As Pediatric Registered Dietitians, we think smoothies are a fantastic tool in a parents’ feeding toolbox! The pureed texture is familiar, comforting, and easy for babies and toddlers. It allows you to gently expand their flavour profile and fill in nutritional gaps.
However, it’s also super duper important to keep pushing the envelope on their developing oral motor skills by giving them more challenging textures. So while we love, love, love smoothies for babies, we strongly encourage you to limit them to a few times a week in order to focus on the foods that require them to mash, chew, and manipulate foods with their hands, fingers, tongue, jaw, and oral muscles!
We recently polled our Instagram community to ask all y’all what questions you have about smoothies. Thanks for submitting your questions! Now without further delay, here are the answers!
Can you offer smoothies as a complete meal/snack or should you offer them alongside other foods?
First of all, it depends on what’s in the smoothie! If you’re just blending up fruit with water, that’s not a balanced meal. In order to be a complete meal, a smoothie should have protein, fat, and a source of iron. Chances are, there will also be fibre!
If your smoothie has all the elements of a complete meal, you can definitely serve it as a meal on occasion. Other times, you may want to offer additional foods alongside the smoothie. For example, maybe you would serve a sandwich with a side of veggies and a cup of smoothie.
Isn’t it better to feed babies whole fruit instead of blended up in a smoothie?
Both whole fruit and smoothies can be offered to meet different needs! Yes, it’s important to offer whole fruits in developmentally safe ways so that your baby or toddler can taste and recognize the fruit in its natural form and to help them develop the skills to chew and swallow these textures.
But while your child is learning these textures, serving the occasional smoothie can give them an exposure to these flavours in an easy to slurp texture!
At what age can you start to offer babies smoothies?
The pureed texture of a smoothie is suitable for babies 6 months and older. However, you want to be mindful of the ingredients used to make the smoothie! In our e-book, Smoothies and Popsicles for Your Happy Healthy Eater, we recommend waiting until 9 months before serving most of the recipes. This is because there’s a significant amount of milk, which can interfere with and take the place of high iron foods. When a baby is starting solids, maximizing iron intake and absorption is really important!
Can I make smoothies in a simple blender or do I need a high powered blender?
Most blenders are powerful enough to make smoothies using frozen fruit/veggies and a liquid. Fresh fruits are more challenging for less powerful blenders to break down into a smooth, homogenous mixture.
Having said that, high-powered blenders do produce a smooth-er smooth-ie!
If you have the cash flow to invest in a high-powered blenders, it’s actually a frugal purchase because you’ll be much happier with your final product, the blender will last much longer, and if you’re the DIY type, you can make a lot of storebought foods at a fraction of the grocery store price!
Suggested Article: how a high-powered blender can pay for itself!
Are protein or collagen powders safe for babies?
This comes as a surprise to many parents but the protein requirements for babies and toddlers is not very high! Whole food sources of protein are more than sufficient for regularly developing children. Unless you have been medically directed to give them to your child, we discourage concentrated forms of protein such as protein or collagen powders in this age group.
Additionally, some protein powders may contain other ingredients that are either unnecessary or harmful to children. Sometimes there are super-loaded amounts of vitamins and minerals that could result in toxicity, artificial sweeteners that children don’t need, or ergogenic aids with unquestionable safety.
Do smoothies have too much concentrated sugar for babies?
It will depend on the ingredients found in the smoothie but in general, smoothies are made from whole foods and fruits that are simply blended to a liquid or semi-liquid consistency. This means that all the nutrients, including the fibre, vitamins, and phytonutrients remain in the smoothie. Compare that to fruit juice, where the fibrous parts of the fruit are removed and only the water and sugar content is what gets consumed.
On top of that, most smoothies are blended with other ingredients containing fat, protein, and fibre, which will all lower the rate at which the sugar gets taken up into the bloodstream.
Lastly, if you think about it, a well-balanced smoothie is simply a meal that has been “pre-chewed” by a blender. Essentially, what enters the stomach is going to be similar to what happens if a child eats, chews, and swallows the same ingredients in their more whole form.
However, it is worth mentioning that since smoothies are in an easy-to-swallow texture, a child is more likely to consume more of these foods faster than if they needed to chew and swallow them. Again, as long as smoothies are not the ONLY food a child eats, this is unlikely to pose a problem!
What if baby develops a preference for smoothies over water or milk?
We support Ellyn Satter’s (a renowned Dietitian and Social Worker) feeding model she has named the Division of Responsibility. In this feeding model, the caregivers are assigned certain decision-making powers: what foods get served, the meal and snack schedule, and where food is eaten. The child gets to decide if and how much they eat.
