Parents have many beverage choices to serve up to kids including water, juice, milk and sugar sweetened beverages. As a family nutrition expert, I often hear complaints that children won’t drink water and only prefer sweet drinks.
No doubt, the time to instill a love for water is in the early years—and it’s easier than parents think!
Understand the problem
According to a 2008 study in Pediatrics children and adolescents get about 10 to 15 percent of their calories from 100% fruit juice and sugar sweetened beverages and consumption is on the rise in all age groups. What may be most surprising is most of these beverages are consumed at home—and not in school or outside environments.
What’s the harm? Young children, with small stomachs, can fill up on caloric drinks, resulting in poor nutrition. Other children will not compensate for the calories ingested in such drinks and will take in excess calories. And sugar-sweetened drinks increase the risk of dental cavities, a growing problem in young children.
And while there is nothing wrong with some juice with meals, children’s taste preferences are getting sweeter with all these beverages. In a nutshell: sweet tastes beget more sweet taste.
Enforce the “water between meals” rule
If your child is used to sugar-sweetened beverages daily, juice to quench their thirst, or sipping on milk all day, they will be resistant to change. Simply tell them that it is water only between meals and they can have juice (and milk, of course) at mealtimes. Leave the sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, fruit punch and juice drinks) to special occasions or outings.
When it comes to juice amounts, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice to 4-6 ounces for children aged 1 to 6 years old and 8-12 ounces for kids aged 7-18 years old.
Get a special cup
Let your child choose a designated water cup (or cups). The spill proof cup helps as it’s easy to throw in the bag as you leave the door or keep in their lunch box. Zak has many different characters and types to choose from.
Oh, and don’t forget to fill this cup with ice cold water.
Have it around
Instead of nagging kids to drink water because it is “good for them,” which tends to make them resistant to it, simply have water around whenever you go. You will be surprised at how much they start depending on this nice little beverage. And it also helps if you have your own water cup and model the behavior (Zak has cups for adults too).
When you set reasonable limits on beverages, giving kids plenty of opportunities to drink water in between meals, they will likely drink it for years to come. But not because they were told to, because they will learn from experience that it’s the best thirst quencher around.Does your child love water?
Jill Castle, MS, RD and Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD are registered dietitians, bloggers and co-authors of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eater from High Chair to High School.