Whole food is usually the optimal way for kids to get their calories, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, but getting them to eat healthy, nourishing foods is not always easy. A meal replacement shake is a quick way to get nutrition into a picky eater or a child with a small appetite. Whether you make your own or purchase a premixed version, examine the ingredients in the shake to ensure you're providing a balance of nutrients and not overloading your child with sugar, preservatives and artificial colors.
Components of a Nutritious Shake
A quality meal-replacement shake contains a variety of whole-food ingredients. Include more than just fruits and juice if you're blending it at home. For a shake to serve as a meal, include a source of protein -- such as protein powder, yogurt or nut butter -- and healthy fats, such as flax, coconut oil or avocado, too. Kids are often reluctant to eat their veggies, but they may not notice when you toss a handful of spinach or grind a carrot into a meal replacement shake.
If you need to rely on a prepackaged shake occasionally as a meal replacement for your child, choose one that offers optimal nutrition with minimal additives. Naturopath Theresa Ramsey suggests choosing one that is non-GMO, hypoallergenic and, if your child's diet requires, free of soy, dairy and gluten. She also advises against using muscle builders and weight-gainer products for kids. These may contain added supplements that could be harmful to their growing bodies. Avoid shakes that have sugar as the first or second ingredient.
Weight Gain Needs
A meal replacement shake can be helpful for kids who are underweight due to genetics, slight appetite or illness. These shakes should be full of quality calories that come from whole foods such as full-fat dairy, fresh fruit and nut butter. Avoid boosting the calorie content of shakes by adding a lot of sugar in the form of syrups or honey. Instead, sweeten the meal replacement shakes naturally with dates or bananas.
Breakfast is a natural time to replace a full meal with a shake. Shakes are quick and usually go down easily, even if your child has no appetite in the morning. Try blending half of a banana with a handful of blueberries, 1/2 cup of raw baby spinach, a tablespoon of almond butter and some milk. A high-calorie shake to replace a snack might include bananas, strawberries, whole milk, milk powder and coconut butter. Peaches, raspberries and mangoes could replace the strawberries if your child prefers.