Smoothies for picky children

By Mir
January 14, 2010

The lovely Michele writes:

You mentioned last week that your kids love smoothies. I ordered the protein powder that was on special at Amazon last week and now I’m wondering what to do with it – can you share your favorite smoothie recipes, please?

This isn’t my usual sort of deal topic, but I’m sort of a smoothie fanatic, so I’m happy to talk about this until the cows come home. (Full disclosure: I have no idea if cows like smoothies.) My kids, collectively, have been gracious enough to present me with the following issues at various points: Picky eating, new braces (and mouth pain), reluctance to eat in the morning, vegetarianism (and the need for getting creative about nutrients), sensory issues, and an extreme need for a fast/simple breakfast.

Smoothies have proven a success on every front, and now even the dog goes and sits down by the kitchen table when I turn the blender on—she knows it means breakfast is almost ready.

So, yeah, I have a few things to say about smoothies. Let’s have a bit of a smoothie primer, shall we?

To me, smoothies are all about packing nutrition into a small space. The good news is that it’s pretty hard to mess it up, and also that a certain basic nutritional base works with virtually any fruit you feel like adding.

Every smoothie I make for the kids now contains the following ingredients:

Juice. You will burn out the motor in your blender if liquid isn’t the first thing into the carafe. (Go ahead; ask me how I know this….) Every morning I start with some orange or grapefruit juice, because that’s what my kids like. You could use any juice you want. You could also use milk, but I find the acidity of a citrus juice is the best for covering some of the other elements in the combinations we usually make.

Spinach. The next thing I add is several handfuls of fresh spinach. Don’t panic! Spinach is magical; not only does it pack a nutritional wallop, it pretty much disappears when blended with fruit and juice. I promise. You could also use heavier greens like chard or kale. I like spinach because I can buy a few (prewashed) bags at the store every week and just toss it in. Note: If you have a kid who’s going to be grossed out by spinach, you must add red or blue berries to your mix to avoid ending up with a green smoothie. Using light-colored fruits only (banana, peach, mango, pineapple) will yield a green drink. It’ll be a delicious green drink, but if the green is going to be a problem, just keep that in mind. (Both my kids love spinach, and think it’s hilarious when the smoothies come out green.)

Salba. Salba—also known as chia seeds (yes, as in Chia Pets!)—is a miracle food. They should hire me as their ambassador; I tell everyone about salba. You can read up on it here, but here’s the Cliff Notes: Salba has “6 times more calcium than whole milk, 3 times more iron than spinach, the potassium content of 1.5 large bananas, 15 times more magnesium than broccoli, as much vitamin C as 7 oranges, and 3 times the antioxidant capacity of blueberries! On top of that, salba contains natural folate, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and vitamin A and has more protein than soy.” Depending on what’s on sale when I need more, I buy either the Navitas Naturals or the Salba Smart brand. (The Navitas is definitely the most cost-effective, but the seeds are black like poppy seeds, whereas the more expensive Salba Smart is a lighter color and easier to hide. If you’re worried about concealing it, spend the extra money. Otherwise, the Navitas is fine.) Salba is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is “brain food” particularly for growing children, and is one of the few abundant natural sources other than fish. Most vegetarians are lacking in this crucial nutrient—daily salba takes care of my favorite resident veggie.

Bonus tip: If you need to hide the salba, start with fruits that have tiny seeds (that will make the salba indistinguishable). That means strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.

Fruit. Next comes some sort of fruit. I do buy bags of frozen fruit at the grocery store; I also cut up and freeze my own bananas (be sure to add a little citrus juice to prevent browning) regularly, as well as stocking up on fresh fruits in-season and putting them in the freezer when I can. (I.e., when mangos are cheap, I needn’t buy frozen.) We’ll talk about fruit combos in a minute, but I’ll confess here that I always add banana for bulk/nutrition.

Yogurt. The last thing I put into the blender is yogurt. For the kids I use an all-natural low-fat vanilla, and for myself I use unflavored fat-free plain. Sometimes I use plain for the kids, and then I generally add a little honey to sweeten it.

Now, I have to tell you—this is the mixture we’ve been using since school started up again in August, and I think it’s plenty delicious, and it’s certainly healthful, just as it is. But when that Designer Whey Protein was on sale at Amazon I bought a jug and have since started adding a scoop to our smoothies. Now? They taste like milkshakes. The kids can’t get enough. This is one of the few protein powders I’ve found that isn’t loaded with chemicals (it’s sweetened with stevia rather than sucralose or aspartame), and I’m a believer. (Note: The previous deal on that powder is gone now, but you can still get it almost as cheap on Amazon through Vitamin Shoppe right now.)

Okay, so that’s the basic smoothie recipe. As for variations, here’s a few we like:

bananas + raspberries
bananas + strawberry
bananas + mangoes
Okay, fine, bananas + anything (you caught me)
mangoes + pineapple
cherries or peaches + a tiny bit of almond extract
raspberries + blueberries + blackberries
banana + your favorite nut butter (make sure you have plenty of liquid for this, and I find this combo works better with milk than juice) (earn huge amounts of bonus mom points by adding a squirt of chocolate syrup to this one)

Are you sensing a theme, here? Other than the occasional bit of almond extract or a tablespoon of sunbutter, I pretty much just throw fruit in the blender and see what happens. It’s really, really hard to get it wrong. Play around.

Now—go forth and slurp!


