The Healthiest Beverages for Kids – Keeping It Simple

Wondering about Nutritious and Healthy Kids’ Beverages?

The answer is quite straightforward: water and pure milk, and not much else.

The beverages you offer your children in their first five years can shape their lifelong taste preferences.

Despite the onslaught of marketing campaigns promoting 100% fruit juices, sweetened fruit drinks, and flavored milk, supermarket shelves packed with animated packaging for kids’ drinks, the best beverage choices are genuinely simple: water and pure cow’s milk.

Water provides the essential hydration for everyone, while cow’s milk delivers crucial nutrients needed for a child’s healthy growth and development, such as calcium, vitamin D, protein, vitamin A, and zinc.

Why should you steer clear of various types of children’s drinks?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these explanations1

1. 100% Fruit Juice

  • It’s overly sweet and lacks fiber, a vital nutrient found in whole fruits. Once children develop a taste for juice, it can be challenging to limit their intake or encourage them to prefer plain water. In situations where whole fruits are unavailable, providing small quantities of 100% fruit juice (4 ounces a day for 2-3-year-olds and 4 to 6 ounces for 4-5-year-olds) can offer some nutritional benefits. However, infants under 1 year of age should not consume juice as eating whole fruits is always preferable.

2. Flavored Milk

  • Chocolate, strawberry, and other flavored milks often contain added sugars. Children under 2 years old should avoid added sugars, and kids aged 2-5 should steer clear of flavored milk to minimize their sugar intake and prevent developing a preference for sweet flavors. Early preference for flavored milk might make it challenging for them to accept plain milk.

3. Plant-Based Milk Alternatives

  • Some children may have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, making milk consumption problematic. However, it’s essential to note that most plant-based milks are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk and may lack essential nutrients like protein, vitamin D, and calcium. With the exception of soy milk, children are not recommended to replace milk with plant-based alternatives. Soy milk is nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk and serves as an acceptable substitute.

4. Stevia-Sweetened or Artificially Sweetened Drinks

  • The health risks of stevia or artificial sweeteners for children are not yet clear. Thus, it’s best to avoid sweetened drinks, even if they are calorie-free. When children develop strong preferences for sweet beverages, they are more likely to reject plain water.

5. Toddler Formulas

  • Toddler formulas, often marketed as transitional milk or formula by formula milk companies, are unnecessary and may not be suitable for toddlers. These products contain added sugars and might fill up a toddler’s stomach, reducing their appetite for healthier foods.

6. Sugary Beverages

  • Sugary drinks such as sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, sweetened water, and other sugar-added beverages are detrimental to children’s health. They increase the risk of excessive weight gain, cavities, heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver.

7. Caffeinated Drinks

  • Caffeine in children can lead to sleep disturbances, irritability, restlessness, headaches, and decreased concentration. It’s best to avoid all caffeine-containing beverages.

Now, let’s delve a bit further into fruit juice

Compared to the other six options, fruit juice can be considered healthy, and children can consume it in moderation. However, when purchasing fruit juice, you should pay attention to the following:

  1. Ensure it’s 100% fruit juice. If it’s not, it’s typically a fruit-flavored drink, which often contains added sugars or sweeteners, increasing cavity risk and calorie intake. Don’t be swayed solely by the bottle’s marketing; check the ingredient list on the label.
  2. Introduce fruit juice after 1 year of age. Giving fruit juice to children too early may lead to a lasting preference for sweetness over plain water.
  3. Don’t let your child sip fruit juice (or any other sugary liquids) for extended periods. Sipping sugary liquids can cause severe tooth decay.
  4. If you’re concerned about your child’s sugar intake, consider diluting the juice with water, ensuring that it doesn’t overwhelm your child’s interest in drinking milk and water.
  5. Purchase pasteurized fruit juice to avoid potential infection risks. Always read the consumption guidelines, as some fruit juices need to be consumed within 24 hours after opening, which is shorter than their shelf life.

Although the AAP does recommend 100% fruit juice as an acceptable part of a healthy diet, it’s essential to provide age-appropriate quantities. Monitoring your child’s intake is vital, especially if they experience excessive weight gain, cavities, or toddler diarrhea2.

In summary:

  • 0-1 years: No fruit juice.
  • 1-3 years: Up to 4 ounces (about 118 ml) per day.
  • 4-6 years: No more than 4-6 ounces per day (about 118 ml to 177 ml).
  • 7-18 years: No more than 8 ounces per day (about 236 ml).

Now, circling back to the topic of “water for children.”

How much water should children drink?

Here are the AAP’s recommendations:

  • 0-6 months: No additional water is necessary; breast milk is sufficient.
  • 6-12 months: Introduce water, around 4-8 ounces a day (approximately 120 ml to 240 ml).
  • 1-3 years: A total of 32 ounces (about 1000 ml) per day is required, including water and milk.
  • 4-8 years: Aim for 40 ounces (about 1200 ml) per day, including water and milk.
  • 8 years and above: Water intake may need to exceed 1200 ml per day, depending on individual factors, physical activity, and environmental conditions like heat and humidity.

For active children or those sweating due to strenuous activities:

  • 9-12-year-olds typically require about 3-8 ounces (approximately 89 ml to 236 ml) of water every 20 minutes to stay hydrated.
  • Teens may need about 34-50 ounces (about 1000 ml to 1500 ml) per hour.

In essence, if your child is sweating, they need to replenish their fluids. And if they are sweating significantly, you should provide small amounts of electrolyte-containing beverages alongside water.

Additionally, let’s emphasize milk consumption:

  • For most children, a minimum of 400-500 ml of milk daily is essential to ensure an adequate intake of calcium. However, it’s essential not to exceed 750 ml/day to prevent the risk of iron-deficiency anemia.

If your child isn’t fond of plain water because it’s tasteless, you can get creative as parents:

  1. Add some flavor to water with ingredients like lemon, berries, cucumber, or mint to make it more appealing. This is a simple way to encourage the entire family to drink more water.
  2. Keep high-water-content fruits and vegetables on hand, such as cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, celery, and tomatoes. There are also fruits with high water content, including watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, and grapefruit.
  3. Freeze fruit in ice cubes. It can decorate any table and is a fun way for young children to get involved in making their own.
  4. Invest in special water bottles or cups with fun designs, such as personalized sports bottles or cups with umbrellas and spiral straws, which add a festive touch.
  5. Make fruit puree popsicles to turn it into a fun family activity.

In conclusion, the healthiest beverages for kids are uncomplicated: Stick to water and pure milk ,and you’ll set them on a path to a healthier future.

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