Q: My kids really don’t like to drink water. Can I give them juice and sports drink instead?
A: Along with milk, plain water is the best drink choice for kids. Why? It is super healthy, with no calories and no added sugars. It helps keep joints, bones and teeth healthy, helps blood to circulate and can help children maintain a healthy weight into adulthood. Being well hydrated improves mood, memory and attention in children. And of course tap water is much cheaper than sports drinks, soda and juice.
Water doesn’t have to be boring! There are plenty of ways to entice everyone in the family to drink healthy and stay hydrated throughout the day. Being a good role model is a great way to make water a part of your kids’ routine and get them in the habit of drinking water before they get thirsty. Here are a few twists to add some fun:
Infuse water with lemons, berries, cucumber or mint for some extra flavor. This is an easy way to keep the whole family coming back for refills. Keep fruits and vegetables with a high water content on hand. Some of the best vegetables include cucumber, zucchini, iceberg lettuce, celery, and tomato. Top fruits include watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries and grapefruit. Freeze fruit in ice cubes to make your drinks even more fun. Young children can help fill the trays. Surprise children with special water bottles or cups. Whether it’s a personalized water bottle or a chic cup with an umbrella or a straw, a festive touch can make all the difference. Make your own ice cream with pureed fruit for an afternoon cool-down. Make it a fun family activity by using small paper cups and letting your kids decorate them or find ice cream molds in fun shapes and colors.
Water and milk are all the drinks kids need, so don’t believe the hype surrounding many of the other drinks marketed for kids. These usually contain much more sugar than children need in a day and can contribute to poor health. Here’s what to avoid:
Sugary drinks: Make a rule that no sugar-sweetened drinks are allowed for children under 2 and try to limit them as much as possible for your older children. This includes sports drinks, juice cocktails, soft drinks, lemonade and sweetened water. These drinks discourage the habit of drinking plain water and can add extra empty calories to the diet. They can also make your kids less hungry for the nutritious foods they really need. Added sugars can lead to obesity, cavities, diabetes and more. Juice: Even 100% juice should be strictly limited. While it may contain some vitamins, these drinks are high in sugar and calories and low in the healthy fiber found in whole fruits. Because of the sweet taste, it can be difficult to get children to drink plain water once they have been offered juice. Flavored milk: Although it contains calcium and vitamins, flavored milk can have a lot more sugar. These added sugars should be avoided to discourage a preference for sweet flavors, which can make it difficult when offering regular milk. Stevia or artificially sweetened drinks: Because health risks to children from stevia and artificial sweeteners are not well understood, it is best to avoid these drinks. Instead, make water readily available to encourage healthy hydration.
Many parents ask how much liquid children need. Babies can come into contact with water from about 6 months. They only need about 4 to 8 ounces a day until they are a year old because the rest of their fluids come from breast milk or formula.
To stay well hydrated, children aged 1-3 years need about 4 cups of beverages a day, including water or milk. This increases for older children to about 5 cups for ages 4-8 and 7-8 cups for older children. These amounts vary from person to person and may need to be adjusted depending on activity level and outdoor heat and humidity.
dr. Janine Rethy is Head of Community Pediatrics at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org, the AAP’s parent website.