Kids are busy. Their minds and bodies are hard at work and play — and sometimes, they don’t want to stop to get a drink.
It often becomes our job as parents to make sure they drink enough fluids. It’s especially important in warmer months when kids may not notice how much they are sweating or understand the need for hydration.
They may be drawn to the nearest vending machine for a sugar-laden beverage. Clearly, this isn’t the best choice. On average, a 12-oz serving of soda contains 36 grams (or about four teaspoons) of sugar and about 160 calories.
“What you give your child will significantly impact their daily calories and overall weight,” says pediatric registered dietitian Sara Seither, MS, RD, CSP, LD.
You may also be concerned about your child consuming caffeine. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies between brands, but can be as high as 130 milligrams in a 12-oz serving — equivalent to four 12-oz servings of caffeinated soda.
So, what should kids drink? Here are some suggestions as well as other common beverages children should avoid.
These plain-Jane options are generally the most hydrating and offer the most benefit to kids:
Water. Plain old water is the best way to go. “It provides hydration and quenches thirst without adding any calories, fat or sugar,” Ms. Seither says. (If you need some ideas to jazz up your child’s water without making it unhealthy, keep reading.).
Milk. “Milk is an important part of any diet,” Ms. Seither says. Milk provides protein, vitamin D and calcium. Kids should drink 16-24 ounces of milk or unsweetened milk alternative such as soy, coconut, almond milk daily. Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child would benefit from milk containing fat.
These sugary, colorful drinks often don’t offer enough benefit to offset the empty calories:
Flavored milk. One carton of chocolate or other flavored milk adds four teaspoons of sugar to your child’s diet. “Bottom line: This sugary beverage provides added calories that are simply not needed,” Ms. Seither says.
Fruit drinks. Drinks such as fruit punch, powdered mixes, lemonade and pouch drinks are simply sugar water, Ms Seither says. “Do not be fooled by nutrition claims that each serving contains 100 percent vitamin C,” she says. If your child is eating five cups of fruits and vegetables every day, he or she is getting plenty of vitamin C.
Soft drinks. Soft drinks, soda, pop — or whatever you call them, these sugar-laden beverages offer zero nutritional benefit. “Soft drinks are linked to poor dental health, excessive calorie intake, weight gain and type 2 diabetes,” Ms. Seither says. Many of these drinks contain caffeine, which children should avoid.
Sports drinks. These drinks promise the “ultimate hydration,” Ms Seither says. But the average child does not need the nearly eight teaspoons of sugar that each 20-ounce bottle contains.
100 percent fruit juice. Experts agree that limiting your child to four to six ounces of 100 percent fruit juice each day is important for a healthy weight. “Yes, real fruit juice contains only natural sugars — but those natural sugars can add a lot of extra calories quickly,” Ms. Seither says.
Ways to jazz up your child’s water
- A tall glass of cool water infused with natural flavors. Try adding berries with mint leaves, a citrus blend, cucumber and melon, or apples with a cinnamon stick. You can work with your child to create fun combinations.
- Make lemonade with agave nectar instead of sugar. Agave nectar has the same number of calories as sugar, but because it is sweeter, people tend to use less of it.
- Consider an artificially sweetened beverage. If you’re having difficulties getting your child to drink plain water, consider one glass of artificially sweetened beverage. However, Ms. Seither says you should clear this with a pediatrician or healthcare provider.