You know it’s important to fill your kids’ plates with healthy food. But what you pour into their glasses matters, too. If your children are guzzling lots of the sugary stuff, it’s time to rethink their drinks.
So what can you give them instead? The answer is simple.
“There are really only two things that kids should be drinking: milk and water,” says Lisa Asta, MD, a pediatrician in Walnut Creek, CA.
Make a Splash With H2O
The great thing about water is that it’s a zero-calorie quencher that helps muscles and the brain stay hydrated, says Rene Ficek, RD, a dietitian in Chicago.
How much kids need each day depends on their age, if they’re a boy or girl, the weather, and how active they are, says Kristi King, RD, senior pediatric dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
As a general rule, here’s how much H2O kids should drink every day:
- Toddlers: 2 to 4 cups
- 4-8 years: 5 cups
- 9 -13 years: 7 to 8 cups
- 14 and up: 8 to 11 cups
If your kids are in sports or they're just running around, they’ll need more. Before and after play, give them two or three more cups. During breaks, get them to take six to eight big gulps.
If plain water doesn’t float your child’s boat, jazz it up, King says. Add cucumber, mint, berries, ginger, or cherries.
Your kids can “eat” their water too. Fruits and veggies like watermelon and lettuce also are hydrating, she says.
Milk Their Diets
Milk gives kids calcium and other nutrients they need, Ficek says.
Children under age 2 should drink whole milk, unless they're overweight. But after that, switch to non-fat, Asta says.
The goal for kids between ages 1 and 9 is 2 cups a day. Older kids should have 3 cups.
Your children don’t like milk? Try these ideas:
- Make sipping fun for little ones by serving it in cute cups or with silly straws.
- Sneak milk into tomato soup, oatmeal, and other foods.
- Stir in a bit of chocolate or strawberry flavoring to spice up the taste.
To Juice or Not to Juice?
Full of vitamins and nutrients, 100% fruit juice is OK for kids sometimes -- but you should limit how much they get. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 6 ounces a day for kids between ages 1 and 6, and no more than 12 ounces for kids older than 7.
Why limit juices? They’re loaded with sugar. Eight ounces of orange juice, for example, weighs in at 22 grams of sugar and 110 calories.
Avoid juice drinks, because they have just a fraction of real juice and have even more of the sweet stuff.
Drinks to Ditch Most of the Time
Certain ones your child should have just once in a while:
Sodas are OK at the movies or during birthday parties, King says. But don’t make them a regular thing. “It’s like having a lollipop with your meal,” Asta says.
Sports drinks are an easy way to replace minerals called electrolytes, fluid, and sugar during or after a long bout of exercise, like playing a soccer game, when your child is running and sweating hard, says Lisa Diewald, RDN. She's a dietitian at the Center for Obesity Prevention and Education at Villanova University. But “save these drinks for use on active game days, not lunch bags, and after-school snacks,” she says.
Energy drinks have no place in a child's or teen’s diet at all. They’re loaded with caffeine and sugar, and the "jolt" of energy can trigger a rapid heartbeat and stomach pain in some kids, Diewald warns.
“A brisk walk and plenty of water can be much more energizing, clearing the brain and allowing for better focus,” she says.