Don't buy juice combos, get your children to make them. You'll save money and get them excited about good food

You can't ask for a clearer example of misguided intentions than the smoothie industry. As the word has spread about the importance of eating fresh fruit, so too has the smoothie business - which didn't even exist in this country a decade ago but now sells around 21 million litres a year with a retail value of £80 million. Make no mistake: some of these products are good, and some of the companies are admirable both in their business dealings and in their charitable work. But while tapping into the healthy desire to eat better, they also tap into an unhealthy desire not to spend time preparing fresh food.

The smoothie industry would not, in a nation that really cared about teaching its children to cook, be nearly so big. Smoothies are the easiest thing to make at home. You need good fruit, a sharp knife, a pair of clean hands, a carton of milk or fruit juice, and a blender. Cooking skill is optional. But there's a beneficial side-effect of smoothie making. It can be done by a child of just about any age, regardless of experience, and as experience grows then something else should grow alongside it: an interest in cooking.

How do you get from smoothies to cooking? Simple. Cooking is nothing more than the process of taking raw ingredients and turning them into something tasty. Smoothie-making qualifies under that rubric. It's a way of getting 'em hooked young. More important, an interest in cooking is healthiest when it arises from an interest in eating. What people like to eat (or drink) they will, in the right circumstances, take an interest in learning to make. And making smoothies is a form of play. Trained on these simple drinks, young children will see that the same principle applies with all cooking: it's a licensed form of playing with food.

So - where to begin smoothing with children? Simple again. Get some fresh fruit out, whatever the children like best. Dust off the blender. Get them to prepare the raw goods, supervising their knife-work, and dump it in the blender with some juice or milk and a few ice cubes. Figure on a good handful of fruit per small drink, with 50ml to 100ml of fluid, and blend well. Encourage them in advance to think of their first experiments as precisely that - a way to find out their own perfect method for mixing. Make them taste every experiment, but don't force them to drink the whole thing - as long as they go on and do another one so they'll learn by trial and error.

Not only is it not rocket science, it isn't even Star Wars science. It's applied gastronomy, junior division. You owe it to your kids, and your bank manager, to go the homemade smoothie route.

If you need store-bought drinks, the three below are child-friendly. James White is an outstanding producer, and sells nationwide (ring Claudette Bowman on 01473 89011 for stockist information, or visit www.jameswhite.co.uk). And they're adult-friendly, too.

But don't rely on those expensive smoothies for your dose of five-a-day virtue. You don't need them. Neither do your children.

Top Corks: Three from James White

Great Uncle Cornelius' Lemon Refresher (around £2.25/75cl, see contact details in text) Sugar-less citrus, with apple juice as sweetener. Bracingly tart, kids will need training.

Big Tom (around £2.25/75cl, contact as above) Well-spiced tomato juice, intermediate stage between plain juice and (for over-18s) a Bloody Mary. Next best thing to homemade.

Apple and Cinnamon Juice (around £2.25/75cl, contact as above) Served warm or hot, a taste of Christmas. Served cold, ultimate refreshment with a gentle spicy glow.

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