As you send your kids back to school this fall, you probably have a good plan for what they should eat each day. Whether you’re packing their lunches or letting them buy, it’s essential that their lunches include protein, fresh fruits or veggies, and enough calories to get them through the afternoon. One important consideration that parents sometimes forget about is that what they drink, counts, too. With so many sweet, sugary, or caffeine-containing choices out there, it can be difficult to ensure that your kids are drinking healthy fluids that will keep them hydrated without adding too many empty calories. Here are some liquids to encourage and others to avoid.
Most of your kids’ fluids should come from water. It’s free, it doesn’t contain sugar or other additives, and they can get it anywhere. The problem is that some kids, especially those who aren’t in the habit of drinking water frequently, will say that they don’t like it. A new non-disposable water bottle might be the incentive a reluctant water-drinker needs. You can also include ice, so it’s very cold, which makes it taste good on a hot day. Adding a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon, lime or orange can give it just enough flavor to make it more interesting than plain water.
Most kids should drink at least some milk each day, as it’s a good source of calcium and protein. If your child can’t have dairy products, fortified soy milk is a good substitute. Children should have between two and three glasses of milk (or equivalent) per day; lean toward two cups for toddlers and young children, and three cups for pre-teens and teens. Children under age 2 should have whole milk, but after that, most kids should drink skim or 1%. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to find out what type of milk is best for your child.
Fruit juices are not the same as fruit drinks; look for products that say 100% fruit juice. Fruit drinks are usually just water, sugar or corn syrup, and food coloring. Even though fruit juice is healthy, it still contains as much sugar as soda, so it needs to be limited. Young kids (up to age 6) should drink no more than 4 ounces of fruit juice per day, and older kids should really drink no more than one cup daily. You can dilute fruit juice with water, particularly for young kids who won’t notice.
Kids should not be drinking soft drinks. While exceptions can be made for birthdays and other very special occasions, soda contains large amounts of soda and some brands contain caffeine. Many schools have banned cans of soda in lunches or in vending machines, and for good reason: Drinking a lot of soda can lead to obesity and the associated health problems that go along with that. If your child craves something bubbly, consider seltzer water (which contains no sugar or calories) mixed with a bit of fruit juice.
Setting guidelines for what your kids drink throughout the course of the day can help them stick to good habits as they grow and gradually take charge of their own health.