There are many different reasons families visit me in my feeding clinic, and everyone has their own unique stories to tell. However, the underlying goal is often the same – to find a way for their child to eat, and enjoy, a healthier variety of foods.
In our last blog post (which you can visit here) I talked about one of my favourite, and most successful, ways to help fussy eaters: sprinkles. It’s amazing how 100s and 1000s can in turn lead to experimentation with nutritious chia seeds and pumpkin kernels and then on to grated zucchini, carrot and other vegetables.
Another of my tried and tested techniques for fussy eaters is smoothies. Smoothies have so many benefits for kids learning to eat a variety of foods and, like sprinkles, are non-confrontational for many fussy eaters. A few reasons I love smoothies are:
Smoothies are easy and fun to make
It is so easy to get children involved in making smoothies. They can choose the initial flavour, or even just choose a colour, and you can work from there. For some really reluctant learners I have started with putting food colouring in milk but generally there is a flavour they are interested in starting with. It is completely fine to start with chocolate or another flavouring. I prefer to start with frozen fruit. They choose a colour: pink, purple or orange (strawberry, blueberry or mango) and then I put the frozen fruit in and add a tiny bit of milk (or water). I generally start with a slushie texture so they can choose if they drink it from a thick straw or use a spoon. Once they have the idea you can add all sorts of other fruits or vegetables. Just remember to add a small amount of a new food first and then increase it over time. Baby spinach has an amazing magic trick: one leaf will disappear in the blender, then over time you can make the colour change to green by increasing the amount of spinach you add.
Smoothies are nutritious
The thicker texture of smoothies means you can add the whole fruit or vegetable rather than just the juice. This means all the fibre and nutrients remain, making them nutritious and filling. The variations are endless and you can add multiple ingredients to one drink. A drink with a small variation in texture can provide endless variations of nutrition combinations and flavours.
Smoothies are simple to comprehend
Many fussy eaters don’t like certain textures, mixed textures or bursting juices in their mouth. They often find the textures of fruits and vegetables challenging to tolerate. Fruits and vegetables tend to have a high sensory load and require a high degree of eating skill to manage. Think of a mandarin, blueberry or grape - these burst when you first bite into them and then you need to manage the texture of the skin, the texture of the flesh and the texture of the juice in your mouth. Most fruits and vegetables have these multi layers of textures as you eat them. The smoothie simplifies this texture sensation and allows a child to get used to the flavour of a fruit or vegetable without having to deal with all the texture variations at the same time. The cold temperature of a smoothie also mellows any smells making it easier for our kids who don’t like big smells!
Smoothies are easy to drink
Most children have the skills to drink them, which doesn’t tire them out. As per the previous point the multiple textures in fruits and vegetables mean a higher degree of oral skill is required to eat them safely. A smoothie takes minimal effort to organise in your mouth and swallow safely.
Children can help make smoothies
Every day in my clinic I see that children are much more likely to try a new food if they have been involved in preparing it. It is so easy to get a child involved in making a smoothie. They are quick and easy so even a child with a short attention span or a child still developing their motor skills can be involved in the process from start to finish.
Smoothies look good
They make beautiful, fun colours and are easy to put into fun cups and add bits and pieces to so that there is plenty of novelty factor about them.
Smoothies are a great hands-free option
Some kids avoid foods because they don’t like the feel of the foods on their hands. Whatever texture you offer your smoothies in (liquid, slushie or frozen in to ice cream) it is easy and fun to offer a hands-free option. Think spoons, straws and paddle pop sticks. Don’t forget novelty and fun are winning steps to encouraging your child to try new foods, flavours and textures, so have a look in your local $2 shop and get creative.
Just remember - smoothies are a stepping stone
After all these positives to smoothies I just want to quickly discuss two things to consider when offering smoothies.
The first is that smoothies don’t provide opportunities for children to learn new oromotor skills (the skills needed to chew and make specific sounds), which is particularly important for young children. Smoothies are fabulous for efficiently getting nutrients in but children do still need to learn how to eat the individual foods themselves. Smoothies don’t provide opportunities for biting, chewing and organising food in their mouths and they don’t help build strength in their eating muscles.
Secondly, if you offer smoothies regularly it is important to offer different colours and flavours. It is easy and tempting to put as much goodness as they will tolerate into a smoothie. This is a good short-term strategy to pack nutrition in but if they always taste the same it limits the learning opportunities the smoothies can provide. Remember that variety is a great goal. Tolerance of variety is the basis for any healthy diet. So sometimes pack it all in but other times have an over-riding flavour, such as berries or mango or spinach (whichever flavour they enjoy), to ensure variation.