Getting children to eat their vegetables is notoriously difficult. The reality is that french fries and garlic knots are always going to win over cauliflower and broccoli. Another famous challenge is convincing children to eat breakfast. It’s hard enough to get them up, dressed, and to school on time, which leaves little opportunity to win the breakfast battle.
This is particularly unfortunate since vegetables and breakfast are essential to your child’s health. Data shows that children who eat breakfast have better cognition, test results, and memory than those who don’t. Skipping breakfast may also result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies since children don’t usually make up for it later in the day. Inadequate vegetable intake is also associated with insufficient intake of vitamins A, C and dietary fiber, as well as excessive intake of fat, particularly saturated fat.
But what if there were a way to flip the script? In fact, what if there were a way to get children eating vegetables and breakfast all in one go? The answer: Smoothies. But not just any smoothie. Some smoothies can be hiding places for loads of unnecessary sugar and calories. However, if made strategically, a smoothie can be a powerhouse of protein, healthy fat, and even vegetables. Not only that, but it is an easy, no-cook breakfast that kids can drink on their way to school, turning that breakfast battle into a sure-fire victory.
So how do you make a smoothie that is nutrient-packed and won’t spike your child’s blood sugar? (Remember, a blood sugar spike inevitably leads to a crash. The trick is to slowly elevate the blood sugar so that your child feels energized for longer.) To build a better smoothie, simply follow the guidelines below.
Let’s start with the liquid base. We want to avoid anything innately high in fat or sugar so we can add other delicious goodness down the road. What do I recommend? One cup, or a combination of any of the following:
- Water, or ice if you want a thicker smoothie
- Low fat or skim milk
- Unsweetened non-dairy milk (e.g., nut, seed, or coconut milk)
Non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Choosing mild-flavored vegetables, like the ones listed below, will boost the nutrient density of the smoothie without imparting savory or funky flavors. I’d recommend you aim for at least one serving, but feel free to add even more!
- ½ cup cauliflower (frozen to make it extra thick)
- 1 cup summer squash (frozen to make it extra thick)
- 1 cup spinach (raw)
- 1 cup kale (raw)
Fruit. While fruit is a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, it is higher in sugar than vegetables. Therefore, I recommend keeping to one serving (maximum 2) of fruit to avoid sugar overload. One serving would be any of the following (recommended frozen for thickness):
- ½ banana
- 1 cup berries
- 1 cup cubed fruit (e.g., mango, pineapple, etc.)
Healthy Fat and Protein. To prevent a spike in blood sugar, always pair sugar and/or carbohydrates with a healthy fat or protein. They will help slow the digestion and absorption of sugar into the blood and keep your child feeling fuller for longer. These are all great options!
- ¼ avocado
- 3 oz silken tofu
- ¾ cup 0-2% plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup raw unsalted nuts
- 1 Tbsp nut/seed butter
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
Free Flavor! Adding in herbs and spices can amp up the flavor profile of your smoothie without adding any extra sugar or calories. These are some of my favorites.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
Additional Sweetness: If the smoothie is still not sweet enough for your child, you can add natural, unrefined sources of sweeteners to make it more palatable. Below are some great options.
- Maple syrup
- Sweet potato (steamed, peeled, and frozen)
And finally, here is an easy recipe to get you started, but I encourage you to experiment and get creative!
Banana Cauliflower Smoothie
Ingredients: (makes 2 smoothies)
- 1 banana, frozen
- 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup steamed then frozen cauliflower florets
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup, if necessary
- ice, if desired
- Place all ingredients, except maple syrup, into a high-speed blender and blend.
- Taste and add syrup if necessary.
- If you want a thicker consistency, add ice and blend.
Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight, and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents
Breakfast consumption affects adequacy of total daily intake in children
Fruit and Vegetable Intake in Young Children
About Allison Gross, MS, RDN, CDN
Allison Gross is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and earning a master’s degree at NYU, she completed her dietetic internship at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Allison now runs her own nutrition private practice and has developed a weight loss and wellness program called The 4Q Method.
However, Allison is not just a dietitian. She personally knows what it takes to make weight loss last, having embarked on her own weight loss journey at just 9 years old. As her professional career took shape, it pained her to see the prevalence of diet relapse, major weight fluctuations, and the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. She created The 4Q Method to end all that.
For more information, please visit: 4QMethod.com and for continuous wellness inspiration, you can follow her on Instagram at @4QMethod.