10 Tips to Help Kids Make Healthy Drink Choices

Beyond the School Soda and Drink Guidelines

Encourage your kids to drink water.
Water is a healthier choice than soda and juice. Photo by Ian Waldie / Getty Images

What do your kids drink? While the types of beverages allowed to be sold in schools are restricted, some choices are healthier than others. Your kids need guidance so they make the right choices wherever they may be.

Soda and Drink Guidelines in School and at Home

The USDA Smart Snacks in School beverage guidelines limit soda and other high-calorie drinks sold in schools. Some experts think that the guidelines may not go far enough.

For example, although the guidelines allow juice with no added sweeteners, these drinks still have a lot of calories. Diet sodas allowed in high schools have few calories, but they also lack nutrition. If they were banned, teens might be encouraged to drink low-fat milk.

Consider choosing your own healthy soda and drink guidelines for your family. Your kids need guidance to make healthy choices when they aren't at school or home, including when buying drinks at stores and restaurants and when visiting friends.

Compare Common Drink Choices for Kids

Compare the fat, sugar, and calories in some of the common drinks that kids like. With the extra sugar and calories, chocolate milk would not be a good choice. And even though they don't have any fat, the Coca Cola Classic and Minute Maid Coolers have a lot of sugar in them. Comparing the drinks, you can see that the low-fat milk, 100 percent fruit juice, and water would be the best choices.

Common Drink Choices for Kids

DrinkServing SizeFatSugarCalories
Whole Milk8 oz8 g11 g150
2% Milk8 oz5 g12 g120
1% Milk8 oz2.5 g12 g100
Skim Milk8 oz0 g12 g80
Hershey's Choc Milk8 oz4.5 g30 g200
Gatorade Thirst Quencher8 oz0 g14 g50
Coca Cola Classic8 oz0 g27 g97
Crystal Light Lemonade8 oz0 g0 g5
Tropicana Healthy Kids Orange Juice8 oz0 g22 g110
Diet Coke8 oz0 g0.1 g1
Minute Maid Coolers6.7 oz0 g27 g100
Minute Maid 100% Apple Juice6.7 oz0 g21 g100
Water8 oz0 g0 g0

10 Tips For Helping Kids Make Healthy Drink Choices

Set a good example and establish healthy drink choices for your family at home. Here are examples of guidelines and tips you can follow together:

1. Drink milk: Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for milk servings for children:

  • 1 to 3 years old: About two servings of milk (low-fat milk after age 2 years)
  • 4 to 8 years old: About three servings of low-fat milk
  • 9 to 18 years old: About four servings of low-fat milk

2. Limit juice quantity and only allow 100 percent pasteurized fruit juice. Even 100 percent fruit juice has a lot of sugar, with almost 100 calories per six-ounce serving. The AAP recommendations updated in 2017 say:

  • Whole fruits are encouraged instead of fruit juice as they provide fiber.
  • When you give your child juice, it should be 100 percent pasteurized fruit juice and not fruit drinks. Unpasteurized juice products are strongly discouraged.
  • Don't allow your child to carry a cup or box of juice throughout the day. Do not give juice at bedtime.
  • Infants under 12 months of age should not be given juice. Breastfeeding should be the sole source of nutrition for infants under 6 months of age. Babies get enough fluid from breastmilk or formula.
  • Toddlers aged 1 to 3 years should have only 4 ounces of juice a day (1/2 cup).
  • Children aged 4 to 6 years should limit fruit juice to four to six ounces per day (1/2 to 3/4 cup).
  • Older children and teens aged 7 to 18 years should be limited to 8 ounces of juice a day (1 cup).

Remember that these aren't recommendations to drink juice. They are limits to not drink more than these amounts. Kids are usually better off eating whole fruits and avoiding fruit juice altogether.

3. Drink water. Encourage water as the first choice to quench thirst.

4. Avoid sugary, high-calorie drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks (unless your child is actively involved in a sporting activity at the time).

5. Teach your kids about serving sizes. For example, while a bottle of Gatorade might say it has 50 calories per serving, it is important to keep in mind that a single serving is supposed to be just 8 ounces. Since these and many other drinks, such as fountain drinks you can buy at convenience stores, can often be bought in much larger 32-ounce or even 64-ounce servings, you can get a lot more calories than you think if you drink the whole thing.

6. Limit the amount of money that you provide for your kids that they could use in school vending machines or after school to buy soda, diet soda, and juice.

7. Compare nutritional values: When you are choosing what to drink, you aren't simply looking at calories and sugar. Getting other vitamins and minerals from your drinks is important too, such as the calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A you get from milk and fortified orange juice. Or the vitamin C you can get from 100 percent fruit juice.

8. Avoid caffeine. Your kids may be tempted to drink caffeinated sodas, coffee, energy drinks, and even high-caffeine energy shots.

9. Talk to your kids about what they are drinking at school. Many parents are surprised that their kids are buying soda or juice in between classes from vending machines or coffee on the way to school. Talking to your kids about how to make healthier choices and your expectations for what they should be drinking can help make sure they choose healthier things to drink, like low-fat milk and water.

10. Keep a drink diary to get a good idea of what your kids are actually drinking each day. Many kids get way too many calories from things they drink, including fruit drinks, tea, and soda. A drink diary can help you figure out how many calories your child is getting each day from milk, juice, etc., and why they are overweight.

Sources:

A Guide to Smart Snacks in School. USDA. https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/tn/USDASmartSnacks.pdf.

Heyman MB, Abrams SA. Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations. Pediatrics. 2017;139(6). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-0967.

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