  1. And you do this in a Blendtec blender, right? Or a Vitamix?

  2. Ha I wish! Saving up for one, but currently I’m using an Oster. I already told you about it.

  3. Wow. I thought I knew a thing or two about smoothies, but I’ll confess to never ever having heard of salba. Gotta check that out. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Wow, salba sounds awesome! And I will have to try the spinach thing as well.

  5. Wow – that is a very complete smoothie. Might try these on the very picky husband, thanks for the cheat sheet!

  6. Ha, I’m drinking my morning smoothie (vanilla soy milk, banana, frozen strawberries) as I read this. Salba? Amazon Prime, do your free delivery magic!

  7. Thank you wise and pretty Mir, I suck at the smoothie making. My hubby has to do it but I think I’m going to surprise him next time!

  8. Thank you for the recipes pretty Mir! I thought I was doing good with a banana, some milk and a few strawberries for my picky kids’ smoothies. Going over to amazon to check out that Salba right now….

  9. I was going to point out that salba is an overpriced chia, but checked your links and the Navitas on is for chia. 🙂 When you get your VitaMix go ahead and stick with the less expensive black seeds — they will be pulverized and in no way visible in the finished smoothie.

  10. Excellent, Mir!!! Thanks for all the great info. Hubby has decided that smoothies are the way to go for breakfast, and I was at the end of my creativity… I’m ordering both the protein powder and the salba!

  11. thanks for this information! i have found it hard to find protein powder without extra ingredients.

  12. How much salba? And how many calories is that? 🙂

  13. Salba is 35 calories per tablespoon, Steph. 😉 I just throw some in; probably 1-2 tablespoons for 2 kids’ worth.

  14. You’ve inspired me to crack open one of the jars of peaches I canned this past fall. Peach smoothie, anyone?

  15. Funny, but you know what else is yummy in smoothie?
    zucchini! seriously! Try it.
    Awesome ideas. I’m printing this one!

  16. I am not a smoothie kind of guy, but sure sounds good the way you describe it. I think, however, that you need to make up a big batch and let your faithful readers try some…. what was that?? cant ship it? too expensive? too many? dont want to host a smoothie “kegger” at CasaMir with random internets? Pshaw… no sense of adventure…. 🙂 LOL

  17. OK, I have to put a plug in for the Vita-Mix blender. My hubby gave me one for my 40th b-day (Yes, I asked for it!). In 6 weeks I’ll be 50, & even with 7 kids using & abusing it for 10 yrs, it is still going strong. Only loss has been the centerpiece knob for the rubber cover/lid, which is polyurethane (or something). It popped into the blades one day & got a bit chipped/cracked up, so I just don’t use it anymore. It has proven to be one of our better kitchen investments since we love to make drinks out of pulverized ice.

  18. Mir, could salba & mila (also a seed) be 2 different names for the same thing? I looked up my stats on my mila & they are almost exactly the same as what you cited for salba. I have a bag of mila seeds sitting here which I have never tried, but will do so in my next smoothie, thanks to you!

  19. Ooooh, I have some frozen shredded zuchini I’ve been wondering what to do with.

    A hand blender also works well for smoothies. Clean up is fast and easy.

  20. Wow! When I asked the question, I certainly wasn’t expecting all of that! Thank you so much! My kids just came home from school and I can’t wait to get in the kitchen and make up a delicious new afternoon snack – can’t wait! You’re awesome!

  21. OMG this is awesome! Thanks so much for this post Mir! Can’t wait to make some smoothies!

  22. Ahhh, now I know why you said protein powder:). How do we really know the salba is working???? I also wonder how many calories all of the juice plus this plus that would add up to be? By then, could I just go ahead and have the milkshake????

  23. Delicious. My teen got hooked on smoothies last summer when he worked in an organic foods co-op.

  24. Thanks!

  25. May be a silly question – but do you throw the fruit in still frozen? Any blenders blowing up on that? I have a Magic Bullet – I have been making smoothies for my breakfast for a long time (milk, banana, peanut butter) – but I am inspired to try this. Mostly because of the spinach, but I’ll try some of that salba also! See if my picky 5-yr-old beats this!

  26. Whoa, I odered Salba yesterday (see message #6) and here it is, less than 24 hours later! Oh Amazon Prime, you are a mighty temptress…

  27. Mir, thanks for the great post about smoothie ideas! I’ve been looking to up my daughters morning nutrition and this is it. I’ve never thought of putting spinach in her smoothie and we will try that. I bought some Designer Whey Protein (chocolate flavor) at Walmart last wekk and have been using it after exercising. I made a smoothie that tasted like a milkshake…it was so good (banana, FF vanilla yogurt, skim milk and 1 scoop of the powder). What I love about it is that is completely dissolves unlike other protein powders I’ve had. Now, I’ll check out the Salba…

  28. Thanks for the great tips! We do smoothies at our house with whey protein ($42 a large container – yikes!!) I like to use frozen mixed berries, a bit of banana (I never thought about freezing them) and a splash or two of V8 Fusion juice. I always add enough water to cover the fruit so they mix up well. We went thru a spell of using TOFU instead of yogurt and doesn’t taste weird, either.

    I’m going to try the protein powder from Amazon – thanks again!! Maybe I’ll sneak in some spinach this week…

  29. Thank you so much for this!! The kids were less than impressed with my first attempt, but I liked it, so I guess I’ll just have to tweak a little.

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