There's a lot of talk about getting kids to eat healthy foods, but what about getting them on board with healthy drinks? What kids drink 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 3 years): 700 milligrams of calcium daily
kids (ages 4 to 8 years): 1000 milligrams
older kids (ages 9 to 18 years): 1,300 milligrams
The current dietary guidelines for milk or equivalent dairy products or fortified soy beverages are:
Kids ages 2 to 3 should drink 2 cups (480 milliliters) every day.
Kids 4 through 8 should have 2½ cups (600 milliliters) per day.
Kids 9 and older should have 3 cups (720 milliliters) per day.
Choose fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk products most of the time.
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:
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 they 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.
One study found that on average preschoolers drank less than the recommended 16 ounces of milk each day while consuming 8 ounces of soda and fruit drinks (not including 100% fruit juice).
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!