Healthy Drinks for Kids

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Lea este articulo en EspanolThere'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:

DRINKSIZECALORIESSUGAR
Water8 oz (240 ml)00 g
Low-fat milk8 oz (240 ml)10011 g
100% orange juice8 oz (240 ml)11022 g
Juice drink (10% fruit juice)8 oz (240 ml)15038 g
Powdered drink mix (with sugar added)8 oz (240 ml)9024 g
Soda8 oz (240 ml)10027 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 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!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2011



Related Resources

OrganizationU.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
Web SiteAcademy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.
OrganizationU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.


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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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