Within this framework, that means that the caregiver gets to choose how often a smoothie is offered.
Having set that foundation, here’s another tip to keep a child from getting smoothie-fixated:
Keep smoothies neutral. Offer it as part of their meal or snack on occasion. Don’t build them up as a special treat or they may end up getting “forbidden fruit” status in your child’s mind, which gives the food a huge psychological draw.
Isn’t a smoothie just a baby food puree in disguise?
There are many puree textured foods that humans continue to eat: yogurt, soups, and daals, for example. Smoothies are a part of “normal” eating for many older children and adults vs puree baby food in a pouch.
Again, remember that most of the baby food on the market is mostly fruit sometimes flavoured with a small amount of veggies or other ingredients. Whereas, a balanced smoothie contains a decent amount of milk, tofu, seeds, grains, nuts, veggies, etc that provide other nutrients such as protein, fat, and fibre.
What type of milk can I use in smoothies for my baby?
In theory any. However, we recommend whole cow’s milk or unsweetened fortified soy beverage, which most closely match babies’ needs. If your baby has allergies to these foods your Dietitian may specify something for you.
Suggested article: Best Milk for Babies: a dietitian’s guide to safely introducing baby to milk
What’s the best way to offer smoothies to babies… with a spoon, open cup, or with a straw?
For a smoothie bowl use a spoon! We’re big fans of the GooTensil because the whole idea is to “dip, eat, repeat”! Another spoon more suitable for a toddler is the Kizingo spoon. For a drinkable consistency, use any sturdy straw. The really thin straws will make it difficult for your child to suck a thicker liquid through so just keep that in mind. Plus, those are tricky to keep clean!
What consistency should I aim for when making smoothies for my baby?
For something drinkable the smoothie needs to be thin enough to be able to pass through a straw without having your baby suck SOOOOO hard that they don’t enjoy the process. Come on…haven’t you ever accidentally made an EXTRA thick smoothie? For a bowl aim for the consistency of apple sauce. Don’t overthink it!
Will smoothies cause my baby’s appetite to go down?
Nope, not necessarily. Of course if you’re serving a giant and filling smoothie for “snack”, they may not be hungry for the next meal. So, just serve a smaller portion of smoothie! Conversely, if you want the smoothie to tide your child over and serve it as a meal or part of their main meal, a larger portion can be offered. You’ll notice we’re not being prescriptive here…and that’s the point. We’re avid followers of the Division of Responsibility which allows your child to decide how much, how little or if they are going have the smoothie you’ve made at all!
That being said, having space in between all meals and snacks is important to build appetite for the next eating opportunity. This “space” will vary from child to child – but generally anywhere from 1.5 – 3 hours is appropriate!
Lastly, if your child enjoys…say, a smoothie for breakfast along with 1/2 slice of peanut butter toast…and skips their morning snack. Is it really a big deal? Trust your child’s ability to self regulate and for that matter, make mistakes too! Chances are, when lunch rolls around, they’ll eat up what’s served!
Will offering smoothies to my baby cause her to only prefer sweet flavoured drinks?
Potentially… but only if you’re only ever offering sweet foods. Remember, we want you to offer your baby other tastes and textures independent of smoothies like bitter, umami, sour etc. Apart from water and tomato juice…aren’t most beverages sweet? Even milk has a lovely sweetness to it in our opinion #lactose.
If you’re really interested in sweets and babies, check out this post where we share the biology of the sweet preference.
Aren’t smoothies just like juice? Shouldn’t we be limiting smoothies in the same way that limiting juice is recommended?
A smoothie is a whole food recipe blended up while juice is just the liquid part extracted from the fruit, leaving behind all the fibre. Smoothies can include core components you would typically serve at a meal. Let’s think about it: milk, vegetable, fruit and a protein can all be served on a dinner table…and if that’s the case, why not in a smoothie form from time to time!?
What age can I give my baby a smoothie?
We recommend waiting until your baby is 9 months to offer smoothies that contain cow’s milk. This is because cow’s milk contains practically no iron and a hefty amount of calcium, which can interfere with iron absorption. Iron is a critical nutrient when babies are starting solids so you want to focus on those high iron foods especially during those new food exposure times like 6, 7 and 8 months! Need more support with that, we’ve got a lovely handout called Everything You Need to Know About Iron in our Rescue Resources package.
Smoothies for Babies: the RECIPES!
Now that you’ve got all your baby smoothie questions answered, you’re going to need some recipes! Our e-book, Smoothies and Popsicles for Your Happy Healthy Eater has 8 smoothie and 8 popsicle recipes specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs for your baby and toddler!