It can be easy to grab a can of pop or juice box for a thirsty kid when you’re on the run. But is it the best choice?
“Water,” says Daina Kalnins, Manager of Clinical Dietetics and an Academic and Clinical Specialist Dietitian in Respiratory Medicine at SickKids. “Water is the best thirst quencher around.”
Kalnins recommends water and milk be the beverage of choice for children up to the age of ten. Young kids don’t need juice, she says. “It’s just empty calories from sugar. It fills their stomachs up, displacing their hunger for the healthy foods they need to grow.” Milk, on the other hand, gives kids the fat and calories they need. Fruit will provide kids with fibre missing from juice.
If parents offer juice, Kalnins stresses that moderation and education is key. “Parents shouldn’t focus on totally eliminating beverages such as juice and pop, but educating kids on how those types of drinks will make them feel,” says Kalnins. “Kids are surrounded by them. They’re going to be in situations, such as a parties, where there will be all sorts of goodies on offer. You want your child to make the choice to have just a little, and that’s it.”
It’s not an impossible task, she assures doubtful parents. Kalnins notes that a body gets used to what it is given. A child who is raised drinking primarily water and milk will tend to feel slightly ill if he or she overloads on sugary treats. “It may be uncomfortable for them, but it can be a real learning experience,” she says. “It helps kids learn to listen to their bodies.”
As for caffeine, Kalnins notes that Health Canada has recommendations for the amount that can be consumed daily. “It’s a stimulant. I think all parents should read about what caffeine is and what it does before they give it to a child. They might reach for the water instead.”
Sugar-free pop not recommended as substitute for water, Kalnins adds, and aspartame recommendations can also be found on the Health Canada website.
Healthy doesn’t have to be boring! Kalnins recommends some delicious alternatives to water:
- Soy and almond milks – just make sure they have equivalent calcium amounts to an equal serving of milk.
- Flavoured water – put slices of lemon, lime, cucumbers or chunks of watermelon or other fruit into water.
- Bubbly water – use sodium-free carbonated water and add a spritz of fruit juice for a fun drink.
- Chocolate milk – add regular milk to reduce the sweetness.