Healthy Drinks for Kids_KH_Parent

Healthy Drinks for Kids

There's a lot of talk about getting kids to eat healthy, but what about getting them to drink healthy? What a child drinks can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of calcium needed to build strong bones.

Serve Water and Milk

For kids of all ages, water and milk are the best choices, so let them flow. Not only is water calorie-free, but drinking it teaches kids to accept a low-flavor, no-sugar beverage as a thirst-quencher. Because a cup of milk has 300 milligrams of calcium, it can be a big contributor to your child's daily needs.

Here's how much calcium kids need each day:

  • toddlers (ages 1 to 2 years): 500 milligrams of calcium daily
  • kids (ages 4 to 8 years): 800 milligrams
  • older kids (ages 9 to 18 years): 1,300 milligrams

Current dietary guidelines recommend that children ages 2 through 8 consume 2 cups (480 milliliters) of low-fat milk (or equivalent dairy products) every day. Children 9 years and older should have 3 cups (720 milliliters) per day.

When kids drink too much juice, juice drinks, sports drinks, and soda, these beverages can crowd out the milk they need. Sugary drinks also can pile on the calories.

This chart shows the calories and sugar in different beverages:

Water 8 oz (240 ml) 0 0 g
Low-fat milk 8 oz (240 ml) 100 11 g
100% orange juice 8 oz (240 ml) 110 22 g
Juice drink (10% fruit juice) 8 oz (240 ml) 150 38 g
Powdered drink mix (with sugar added) 8 oz (240 ml) 90 24 g
Soda 8 oz (240 ml) 100 27 g

Put Limits on Juice

If your child likes juice, be sure to serve 100% juice. Also follow these recommended limits:

  • up to 6 months old: no juice
  • 6-12 months old: no more than 2-4 ounces (120 milliliters) per day, always served in a cup
  • 1-6 years old: 4-6 ounces (120-180 milliliters) of juice per day
  • 7-18 years old: 8-12 ounces (240-360 milliliters) of juice per day

Say No to Soda

Soft drinks are commonly served to kids, but these carbonated beverages have no nutritional value and are high in sugar. Drinking soda and other sugared drinks is associated with tooth decay. Colas and other sodas often contain caffeine, which kids don't need. In addition, soft drinks may be taking the place of calcium-rich milk. A recent study found that 1 in 8 preschool-aged children drank 8 ounces of soda and fruit drinks (not including 100% fruit juice) and drank less than the recommended 16 ounces of milk each day.

If soda habits start when kids are little, chances are they will drink increasing amounts as they get older. In older kids and adolescents, drinking soda has been linked to excessive weight gain and other problems.

That said, many kids like soda and will request it. As a rule, don't serve it to babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. With older kids, let them know it's a once-in-a-while beverage. Don't ban it entirely if your kids like it now and then — that's likely to make it more alluring and them more inclined to overdo it when they get the chance!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2008

Related Sites

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
American Dietetic Association
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
American Academy of Family Physicians
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

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