Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids
To make sure kids start off the school year right, parents and teachers can help kids choose healthy drinks by ensuring that healthy choices like water and milk are always available. Make use of a school milk program. Encourage personal water bottles at school. Have water available at sporting events as water is the best choice during and after regular activity.
Fruit flavored drinks, pop, sports drinks and ice slushes have too much sugar and too few nutrients for healthy growth. These sugary drinks can replace healthier drink choices making it hard for kids to get the nutrients they need. To help students know what healthy drinks are, try categorizing them as Everyday Drinks, Sometimes Drinks and Drinks to Limit. These would correspond to Choose Most Often, Choose Sometimes, and Choose Least often categories in the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth.
Everyday Drinks: These are healthy drinks like milk or unsweetened fortified soy beverages and water that should be offered every day. “Drink water throughout the day”, “Drink milk at meals”, and “Choose healthy drinks” posters are available to download or print for your school or classroom.
Sometimes Drinks: These contain some nutrients but may also have added sugars. These drinks can be enjoyed up to a few times a week, but do not need to be offered. Examples of sometimes drinks would be:
- 100% fruit juice (limit to 125 mL or 1/2 cup per day)
- chocolate milk
- coconut water, plain or with 100% fruit juice or fruit puree
- plant-based beverages such as almond, coconut, hemp or cashew beverages. These are sometimes choices as they do not have the same amount of protein as milk or soy beverages and may contain added sugars
Drinks to Limit: Most of these drinks are low in nutrients and higher in sugar and/or fat. They may also contain sugar substitutes or caffeine. It is suggested that families limit these choices to about 1 serving per week so they don’t replace healthy options. These Choose Least Often choices should not be offered at schools to create an environment that provides and promotes healthy foods and drinks. Drinks that fall into this category include:
- Fruit drinks, punches, “ades”, beverages and cocktails. They have added sugars and very little or no actual fruit juice. A 591 mL bottle of fruit drink has about 18 teaspoons (72 grams) of sugar!
- A 355 mL can of pop has about 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of sugar and the acids in it can weaken tooth enamel.
- Iced slush and iced tea. A 1.18 L iced slush has 36 teaspoons or 144 grams of sugar
- Vitamin water. This flavoured water product may contain added sugars or sugar substitutes. The vitamins and minerals added to these drinks are already found in common foods.
- Sports drinks. A 710 mL bottle has about 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of sugar. For most activity lasting less than one hour, water is the best choice.
- Coffee drinks.
Energy drinks are not recommended for kids as they contain higher amounts of sugar and caffeine as well as other ingredients such as vitamins and herbs.
For more information, see the Alberta Health Services handout: Healthy Drinks Healthy Kids
Pat MacIntosh, Registered Dietitian