The Healthiest Drinks for Kids


We hear a lot of talk about getting kids to eat healthy, but what about getting them to drink healthy? What a child drinks can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of nutrients needed to build strong bodies.

Obesity in children may have as much to do with what kids drink as it does with what they eat. “Pediatricians, nutritionists, parents and care providers need to make every effort to teach children how to make healthy beverage choices an essential part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet,” says a recent report by Cornell Medical Center’s Nutrition Information Center.

The average American school-age child consumed 64.5 gallons of soft drink per year in 2007-2008, triple the amount consumed in 1978 (20.6 gallons), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Consumption of non-citrus juice (like apple- and grape-based mixes) among young children also tripled.

Encourage Healthy Drinks

Here are some suggestions for making healthier beverages more tasteful, available and enjoyable.

Mix sparkling mineral water and fruit juice. Diluting high-calorie fruit juices with water provides a refreshing beverage alternative.

Make refrigerated water accessible. Place children’s cups and drinking glasses near the fridge or home water cooler.

Make water-abundant fruits easily available. High-water fruits include watermelon, cantaloupe and grapes.

Serve bottled water, flavored water and milk at social functions when you’re serving soda and other beverage options. You can find single-serving bottles of water and milk in a variety of flavors.

Health experts have concluded that the dramatic rise in high-calorie beverage consumption among children and teens occurred during approximately the same years as did the most significant increase in childhood and adolescent obesity.

Reach for Water and Milk

For kids of all ages, water and low- or non-fat milk are the best choices. Not only is water calorie-free, but drinking it teaches kids to accept a low-flavor, no-sugar beverage as a thirst-quencher.

Because a cup of milk has 300 milligrams of calcium, it can be a big contributor to your child’s daily needs. Also, most milk is fortified with Vitamin D and milk contains protein. Current dietary guidelines recommend that children ages 2-8 consume 2 cups of non or low-fat milk every day. Children 9 years and older should have 3 cups per day.

Put Limits on Juice. If your child likes juice, serve 100% juice to give your child the most nutrients. Follow these recommended limits set by the American Academy of Pediatrics to cut down on calories:

Age Juice amount
Up to 6 mos. No juice
6-12 mos. 2-4 ounces juice per day
1-6 years 4-6 ounces juice per day
7-18 years 8-12 ounces juice per day

Say No to Soda. Soft drinks are commonly served to kids, but these carbonated beverages have no nutritional value and are high in sugar. Drinking soda and other sugared drinks is associated with tooth decay. Colas and other sodas often contain caffeine, which kids don’t need. If soda habits start when kids are little, chances are they will drink increasing amounts as they get older.

That said, many kids like soda and will request it. Don’t serve it to babies, toddlers or preschoolers. Let older kids know soda is a once-in-a-while treat. Banning soda entirely if your kids like it could make it more alluring.

Diet Drinks

Are diet drinks a good choice for kids? Even one fewer can of regular soda or lemonade can save 150 calories a day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six sugar substitutes (Acesulfame-K, aspartame, Neotame, saccharin, stevia and sucralose) as safe for use by adults and children.

Some parents are unconvinced by current research that deems artificial sweeteners safe. Although sugar-free soft drinks don’t add calories, remember that they don’t provide nutrients either.

Kids Need Calcium

One cup of milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. Other sources of calcium include fortified cereals, soy beverages, fortified orange juice, tofu and certain fish and vegetables. Here’s how much calcium kids need each day.

Ages 1-2

500 mg

Ages 4-8

800 mg

Ages 9-18

1,300 mg

Chocolate Milk Controversy

A controversy has developed over whether schools should serve chocolate milk. Milk’s nutrients include calcium, vitamin D and protein, important for children’s bone development and growth. But U.S. milk consumption has decreased by about one-third since 1968.

Chocolate milk contains about 50% more calories and an extra six or more grams of sugar than 1% low-fat milk. But schools are concerned that if they remove chocolate milk, kids will stop drinking milk altogether. According to the Milk Processors Education Program, milk consumption drops 35% when flavored milks are unavailable. About 70% percent of milk consumed in schools is flavored, mostly chocolate.

Many health organizations argue that the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar. Some nutritionists and parents disagree, arguing that the added calories contribute to the nation’s obesity problem.

Calories in Kids’ Drinks

Here are the calories and sugar in 8 ounces of different beverages.



Grams Sugar




Diet soda, powdered;
Sugar-free drink mix



Powdered drink mix
with sugar added





1% lowfat milk






100% orange juice



1% fat chocolate milk



10% fruit juice mix



Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and nutrition communicator for the Mid Atlantic Dairy Association.


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