Beverage recommendations for children ages 5 and under
Monday, September 30, 2019
Although the grocery store shelves are packed full of all sorts of drinks for children, leading medical and nutrition organizations have developed new, comprehensive recommendations for beverage consumption for children ages birth to 5 years old.
Experts now recommend breast milk, infant formula, water and plain milk as the best beverage options for children, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.
“Experts now caution against beverages that are sources of added sugars in young children’s diets, including flavored milk and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened drinks,” Hermann said. “They’re also suggesting avoiding beverages that are on the market and targeted to children such as toddler formulas, caffeinated drinks and plant-based/non-dairy milks, including almond, rice or oat milk, which provide no unique nutritional value.”
It is important to start shaping nutritional habits and promoting healthy beverage consumption in early childhood. From the time children are born through their first few years, beverages are a significant source of calories and nutrients and can have a big impact on a child’s future health.
Hermann said babies up to 6 months old need only breast milk or infant formula to get enough fluids and proper nutrition.
“In addition to breast milk or infant formula, babies between 6 months and 12 months can be offered a small amount of drinking water once solid foods are introduced. Just a few sips at mealtime will help them get familiar with the taste,” she said. “It’s best for children under age 1 to avoid juice completely. Even 100 percent fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruits.”
Begin adding whole milk to a toddler’s diet when they are 12 months to 24 months old. Whole milk contains many essential nutrients. Be sure to include plain drinking water for hydration. Hermann said a small amount of 100 percent, no-sugar-added juice is fine, but several small pieces of whole fruit is a better choice.
Milk and water should be the go-to beverage choices for children between the ages of 2 and 5. Look for milks with less fat than whole milk, such as skim or low-fat options. If you do give your child juice, again, make sure it is 100 percent juice and stick to small amounts. You can even water it down a bit.
“Sometimes as parents we tend to worry about the types of foods our children are consuming, but beverage choices play an important role in their nutrition,” Hermann said.