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Smoothies and fresh juices can be a great way to add nutrition to a child’s diet. They can be really helpful during illness when you need to focus on hydration or if their blood sugar gets low. It can also be a really special thing to make together using fun foods you found at the farmer’s market or the grocery store. Let’s talk about how we can make them fit in your child’s diet.
There are several differences between juice and smoothies. Really it comes down to ingredients and processing. In general juices omit the fiber of fruits or vegetables and provide concentrated flavor and some vitamins and minerals, and typically a significant amount of carbohydrate. Smoothie ingredients are incredibly variable but they typically have more fiber since it’s the whole fruit or vegetable used, and potentially more protein and fat depending on the ingredients.
Store-bought smoothies and juices are super convenient, I know. The bottle usually has lots of brightly colored produce on the side so it feels like a much more nutritious option for your kids than fruit punch or soda. Whenever possible I recommend homemade options and here’s why: lower sugar content, fewer additives, more protein, more affordable. If you’re going to buy a juice make sure it’s 100% juice with no added ingredients (one exception is for Vitamin D and calcium fortified orange juice if your child’s medical team has recommended this). If you’re going to use your citrus juicer to practice hand strength and let your kid squeeze their own juice, go for it! That’s great and we should stick to the portions listed below. If you’re using your home juicer and going to make an apple kale ginger juice or some other fun concoction, also a great activity to do with your kids – have them help, keep their portions to an age appropriate size (below) and make sure you save some of the pulp so you can bump up their fiber in their next smoothie.
There are two things I like to discuss with my clients when on the question of how much juices and smoothies is too much. First we talk about how often it’s happening, then how much we are having when we do drink them. For juices and store-bought smoothies that are an infrequent occurrence (once a month or less) I advise families to not stress about it and to just enjoy the experience without wonder or guessing or guilt. For families that are enjoying smoothies or juices more than once per month there are a few details and guidelines we use.
When it comes to store bought juices or smoothies you grab from your favorite smoothie shop, I recommend limiting those to no more than once a week for kids and using the serving sizes described below. The reason for those recommended limits is that most of those smoothie options have extra hidden sugars and are not nutritionally balanced – neither of which are things we want to give our kids often. For store bought juices, even that green juice you share with your kid while grocery shopping, stick with the guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics – zero juice before one year of age; maximum of 4 ounces 100% fruit/vegetable juice for children ages 1-3 years of age; maximum of 6 ounces 100% fruit/vegetable juice for children ages 4-6 years of age; maximum of 8 ounces 100% fruit/vegetable juice for children over 7 years old.
If you want to include juice and or smoothies in your child’s regular diet here’s how. Stick with smaller portions of juices which have zero to no fiber or protein content as outlined in the previous section. For smoothies stick to ones you make at home and be mindful of your ingredients. To really get some good nutrition in one refreshing drink include whole fruits, vegetables, protein and fat. Whenever possible include your child in the preparation of the juices and smoothies as it helps them to build independence and allows them to learn how we balance out our foods by including multiple food groups.
If you’re looking for more customized support with how to use smoothies and juices as a part of your child’s diet be sure to book a free strategy call here.