It can be hard to decide which drinks to provide your young children with all of the options available. The labels can be confusing with names like “fruit drinks” and “toddler milk” that sound healthy. Research shows that what children drink – from birth through age 5 – can have a big impact on their health. But what drinks are actually recommended for young children? And how can you get them to drink what is best? Let’s break it down together:
- Keep it simple: Water and plain milk are the best choices. For water, it is recommended to start introducing it at meals once solid food is introduced. From 12 months to 3 years, 1-4 cups of water are suggested per day. That increases to 1½-5 cups per day for 4 to 5 year olds. As for milk, you can start adding whole milk to your child’s diet at 12 months, then transition to skim (non-fat) or low-fat (1%) at 2 years. (As always, consult with your healthcare provider about your child’s individual needs.) For a chart that shows these recommended amounts by age, visit this page.
- Keep it real: Fruit juice is not a necessary drink for young children, and should not be served to children before 12 months. After that age, a small amount of juice is ok, but make sure it’s 100% fruit juice. Look for the 100% juice label on the front of the package. If it is not there, the drink may contain added sugars and/or diet sweeteners, which health experts do not recommend. You can also add water or ice to fill a bigger cup and make the juice less sweet. Try to limit juice consumption to about 4 fl oz or ½ cup per day (juice boxes are often around 4 fl oz).
- Skip these: All children 5 and under should avoid drinking flavored milk, toddler formula/milk, plant-based/non-dairy milk (unless directed by a health care provider), caffeinated beverages, and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages (like soda and sports/energy drinks), as these beverages can be big sources of added sugars in young children’s diets and provide no added nutritional value. Fruit drinks and toddler milks are often marketed as healthy but watch these short videos to find out the truth behind the hype (fruit drinks, toddler milk).
- Swap it out: Replace fruit-flavored drinks with 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or even better, whole or cut-up fruit! Replace sports drinks with cold, crisp water, and flavored milk with plain milk. Cut out soda and energy drinks completely - kids already have enough energy, right?
- Make water the go-to drink: If you need some help getting the little ones to like water, try making it fun! If your child won’t accept plain water, try adding pieces of fresh fruit or herbs to improve the taste, like in our recipe for Wild Water (Hint: let them choose what ingredients to add). Get a special straw, cup, or child-size water bottle just for drinking water. And don’t forget to be a role model; your children are much more likely to drink water if they see you enjoying it!