Smoothies 101: A pediatrician's prescription

Smoothies are a wonderful way to start your day, and we drink them regularly at our house.  In fact, I often joke that my Vita-Mix is the best present my husband ever got me.

My 3-year-old daughter Lucy used to eat everything. We would say proudly “The only food that Lucy ever refused was baby food” (she didn’t dig the purees).  Her pediatrician mommy beamed.  Friends secretly hated us. We rocked as parents. I soon learned, however, that pride goeth before a fall:  around her 3rd birthday she suddenly developed a new relationship to food.  “I don’t like spicy food mommy.”  “I don’t like green food mommy.”  “I don’t want it” (spitting whatever the offending delicious healthy concoction was onto our kitchen floor).

Passionate about getting my kids their requisite “real food, mostly plants” (the dictum of Michael Pollan which I tout frequently), I decided to use the techniques I had shared with families for years:  keep offering the visible veggies, but when refused, outsmart them.

Smoothies are a great way to add vegetables and lots of other healthy foods into your whole family’s diet, hidden in plain sight.

If you just want to try it out, skip to the bottom of this post and try out the recipe. But if you decide that smoothies are going to become a lifestyle, like they are in our family, then begin by stocking up.

Stock your freezer with key ingredients:

Ginger:  Buy a piece of fresh ginger, and then peel and chop it into ½ -1 inch pieces and plop into the freezer (I have mine in a glass jar). Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and gives smoothies a delicious kick!

Lemons:  Buy a big bag of lemons (Trader Joe’s is a great spot for big bags of organic lemons) and juice them all at once: put the juice into a ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer them into another for storage container, like a Ziploc bag, and store in the freezer. A little bit of the acidic flavor of lemon or lime really makes the flavor of a smoothie pop.

Bananas:  Buy several big bunches of bananas and let them ripen to the point of being very soft and brown:  then peel and freeze them. Bananas are a great base for smoothies – their natural sweetness will counter the sourest berry or brighten greens like spinach. Coconut Milk:  Open a can of coconut milk and freeze it in individual servings with an ice cup tray as above. Once frozen, transfer them into another for storage container, like a Ziploc bag, and store in the freezer.

Coconut milk provides a delicious tropical taste, and can be a nice substitute for dairy, adding richness for those who cannot or do not eat dairy.

Stock Your Cabinets With Healthy Additives:

Such as: Walnuts (great source of Omega-3 fatty acids). Ground flax seed (Omega-3s abound, and also keep the family regular!) Chia seeds (and you can do a chia pet project with your kids too!) Cinnamon:  tasty, and studies suggest it keeps blood sugar under control

Got a kitchen window or even outdoor garden? 

Fresh mint and basil are wonderful in smoothies. Ready to get started?  Now comes the fun! Smoothie-making is an art and not a science, and you can play around and experiment every day, and it’s hard to go wrong.

Making your smoothie:

To make your smoothie, add something from each of the following categories:

  • Base ingredients
  • Fruit
  • Vegetable
  • Liquid

Base ingredients: Consider adding ginger, lemon, banana, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, cinnamon and walnuts to most smoothies, depending on your taste

Fruits:  Go crazy! Use whatever fresh fruit is in your fruit basket: apple, pear, orange, grapes, etc.  Frozen fruits are great because they add texture and are easy to keep around:  blueberries, strawberries or blackberries, and tropical fruits like pineapple and mangos work well. I also buy lots of cranberries during the fall and keep them stashed away for months: they are tart and delicious, as well as being nutritious.

Vegetables: As I said, smoothies are a great way to get some veggies into my increasingly particular girls. Here are my favorites: I always add a handful of fresh greens (PowerGreens, spinach, arugula, kale) or some frozen spinach. Other ideas:  cucumber, carrots, beets, canned pumpkin, celery, parsley

LIQUID:  From there, add a liquid and consider adding some dairy (which gives smoothies a satisfying richness): use the amount needed to help the smoothie blend easily and achieve a texture that is satisfying to you.

I usually use water and some organic plain yogurt – I love the probiotics.  Many people add juice, like orange juice or add some honey or agave for a little touch of but I find that bananas usually do the trick for our family. And for a tropical taste or if you are avoiding dairy, those coconut milk cubes work well.

This recipe is adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s New York Times column. Check it out if you haven’t – she’s a master of healthy, tasty vegetarian cooking.

Servings: 2

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • Mixed Berry and Beet Smoothie
  • 1 cup mixed frozen berries or blueberries
  • 2 teaspoons chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground flax seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ tablespoon walnuts
  • 1/3 cup diced beet, either raw, canned, or roasted
  • Handful fresh or 1-2 tablespoons frozen spinach
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt or low-fat coconut milk
  • 1 frozen banana or 1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup

Directions

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend for 1 full minute. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Nutrition Information (per serving)

  • Calories: 372
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Trans fat: 0
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 g
  • Sodium: 78 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 58 g
  • Fiber: 12 g
  • Sugars: 9 g
  • Protein: 10 g

Contributor

Kimberly Newell, MD