Q: My kids really don’t like drinking water. Can I give them juice and sports drinks instead?
A: Along with milk, plain water is the best choice of drink for children. Why? It’s super healthy, with no calories and no added sugar. It helps keep joints, bones and teeth healthy, helps blood circulation, and can help children maintain a healthy weight until adulthood. Staying hydrated improves children’s mood, memory and attention. And of course, tap water is much cheaper than sports drinks, sodas, and juices.
Water doesn’t have to be boring! There are many ways to encourage everyone in the family to drink healthily and stay hydrated throughout the day. Being a good role model is a great way to make water part of your children’s routine and get them into the habit of drinking water before they get thirsty. Here are some twists to add a little fun:
- Infuse water with lemons, berries, cucumber or mint for added flavor. It’s an easy way to keep the whole family coming back for refills.
- Keep fruits and vegetables rich in water handy. Some of the best vegetables are cucumber, zucchini, iceberg lettuce, celery, and tomato. The best fruits include watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, and grapefruit.
- Freeze fruit in ice cubes to make your drinks more fun. Young children can help fill the trays.
- Treat the kids with water bottles or special cups. Whether it’s a personalized sports bottle or a fancy mug with an umbrella or a swirling straw, adding a festive touch can make all the difference.
- Make your own popsicles with fruit puree for an afternoon of recovery. 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 drinks kids need, so don’t believe all the hype surrounding most other drinks marketed for kids. These typically contain much more sugar than children need in a day and can contribute to poor health. Here’s what to avoid:
- Sugary drinks: Establish a rule that no sugary drinks are allowed for children under 2 years old. And try to limit them as much as possible for your older children. This includes sports drinks, juice cocktails, sodas, lemonade, and sugar water. These drinks discourage the habit of drinking plain water and can add additional empty calories to the diet. They can also leave your kids less hungry for the nutritious foods they really need. Added sugars can lead to excess weight gain, cavities, diabetes, and more.
- Juice: Even 100% juices should be strictly limited. While they may contain vitamins, these drinks are high in sugar and calories, and low in the healthy fiber found in whole fruit. Because of its sweet taste, once children are offered juice, it can be difficult to get them to drink plain water.
- Flavored milk: Although it contains calcium and vitamins, flavored milk can be much higher in sugar. These added sugars should be avoided to discourage a preference for sweet flavors, which can make it difficult to supply regular milk.
- Stevia or Artificially Sweetened Drinks: Since the 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 fluid children need. Around 6 months, babies can be introduced to water. They only need about 4 to 8 ounces per day until they are one year old, as the rest of their fluids come from breast milk or formula.
To stay well hydrated, children aged 1 to 3 need about 4 cups of drinks a day, including water or milk. This increases for older children to around 5 cups for ages 4 to 8 and 7 to 8 cups for older children. These amounts vary among individuals and may need to be adjusted, depending on activity levels and the heat and humidity outside.
Dr. Janine Rethy is Division Chief 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 parenting website.