What’s in that sippy cup?
Research shows that what children drink from birth through age 5 can have a big impact on their health. With so many choices – from milk to juice to water and other drinks – it can be confusing to know which drinks are healthy and which aren’t. That’s why some of the nation’s leading experts on children’s health came together to develop new beverage recommendations. They’re intended to help parents and caregivers choose what’s best for their kids.
The new recommendations – developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Heart Association – clear up the confusion. Every child’s needs are a little bit different, but the nation’s leading health organizations agree these recommendations can help set kids on a path of healthy growth and development.
So, what should your little ones be drinking?
0-6 months: Babies need only breast milk or infant formula.
6-12 months: Along with breast milk or infant formula, try offering a few sips of water at mealtimes once the baby has had solid food. Sipping water will help babies get familiar with the taste and develop cup-drinking skills. It’s best for children under age 1 not to drink juice. Even 100% fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit.
12-24 months: It’s time to add plain, pasteurized whole milk, which has many essential nutrients, as well as plain drinking water for hydration. Kids at this age should drink 2-3 cups of milk and 1-4 cups of water daily to get enough fluids. A small amount of juice (no more than 4 ounces) is ok, but make sure it’s 100% fruit juice to avoid added sugars. Better yet, serve small pieces of real fruit, which is even healthier because the whole fruit has nutrients like fiber. As much as possible, children should get their daily fruit intake by eating fresh, canned or frozen fruit without added sugars, rather than by drinking juice.
2-3 years: Milk and water are still the go-to beverages. Start transitioning to milks with less fat than whole milk, like skim (non-fat) or low-fat (1%). The recommended amounts are up to 2 cups of milk and up to 4 cups of water a day. If you choose to serve 100% fruit juice, stick to a small amount (no more than 4 ounces). Mixing juice with water can make a little go a long way.
- 4-5 years: Kids should drink up to 5 cups of water a day and up to 2.5 cups of plain, pasteurized fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. If you choose to offer 100% fruit juice, serve no more than 6 ounces per day. Juice – even 100% fruit juice – can contribute to dental cavities. And if kids drink more than the recommended amount, it can have other negative health impacts, such as too much weight gain.
What drinks are on the no-no list?
Children 5 and under should not drink:
- flavored milks (like chocolate and strawberry)
- “transition” or “weaning” formulas (sometimes called toddler milks/formulas, growing-up milks or follow-up formulas)
- coffee, tea and caffeinated beverages (including soda and energy drinks)
- sugar-sweetened drinks (including fruit punch, fruit-flavored drinks, sweetened waters, sports drinks and regular soda)
- low-calorie sweetened beverages (“diet” or “light” drinks, including those sweetened with artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes)
These drinks can be loaded with added sugars or provide no unique nutritional value. Avoiding these kinds of beverages at a young age helps shape your child’s taste and create healthy habits for life.
What about plant-based/non-dairy milks?
Alternatives like almond, rice and oat milks are not recommended. Evidence indicates that, except for fortified soymilk, many plant-based/non-dairy milk alternatives lack key nutrients found in cow’s milk. And our bodies can’t absorb nutrients from these non-dairy milks as well as they can from regular milk.
Non-dairy milks may be a good choice if a child is allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant. And some families make a dietary, cultural or ethical choice to avoid animal products, including dairy. In either case, consult with your health care provider to choose the right milk substitute. You need to make sure your child is still getting enough of the key nutrients in milk – protein, calcium and vitamin D. These are essential for healthy growth and development.
Healthy drinks. Healthy kids.
Every child deserves a chance to grow up healthy and strong. It’s up to the adults in their lives to make decisions that give them that chance. It also helps to be a positive role model, and giving up sugary drinks will do wonders for your health, too!
Learn more and see the full recommendations at HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org.