Clarifying the New Drink Guidelines for Children

By: Cindy Baranoski MS, RDN, LDN
Manager of Nutritional Therapy

Maybe you heard about this in the news last week, or maybe not. Either way, trying to make sense of what we should be offering our children to drink is always a dilemma. From the moment a baby is born, the question becomes, breast milk or formula. Breast milk being the optimal choice, but that’s not always possible, so formula is available.

Cabinet with baby formula options.

Children less than 12 months of age should never be offered a bottle of straight up milk, but after 1 year, it is the go to drink recommended by everyone. Juice is often offered, but it is not the same as eating the fruit or vegetable. And sometimes in infancy, prune juice is given to help with stools, but that’s not a rule. Many children do not like milk, once done with breast milk or formula, and parents begin to offer anything to help ensure their child is hydrated.

Bring in the new options available for children to drink and it can be confusing to know what is best to offer. For example, plant based milks are all the rage now for many reasons, including allergies, family preferences, cultural reasons, and last resorts for a picky eater. They are flavored, unflavored, sweetened, and unsweetened. And the selection continues to grow, including rice, almond, coconut, soy, oat, hemp, split pea, cashew, and blends to name only a few. Though these may seem like a great alternative to cows milk, each one of them can be found fortified, unfortified, with added protein, or original version. Most plant milks are going to be lacking in protein, fat, and potentially key vitamins and minerals found in cow’s milk.  Diet modifications can be made to help ensure what is lacking in a plant milk can be found in other sources in the diet. But if cow’s milk cannot is not the choice for whatever reason, plant milks with diet modification can work.

Child laying on couch drinking bottle.
Photo by tung256.

Juices have changed as well, with many companies offering non sugar sweetened fruit and/or vegetable juices. Some companies offering cold pressed and fruit/vegetable smoothies with additives, such as greens, protein and vitamins. Use of sweeteners such as grape juice or artificial sweeteners replace sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Juice is not the best option for anyone to be consuming regularly, or in quantity, when the food brings so much more nutrition to the diet that has yet to be identified or quantified.

And then there is water, but not just tap water, but bottled water, flavored water, sweetened waters, artificially sweetened waters, vitamin boost waters, and sparkling waters. As a general guideline, plain old regular water with nothing added or changed, is the best choice.

To help, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart association have made some updated recommendations.

Description of drink guidelines for children under 5.

Not Recommended

  • Artificially sweetened beverages
  • “Low-calorie” or “Zero- calorie” drinks
  • Toddler and flavored milks
  • Sugar sweetened beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Soda

Juice Recommendations

  • Less than 1 year of age: Do not offer juice
  • 1-3 years of age:                4 ounces a day or less a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                4-6 ounces a day or less a day

Milk recommendations

  • 1-2 years of age:                16-24 ounces of whole milk a day
  • 2-3 years of age:                16 ounces of skim or low fat milk a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                20 ounces of skim or low fat milk a day

Water Recommendations

  • 6-12 months of age:         4-8 ounces a day
  • 1-3 years of age:                8-32 ounces a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                12-40 ounces a day

Finally, whenever something is happening out of the ordinary with any child, and there is a struggle or question of fluids, seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to help guide what would be best. Looking at the child as a whole, their full diet, development, family choices, help with recommendations being made for fluids. This will ensure children receive optimal fluids, contributing to best growth and development.

For more information visit: eastersealsdfvr.org/nutrition or contact our Intake Coordinator at 630.261.6216.

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