Learn which drinks are best for kids, how to choose healthy ones, and try a few easy recipes for delicious options to keep the kids hydrated.
Healthy Drinks for Kids
Between the drinks the kids prefer, all of the marketing and special “kids drinks” at the store, and what we hear about the drinks kids are “supposed” to drink, knowing what to serve can be confusing! This post is here to help.
A report called Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids was released about a year ago in a combined effort by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Heart Association.
In it, they share a consensus on what kids should be drinking:
- Breast milk or formula only for first 6 months.
- Add a few sips of water between 6-12 months.
- After 12 months, all kids should be drinking 1-5 cups of water per day.
- Up to age 2, 2-3 cups of plain whole milk per day.
- Over age 2, switch to skim or 1% milk, limit 2-2.5 cups per day.
- Limit 100% fruit juice to no more than 4-6 ounces per day for kids over age one.
- Avoid chocolate milk, other flavored milk, plant milks, fruit drinks, sport drinks, sodas, diet sodas, and all other sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks.
That’s a fairly all or nothing approach that doesn’t take real world considerations into account, so I have more to say on each of these points below.
Best Milk for Toddlers
The advice for younger kids is very straight forward and not bound to raise any red flags. Toddlers should drink whole milk dairy, or a nondairy equivalent such as soy milk or plant milk with added protein and calcium up until age two.
TIP: You can read more about the best milk for toddlers here (including recommendations for plant milks if you want one for allergies or preferences).
Best Milk for Older Kids
Even though many health organizations still say that kids over age two should switch to low or non-fat milk, that advice is somewhat outdated and newer advice suggests that it’s perfectly fine to stick with whole milk.
This would be something to talk to your pediatrician about if you have concerns.
How much water do kids need?
Kids should be drinking 1-5 cups of water per day and a general rule to follow would be to offer water between meals so the kids avoid filling up on juice and milk—and have the space in their bellies to be hungry for food.
How much juice can kids drink?
The advice in the new report says that kids over two should have no more than one small serving of juice a day. If you’re blending up fresh fruit into an all-fruit juice or smoothie, I wouldn’t consider that the “juice” they mean—we’re talking regular juice you’d buy at the store.
The reason for this is that juice contains relatively few nutrients because you’re just taking part of the whole fruit. So if you were to eat a whole apple, you’d get fiber in addition to Vitamin C. But there’s no fiber in the juice.
There is a case to be made for not wholly restricting juice though, both because it can be useful to help kids drink enough when it’s super hot, when you’re dealing with constipation, or when you really just need the kids to drink fluids.
And because restricting whole foods groups can make them more tempting to kids, causing them to potentially go overboard when they do have access, it can be perfectly fine to include drinks besides plain milk and water in the mix of an overall varied diet.
TIP: You can try watering down juice a little to give kids the flavor they like and expect to add more water into their diets.
Is chocolate milk healthy?
If a child has two servings of chocolate milk a day, that’s already almost the sugar limit for the day at 22 grams added sugar recommended per day by the American Heart Association.
That said, there’s no evidence to suggest that chocolate or flavored milks are the sole culprit behind kids bodies growing faster than they have in previous years.
I consider chocolate milk to be a “fun food” and try to think of it in the same category as other fun foods such as chips, desserts, and treats. That may or may not work for your family, but it helps me to keep it in perspective and remember that some is perfectly okay—especially when my kids choose to drink it at school.
Healthy Kids Drinks for School
If your school is like ours, there is at least chocolate milk—if not strawberry and vanilla. It’s wholly unfair to ask a child to choose plain milk for health reasons because all they really care about is that food tastes good.
If you are worried about the type of milk your child is drinking at school, talk to the food director or the principal. It would be much easier for kids on a whole to make “healthier” decisions about drinks if they had fewer options at school.
(You can also consider sharing the new report with them as backup to your concerns!)
How to Choose Healthy Drinks for Kids
If you’re wanting to choose healthy drinks for kids, here’s what I would suggest:
- Rely mostly on water and milk for kids of all ages, though particularly for those two and under.
- Offer juice and chocolate milk less often (if you want to offer it at all—no pressure either way!).
- Use whole fruit smoothies and juices as you like.
- Use plant milks as needed for allergies and preferences.
- Don’t feel guilty if your kids like juice and milk—of course they do, they both taste good!
- Instead of coaching them to choose plain milk over flavored at school, work with the school to limit those options.
Easy Drink Recipes for Kids
These are some of the options I like to make at home to share with my kids.
- Fresh Watermelon Juice
- Banana Milk
- Strawberry Milk
- Vanilla Milk
- Chocolate Milk
- Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
You can download our podcast episode all about whether it’s okay for kids to drink chocolate milk from iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn Radio, or wherever else you get your podcasts—or listen to it above.