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Healthy drinks for kids

7 healthy drinks for kids (and 3 to avoid)

Giving your kids refreshing, low-sugar drinks is key to their health. Here, we'll explore 7 good drink choices for kids, along with 3 drinks you should avoid.

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7 healthy drinks for kids (and 3 to avoid)
Last updated on May 3, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on February 16, 2024.

Getting your child to enjoy healthy food might be tricky, but finding drinks that are both nutritious and appealing can be just as tough.

7 healthy drinks for kids (and 3 to avoid)

Kids often crave sweet drinks, but steering them towards healthier choices is crucial for their overall well-being.

Here are seven good drink options for kids and three to steer clear of.

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1. Water

Always offer water first when your child says they’re thirsty.

Water is essential for health, supporting vital functions like regulating body temperature and ensuring organs work properly.

Children, in fact, need more water than adults when you consider their body weight, because of their quick growth and high metabolism.

Water doesn’t contain calories, so it won’t make your child too full for meals, which is particularly useful if your child is selective with food.

Drinking enough water can help maintain a healthy weight, lower the chance of tooth decay, and boost brain function in kids.

Not getting enough water can affect your child’s well-being in several ways, like diminishing brain function, causing constipation, and making them tired.

Summary: Water is vital for your child’s health and should be the main drink they have.

2. Naturally flavored water

If your child finds plain water dull, you can make it more appealing without adding sugar or calories by infusing it with fresh fruits and herbs.

Experiment with various fruit and herb mixes to discover what your child likes.

This way, they also get added nutrients from the fruit and herbs in the water.

Some great mixtures are:

Encourage your child to pick their favorite flavors and help mix them into the water.

There are even reusable water bottles available that come with a section for infusing fruit, making it easier for your child to stay hydrated on the go.

Summary: Enhance water with fresh fruits and herbs for an enjoyable, flavorful drink that your child will love.

3. Coconut water

Even though coconut water has some calories and sugars, it’s a better option than sodas or sports drinks.

It’s packed with nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, which are essential for kids.

Coconut water is full of electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, replenishing what’s lost through sweat, making it a great drink for active kids.

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It’s also helpful for rehydration during illness, like after diarrhea or vomiting.

Be sure to choose plain, unsweetened coconut water, avoiding those with added sugars or flavors.

Summary: Coconut water is a nutritious, electrolyte-rich drink, ideal for rehydrating kids after physical activity or illness.

4. Certain smoothies

Smoothies are a tasty method to incorporate fruits, veggies, and other nutritious items into your child’s meals.

Avoid store-bought smoothies, which may be high in sugar, and opt for homemade ones with healthy ingredients instead.

Smoothies can be a godsend for parents of picky eaters, allowing the inclusion of veggies like kale, spinach, and cauliflower in a delicious way.

Try kid-approved blends like kale with pineapple, spinach with blueberries, peach with cauliflower, or strawberries with beets, mixed with unsweetened milk (dairy or non-dairy). Enhance them with healthy extras like hemp seeds, cocoa, or avocado.

Serve smoothies as a snack or a complement to a light meal.

Summary: Homemade smoothies are great for getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

5. Unsweetened milk

Though many kids lean towards flavored milks, plain, unsweetened milk is the healthiest option.

Milk is loaded with key nutrients for growth, like protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and often vitamin D.

Young children benefit from milk with a bit of fat for brain development and overall growth, making 2% milk a preferable choice over skim milk.

Be mindful of the amount, as too much milk can fill a child up and reduce their appetite for other foods.

If your child shows signs of dairy intolerance, like bloating or diarrhea, consult a pediatrician.

Suggested read: Electrolyte water: Benefits and myths

Summary: Unsweetened dairy milk is nutritious for children, but be aware of potential milk intolerance.

6. Unsweetened plant-based milks

If your child can’t have dairy milk, unsweetened plant-based milks are a great choice.

Options include hemp, coconut, almond, cashew, rice, and soy milk.

To avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, go for the unsweetened types.

