These days, when I ask my almost-2-year-old son, Max, what he wants for breakfast, he nearly always requests a smoothienana. If you don’t happen to speak Max, that’s toddler language for “banana smoothie.” He then heads to the cabinet where we keep the blender and all but picks it up and puts it on the counter. (I’m honestly not even sure why I bother to put it away most nights.)
This morning routine is just fine with me. Almost exactly two summers ago, I wrote a letter to the then not born yet Max wishing him a lifetime of good eating — with “good” meaning at once nourishing, sustainable and connected. It was the deepest expression of my hopes for him mixed with a good bit of Jewish-mother ambition and my own naiveté about what it would mean to parent another human.
Rereading it now, I still stand by everything I wrote. Meanwhile, I have a toddler with his own ideas and opinions — one of which includes avoiding anything that looks remotely like a vegetable. There was a time when I sat smugly as my then 9-, 10- and even 15-month-old willingly gummed steamed broccoli florets and took spoonfuls of pureed beets and butternut squash with great pleasure. But these days, offers of tomatoes, leafy greens and even baby carrots are met with an emphatic no.
And so, the smoothie. I am hardly the first parent to sneak vegetables into her child’s diet via the blender — or a produce-enriched pasta sauce or brownie. In fact, multiple cookbooks have been written on the very subject. But over the last several months, I have become something of a toddler-smoothie ninja.
At first I kept things simple, tossing in a little spinach or kale along with the banana and berries and delighting as he eagerly finished his serving and asked for more. But over time, I began to test the limits of this blender magic, adding in everything from pureed sweet potato and pumpkin to coconut water, yogurt, chia and flax seeds, tahini, almond butter and molasses — not all at the same time, but definitely within the same week.
In addition to incorporating more vitamins and other nutrients into Max’s morning meal, these amped up smoothies have myriad other benefits. I have found that just a little bit of fruit — particularly berries, mango and banana — makes them plenty sweet, without any additional sweeteners or fruit juice.
And let’s be clear: I typically don’t have time to mess with recipes in the morning, so I don’t measure any of the ingredients that go into Max’s smoothies. Because I eyeball everything, they come together very quickly — about 5 minutes start to finish. That said, a good smoothie is all about ratios. The basic rule is to go light on liquid compared to the more substantial ingredients. You want to add just enough milk (cow, almond, etc.) or other liquid to get the fruit, veggies and nut butters moving in the blender.
Max is now at an age where he can help me prepare his smoothienanas. I’ll put some berries in a bowl for him and he will drop them into the blender (and plop several directly into his mouth). I also let him cut the banana himself with a plastic knife. He needs help with this step, but seems to get a lot of satisfaction out of being given such a big responsibility. The most dramatic part of smoothie creation — hitting the blender’s “on” button and starting the thrilling commotion — is his too.
I have no idea how long smoothies will remain the reigning champion of breakfast around our house. This past winter, the obsession was oatmeal (another food that’s great for doctoring with sneaky healthy things), so you never know. For now, though, knowing that Max is both helping to create and enjoying a nutritious breakfast makes washing out the blender every day totally worthwhile.
3 Toddler (and Parent) Approved Smoothies
If you like a frostier, frothier smoothie, add a couple of ice cubes to any of these combos before blending.
Pumpkin-Pie Smoothie: Banana (fresh or frozen), pureed pumpkin or sweet potato (freshly roasted or from a can), cinnamon, chia seeds, tahini, a small drizzle of molasses, a splash of milk (or almond/rice/coconut etc. milk)
Greens and Berries Smoothie: Banana (fresh or frozen), berries of choice (fresh or frozen: blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are our favorites) kale or spinach (fresh or frozen), plain yogurt, a splash of milk (or almond/rice/coconut etc. milk)
Mango-Avocado Smoothie: Fresh avocado, mango chunks (fresh or frozen), rolled oats, almond butter, chia or flax seeds, a splash of coconut water
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).