New Guidelines Recommend Best Beverages For Your Child

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As a parent, you likely do your best to put healthy fare on your child’s plate. But did you know that what your child drinks is just as important? It can be confusing to know exactly what’s OK when it comes to sipping. Thankfully, four of America’s biggest health organizations have come together to give us advice.

The guidelines from the group – consisting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association – are clear:

  • 0 – 6 months: Breast milk or infant formula only.
  • 6 – 12 months: Breast milk or infant formula; start introducing water with solid foods.
  • 1 – 2 years: Add in whole milk, water and small amounts of fruit juice (if desired).
  • 2 – 5 years: Serve skim or 1 percent milk, water and small amounts of fruit juice (if desired).

Steer Clear of Sugar

So what should kids skip? “The No. 1 rule of thumb is to avoid sugar,” says James Leslie, MD, a pediatrician with Green Road Pediatrics. “That includes flavored milks, toddler formulas, fruit-flavored drinks, low-calorie sweetened beverages, sports or soft drinks, sweetened flavored water and much more. Kids should also avoid caffeinated beverages.”

If your child is lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, consult with a pediatrician to choose the right milk substitute. Many plant-based/nondairy milk alternatives (such as almond and rice milk) are missing key nutrients found in cow’s milk.

What about fruit juice? “Whole fruit is always more nutritious than juice,” says Dr. Leslie. “However, it’s OK to serve a little bit of juice from a cup during meals or snacks. Just make sure it’s 100 percent juice with no sugar added. And stick to a small portion size – no more than a half cup per day for 1- to 3-year-olds and ¾ cup per day for 4- to 5-year-olds. Adding some water can help it go further and decrease sweetness.”

Homemade fruit juice and smoothies offer the benefit of assuring freshness and providing fiber in a low-sugar drink. Juices and smoothies made from clean fresh fruit can be refrigerated for 48 hours or frozen.

Why Choice Matters

A daily fix of chocolate milk may not seem harmful, but what children drink in their younger years can make a big difference for their future. Drinking the right beverages fuel proper growth and development, and sets children on a healthy path.

“Flavor preferences are established at a very early age," Dr. Leslie says. "If children develop a taste for healthy drinks and learn to steer clear of the sugar-laden ones, it can reduce their risk for health issues later on.”

For more information and to read the full guidelines, go to the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids website.

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to children of all ages. Schedule an appointment today with a UH Rainbow pediatrician.

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