre is entirely removed. Smoothies do not get rid of the fibre, but they are broken down, making it more easily digestible than if the fruits were being chewed and eaten in their whole form. So it’s really important to add more vegetables and fewer fruits. Berries, however, help control blood sugar levels so you could add more berries to the smoothie instead of other fruits.
You also might be tempted to add in some extra sweetener in the form of honey or maple syrup, but try not to. Instead, you could add a little salt or lime juice to bring out the natural flavours of the fruits and vegetables and make the smoothie more palatable.
For extra nutrients and good fats, add some almond or peanut butter or even chia and flax seeds. Feel free to add some unsweetened yogurt as well for some extra protein (but no protein powder for kids).
In a nutshell. here are some simple things you can do to make a healthy, nutrient-dense smoothie for your little one:
1. Avoid store-bought smoothies and make your own from scratch since commercial smoothies can have high amounts of added sugar and unnecessary ingredients.
2. Add more vegetables and only a little fruit. Feel free to add berries. Please do not peel the skin of the fruits you use (except of course, bananas, kiwis, mangoes, etc).
3. Do not add any extra sugar or use ingredients with added sugar (such as fruit sorbets or flavoured, sweetened yogurt).
4. Add a tablespoon of nut butter or flax or chia seeds for some good fats.4. Add unsweetened yogurt or milk for some protein.
No matter how your child likes smoothies, continue to give vegetables to your children at snack or meal times so that they get familiar with the vegetables and understand that a healthy diet includes lots of coloured vegetables. Smoothies aren’t the only fruit and vegetable they need in the diet. A healthy smoothie (made following the pointers mentioned above) is an addition to a healthy diet, not a replacement.
Here’s some tips for making a healthy smoothie appealing to kids. Since we already know that sugar and sweeteners are out (making it not exactly easy to get little ones to taste and like the smoothies), here’s what I recommend:
- Ask your child what colour he/ she would like. Go smoothie-ingredient shopping with kids. Let them see and touch the colourful fruits and vegetables you’re going to add to the smoothie. Talk to them about why they are so good for your little one and how eating many of them can give him or her “super powers” such as having more energy, better eye sight, becoming stronger, etc.
- Make the smoothie making exercise a fun project involving the littles. Let them see how the yogurt, whole vegetables and fruit go in one at a time and eventually become liquid.
- Give them only a little at first while you take a bigger serving for yourself. Finish the entire serving and tell your child how good that made you feel. Let your child see you enjoying the smoothie. Some parents even find success by trying things themselves without first offering it to their child. When parents try things themselves, they find their children getting interested. When they do finally try a smoothie for the first time, let them get used to the taste and texture. It’s very unlikely that they will finish an entire serving right at the beginning. It will probably take a few exposures before your child becomes more interested in the smoothie.
- Do not get disappointed if your kids do not like the smoothie at first. It might be tempting to add some extra sugar to make it taste more appealing, but I would caution against it since it’s easy to add too much. Alternatively, you can make it a little sweet the first time your child tries the smoothie, and gradually make it slightly less sweet everyday (not too noticeable or they might just stop having it altogether).
Did you make smoothie for your kids? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!