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When your baby is born, it’s easy to know what to feed them, especially when breast milk and formula are the only options! But as your little one transitions to a diet of liquids and solids, the decision becomes more complicated.
The right nutritional beverage can help support developing bones and brains, while the wrong one can affect their long-term health. When choosing drinks, it’s important to ensure adequate nutrition while avoiding any new allergens.
Then, of course, there’s the question of what your kid is actually willing to drink.
What should you reach for when your child is thirsty? In this short guide, we’ll go over the basics of what to look for in nutritional drinks for kids.
The Basics of Healthy Drinks
Just like adults, children need plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Water is essential for most bodily functions, and when we don’t consume enough water, we can suffer adverse effects of dehydration, including:
- Slow bowel movements
Keep in mind that dehydration is more serious for young children than for adults. If your child is thirsty, the first drink you should offer is trusted H2O. In general, children should have about 1 cup of water per year of age up to age 8 (i.e., a 6-year-old should drink six cups of water).
After the age of 8, they should continue to drink the same 8 cups a day as is recommended for adults.
Beyond water, your child’s beverages are a great opportunity to introduce essential vitamins and minerals into their diet. As your child’s body develops, they need a range of nutrients to build strong, healthy bones, synthesize new tissues, and maintain neurological health.
As you likely know from the “Got Milk?” ads of your own childhood, calcium is one of the most important nutrients, and kids need more as they age:
Besides calcium, other important nutrients include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Healthy fats
So, which nutritional drinks for kids best fit the bill?
For Nutrition, Choose Milk or Plant-Based Alternatives
For a long time, milk was the gold standard in children’s nutritional beverages. Milk is still a great choice for some families and kids.
- Drinking 2-3 cups of whole milk per day can deliver essential nutrients. A cup of milk has 149 calories, 7.7g of protein, 8g of nourishing fat, and about 300mg of calcium.
- Some parents choose Vitamin D fortified milk to double up on this important vitamin that milk already contains. However, keep in mind that excess Vitamin D can limit the uptake of iron.
- While whole, fortified milk is usually the best option, consult with your pediatrician if you think low-fat milk might be a better choice for your child.
Of course, milk isn’t right for every kid.
Between 2-3% of babies develop allergies to the whey protein in milk. Other children are lactose intolerant, which means they’re unable to digest the milk sugar (lactase) that naturally occurs in milk.
Besides allergies and intolerances, some families prefer to include their child in their plant-based lifestyle from an early age.
Luckily, there are more alternatives on the market than ever before.
If your child has a milk intolerance, allergy, or simple aversion, it can be helpful to try out plant-based milk.
How does popular plant-based milk stack up nutritionally to cow’s milk?
If you’re interested in supplementing your child’s diet with plant-based milk, keep an eye on the label to understand whether sugar has been added to make the product more palatable.
Likewise, make sure to supplement their diet with other sources of fat and protein.
While plant-based milk can be a great way to add a little extra calcium or protein to your child’s diet, it does not carry the same nutritional value as milk.
However, some plant-based toddler formulas are specifically designed to deliver the nutrients that growing children need.
Else Nutrition is formulated without dairy, soy, or gluten so that it’s suitable for children with food allergies. Likewise, the ingredients list is free of corn syrup and GMOs.
Else derives its nutrients from nutrient-rich almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca to provide:
- 180 calories
- 4 g of fat
- 5 g of protein
- 220 mg of calcium
The 411 on Smoothies and Juice
Beyond formulas, the kids’ food aisle is also stocked with juice boxes of every conceivable flavor and size. Many children are more willing to sip on a sweet juice box than a glass of water. Some parents justify the sugar with the knowledge that most juices are rich in Vitamin C.
But is juice truly a nutritional drink?
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends omitting juice before your child is 1 year old.
- Juice can acclimate children to sweet flavors, making it more difficult to get them to drink plain water.
- Instead of giving your child juice throughout the day, provide a maximum of 4-6 oz of juice, always with a meal.
- Choose 100% pure fruit juice over juice cocktails. You can even dilute fruit juice in a bit of water.
- Because fruit juice lacks adequate amounts of fiber, it is less nutritious than whole fruit.
While juice can have diminishing returns, smoothies are a great way for your child to experience all the benefits of fruit. Likewise, fruit can be paired with numerous other healthful ingredients to provide a nutritious drink.
Besides whole fruits, some of our favorite ingredients for smoothies include:
- Nuts and nut butter – Depending on your child’s allergies and preferences, cashews, peanuts, or sunflower butter can all be great sources of protein.
- Seeds – Flax seeds, hemp hearts, and chia seeds are all rich in calcium and iron.
- Avocados – Nutrient-dense avocados are great sources of fat that help give smoothies a smooth, creamy texture.
- Leafy greens – Even if you have a picky eater, you may still be able to sneak frozen spinach or kale into a smoothie.
- Else toddler formula – Else toddler formula is a well-rounded source of protein, calcium, and micronutrients. No matter what else is in your smoothie, this powerhouse ingredient ensures it’s nutrient-packed.
Else Nutrition for Kids of All Flavor Preferences
As a parent, you’re constantly striking a balance between your little one’s evolving tastes and your knowledge of the nutrients they truly need.
And if food allergies are in the mix, your task becomes even more complicated!
With Else Nutrition, you can create fun, tasty recipes that are made with organic, whole foods and without extensive chemical processing, you can rest easy knowing each and every ingredient nourishes your child as they grow.
Mayo Clinic. Dehydration.
Johns Hopkins All Childrens Hospital. Healthy Drinks for Kids.
Boystown Pediatrics. Toddler Nutrtition.
Oatly. Oat drink.
The Mayo Clinic. Is it OK to give my child fruit juice?
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.