Healthy Drinks for Kids & Recommendations by Age

This blog post was written in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation o help bring awareness to healthy drink guidelines for kids. All opinions in the post are my own.

Every parent wants their child to grow up happy and healthy; which is why since my kids were young, I’ve tried to be a good role model for them when it comes to healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

I remember asking our pediatrician to answer an endless list of questions at the time, and with each answer he gave me reassurance that it was “normal” wonder things like… “when do you give a baby water?” and “how many ounces of breast milk should she be drinking if I pump?”

woman kissing baby girl

Back then, there were no parenting blogs or as much information online as there is today. I had books to read; many of which are still being sold today although updated with new research and guidelines as new recommendations become available. 

Years later, I began this blog and as my reach grew, I found a new responsibility to team up with organizations that could bring the newest research forward on important health topics for kids. I’ve realized that my blog is the vessel I wish I had available when my kids were younger.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve partnered with HER, Healthy Eating Research to talk about healthy drinks for healthy kids as new guidelines have surfaced about what kids ages 0-5 should be drinking to grow healthy and prevent health issues.

This is the first time groups like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have made consistent recommendations for beverage consumption for children ages 0-5.

As a parent, this is a big deal, given that there is so much misinformation on the internet, much of which are opinions, not data and research-driven. 

The new recommendations came from an expert panel from the above organizations as well as a scientific advisory committee to conduct a review of 50+ existing documents from domestic and international bodies on recommendations and guidance for beverage consumption in early childhood, along with reviews of existing literature and meetings, to develop these consensus recommendations.

A consensus. Finally! A group of experts sharing facts, research, and agreeing on a consistent message for parents to follow. This is important because we, parents, can use this information to prevent future health issues, like dental cavities or diet-related diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes, and to ensure optimal development and overall health of our kids. 

What our kids drink during their early development years, from birth to age five, is very important for their health now and for years to come. 

For most kids, the following recommendations can help set children on a path for healthy growth and development: 

  • All kids 5 and under should avoid drinking flavored milks (e.g., chocolate, strawberry), sweetened plant-based/non-dairy milks (unless there’s a dairy allergy and this is recommended by your physician), caffeinated beverages (e.g. soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks) and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages (e.g. “diet” or “light” drinks, including those sweetened with stevia or sucralose), as these beverages can be big sources of added sugars in young children’s diets and provide no unique nutritional value.
  • Babies 0-6 months need only breast milk or infant formula.
  • Babies 6-12 months, in addition to breast milk or formula, offer small amounts of water once foods are introduced.
  • 12-24 months: Whole Milk, water and a small amount of 100% fruit juice to avoid added sugars (fruit is preferred). No more than 4 oz of 100% fruit juice per day.
  •  2 – 5 years old: Milk (skim or 1%) and water, small amounts of 100% fruit juice (diluting it with some water is a good approach). No more than 4 oz of 100% fruit juice per day for 2-3-year-olds. No more than 4-6 oz of 100% fruit juice per day for 4-5-year-olds.

While the above recommendations seem very simple, I know I was one of those parents that asked my pediatrician “when should I introduce water to my baby?” as well as asking “when and how much juice can I serve my child?” 

Whether you’re a first-time parent or a veteran with 2 or 3 kids under your belt, these guidelines can help you make changes to get your kids on a path to optimal health. 

And, the important thing to note here is that these guidelines are doable. The HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org website has a lot of practical tips for parents and caregivers to make implementing these guidelines into your daily lives as easy as possible and I am so happy to be able to share this resource with you today.

Why is this important to me? Not a week goes by that I don’t receive several emails from new MOMables members asking me for help when it comes to feeding their overweight child. Many write to me pleading for creative ways to provide their kids with more nutrition while reducing added sugars from their child’s diet.

One of the first questions I ask is “what is your child drinking?” And alas, we find that much of the caloric intake for the day comes from sugary drinks like juice, soda, frappuccinos, and more. 

Some tips to help you get started:

  • If your kids are hooked on juice or flavored milk, you can wean them off from too much by gradually making changes, such as adding water to juice or adding plain milk to flavored milk, so that their taste buds will gradually adjust and learn to like the less sweet varieties.  
  • You can also set boundaries about when kids can have certain beverages. For example, as kids age, the panel recommends that they only consume milk at mealtimes and water in between for thirst. This helps to limit the total amount of milk they’re consuming, while also ensuring they’re getting enough water every day.
  •  And to entice them to drink more water, you can add fresh sliced fruit to plain water, or squeezing lemons/limes (for example) into water.

These tips and more can be found on HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org 

My tips to get kids to drink more water:

1. Make the water taste good. If you live in an area where the water “tastes funny” you need a water filter. Remember me in college? The water tasted horrible and my inexpensive Brita filter fixed that issue. It’s really hard to drink a lot of something that doesn’t taste good. I also have this portable filtration bottle that I can take anywhere. Airport water fountains? check.

I love adding fresh fruit to water to give it more flavor. I feel like I’m a spa when I drink it. Not all kids like lemon in their water so I experiment with berries and oranges. My daughter also loves fresh mint leaves in her water.

2. Make water pretty. Water should not be pink, blue, purple, or any other color. Make the water pretty by adding fresh fruits or these awesome fruit cubes!

3. Make water portable. Since my kids were young, they’ve carried their own stainless steel water bottle everywhere they went. This is something that I do as well, and it sets a reminder for everyone to drink throughout the day. 

Understanding the healthy drink recommendations for our children is essential so that we can help them at a young age establish healthy habits.

Years ago, our feeding therapist suggested I offered my son, who was 3 at the time, water each time he asked for a snack. After his thirst was quenched, I would ask him “are you still hungry?” Oftentimes it was a clear “no” and it was thirst all along -especially times where he had eaten a snack not long before.

Getting our kids to reduce their added sugars is a great first step towards their health which is why understanding the drink recommendations is important since many of these added sugars are hiding in these drinks. 

I’m happy that today there are organizations like Healthy Eating Research that make it a priority to unite experts and share one clear message to all of us parents.For more information on the research, how you can visit HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org

As always, consult with your health care provider about your child’s individual needs (specific diets, allergies, intolerances, etc).

September 19, 2019

3 thoughts on “Healthy Drinks for Kids & Recommendations by Age”

  1. Laura, I applaud the panel’s recommendations are believe they will go a long way in helping to lower rates of childhood obesity, type-2 diabetes and NAFLD. I also hope that their recommendations to avoid flavored milk will have an impact on schools’ decisions to offer it. Great, informative post!

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Hi Julie! You are absolutely correct. These are great guidelines and I hope that school districts listen in order to reduce added sugars in young kids’ diet.

  2. Jessica says:

    I am a big fan of offering kids water when young. I was confused about when to do that. Thanks for this guide.

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