What Should My Child Be Drinking?

December 05, 2016

Children undergo the most rapid growth during infancy and adolescence; school-age children between these stages are in a period of slower steady growth.

Beverages can have an important influence on the quality of a child’s overall eating plan and can either help support or hinder healthy growth and development. With so many beverage choices available, including milk, soft drinks, fruit juice, juice drinks, sports and energy drinks, parents are looking for guidance about what to buy and serve their family.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends low-fat or fat-free milk, water and 100 percent juice in place of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and fruit drinks and aligns with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that consumption should be limited. Some sugar-sweetened beverages, like soft drinks, have little nutritional value and can be a main source of added sugars for children and are associated with lower milk consumption and nutrients milk provides, such as calcium.  

In fact, as children get older they begin to turn from milk to less nutritious beverages. By age 6, on average, consumption of milk, yogurt and cheese falls below recommended amounts – and this trend continues through the teenage years and into adulthood. Drinking milk can help reduce excess calories from added sugars and milk provides nine essential nutrients that are important for children’s growth and development. That’s why it’s important for parents and others caring for children to reinforce the habit of drinking milk to help children meet recommendations. Modeling healthy beverage choices can be important as parents’ eating habits can have an impact on the nutrient consumption of their children.

What about flavored milk for kids? There are several reasons why you can feel good about giving your kids flavored milk. First, it’s important to know that flavored milk contributes only about 4 percent of the total added sugars kids consume, and flavored milk is a good or excellent source of the same nine essential nutrients as white milk. A recent analysis of national survey data found that among children and adolescents (2-18 years old) who drank flavored milk had a better dairy-related diet quality and greater consumption of calcium, vitamin D and potassium than children who did not drink flavored milk. Additionally, drinking flavored milk was not associated with increased body weight.  

The DGA states that 100 percent fruit juice can be part of a healthy eating pattern, however at least half of the recommended amount of fruits should come from whole fruits. AAP recommends 100 percent fruit juice for children rather than fruit drinks and punches that provide calories, but little or no fruit. For children 1-6 years old, AAP recommends limiting 100 percent fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day and 8 to 12 ounces (two servings) per day for 7-17 years old. That’s because drinking excessive amounts of fruit juice can add up to extra calories. Children should not consume unpasteurized juice.  

The AAP recommends that children (and adolescents) should not consume sports or energy drinks to avoid excess calorie consumption and any amount of caffeine (typically found in energy drinks). Instead, parents should routinely offer plain, unflavored water to children when they are thirsty after sports or between meals and snacks.

For more information about what children should be eating and drinking, check out the American Academy of Pediatric’s HealthyChildren.org site.

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