These milks are perfect for drinking by themselves, or as a base for smoothies, oatmeal, and soups, offering a low-calorie option.

For instance, a cup of unsweetened almond milk has fewer than 40 calories.

Choosing low-calorie drinks with meals helps prevent your child from getting too full on liquids. Plus, plant-based milks are often enriched with important nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Summary: Unsweetened plant-based milks are good dairy alternatives and useful for various culinary uses.

7. Certain herbal teas

Tea might not be the first choice for kids, but some herbal teas are both safe and beneficial.

Herbal teas like lemongrass, mint, rooibos, and chamomile are good alternatives to sugary drinks, being caffeine-free and tasty.

They can also offer health benefits, such as soothing sick or anxious children.

Chamomile and lemongrass, for example, are known for their calming effects and have been used to treat digestive troubles like nausea, gas, and indigestion, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties.

However, always talk to a pediatrician before introducing herbal teas to your child’s diet, and ensure they’re served at a safe temperature.

Herbal teas aren’t suitable for infants and should be approached with caution for older children.

Summary: Herbal teas like chamomile and mint are a safe, caffeine-free beverage choice for kids, offering both taste and health benefits.

Drinks to limit

It’s okay for kids to have a sugary drink once in a while, but these should not be a regular part of their diet.

Drinking sugary beverages often, like sodas and sports drinks, can lead to issues such as obesity and tooth decay in kids.

1. Soda and sweetened beverages

Soda and other sugary drinks, including sports drinks, sweetened milks, and sweet teas, should be consumed sparingly.

Suggested read: 8 healthy drinks rich in electrolytes

A single can of regular soda packs about 39 grams of sugar, which is far above the recommended daily limit of less than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for children aged 2–18.

These drinks are not only linked to diseases like type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease but also contribute to weight gain and dental problems in children.

Additionally, many of these beverages contain high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener associated with increased obesity risk in kids.

Summary: Regular consumption of sweetened drinks can elevate the risk of obesity, liver disease, and diabetes in children.

2. Juice

While 100% fruit juice does offer vitamins and minerals, its consumption should be within the limits recommended for kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4–6 ounces (120–180 ml) daily for kids 1–6 years old, and 8–12 ounces (236–355 ml) for those 7–18.

Drinking juice in moderation doesn’t typically lead to weight gain, but too much can increase obesity risk.

Research has shown that daily fruit juice intake can contribute to weight gain in younger kids.

A review found that one daily serving of 100% fruit juice was linked to weight gain over a year in children aged 1–6, likely because juice lacks the fiber found in whole fruits, making it easier to overconsume.

Therefore, whole fruits are preferable to juice for kids.

Juice should not be given to infants younger than one year, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Summary: Juice can provide essential nutrients but should not replace whole fruit in a child’s diet.

3. Caffeinated beverages

A significant number of children consume caffeine through sodas, coffee, and energy drinks, which can have negative health impacts.

Research shows that around 75% of children in the U.S. aged 6–19 consume caffeine, with daily intakes averaging 25 mg for kids 2–11 years old and double that for those 12–17.

Caffeine can lead to issues like jitteriness, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, and sleep problems in children, so its intake should be carefully managed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting caffeine to no more than 85–100 mg per day for those over 12, and avoiding it entirely for younger children.

Energy drinks, often containing more than 100 mg of caffeine per serving, should be restricted for all kids and teenagers to prevent excessive caffeine consumption.

Summary: Caffeine can lead to nervousness, anxiety, increased heart rate, and sleep issues in kids, so their intake of caffeinated drinks should be limited or avoided.

Summary

You have many healthy drink options to give your kids when they’re thirsty.

Choose from simple and fruit-infused waters, milks from both dairy and plants, and specific herbal teas that are suitable for kids.

Opt for these instead of sugary, calorie-heavy choices like soda, flavored milks, and energy drinks.

Suggested read: 17 foods and drinks for when you have the stomach flu

Even if your child is hesitant to give up their favorite sugary drink, you’re making a wise decision for their health by choosing these healthier alternatives.

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