Q: My child drinks too many sugary drinks. Any suggestions for healthier summer beverages?
A: It is unfortunate that so many kid-friendly drinks contain added sugars, caffeine and artificial ingredients. Children in the U.S. actually get more of their calories from sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks than they get from nutrient-dense foods such as bread, chicken, pasta, milk, vegetables and fruit.
Kids are naturally drawn to sweetened drinks, and it is frustrating that the nutrition facts panels on food labels do not distinguish between the natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk and the "added sugars" that often are added to kids' drinks. This means that concerned parents have to scan the full list of ingredients to ensure their child isn't getting too many added sugars. One of the most difficult dietary recommendations to follow is to keep our intake of added sugars below 5 percent of our total calories, which translates to about 100 kcal/day of these added sugars. To help put this number in perspective, a 12-ounce can of soda contains 140 kcal from sugar — meaning that just one can of soda provides more added sugar than we should consume all day!
Fruit juices obviously are a much healthier choice than sodas, but they usually contain about the same amount of total sugar. To reduce your child's intake of these natural sugars, slowly start mixing a little bit of water in with the juice. Start with just 10 percent water, and slowly work your way up to 50 percent water mixed with 50 percent juice. In addition to reducing the number of calories and sugars consumed, your child will be less likely to develop a sweet tooth, because if kids become accustomed to drinking sweet-tasting drinks, it will become harder to get them to accept unsweetened drinks later in life.
The same is true for the caffeine in sodas and energy drinks. If kids get used to getting this energy jolt at a young age, it will be much harder for them to go without caffeine and sugar when they graduate to coffee and lattes.
Water is the best way to stay hydrated
Here are a few tips to make water more appealing:
- Chill — Some kids prefer cold water to room temperature water. Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so your child always has cold water within arm's reach.
- Flavor — Flavored (and carbonated) waters are free of added sugars and calories, yet still have the flavors (and fizz) of soda.
- Infuse — Add a few slices of citrus, mint or even cucumbers to provide more zing.
- Make — Place sparkling water and ice in a blender and toss in some melon, berries or citrus fruit. You will have a refreshing drink that is full of flavor and not artificial ingredients. Try our recipe »
- Eat — Melons, such as cantaloupe and watermelon, contain more than 90 percent water by weight, and the water in fruits and vegetables still counts toward your daily water requirement.
- Give — Offering your child his/her own special water bottle can convert "boring water" into "my water!"
Most importantly, be a good role model. Kids always are more likely to try (and like) foods and beverages after they see adults doing the same. You need water too!