Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
Water works very well to quench the thirst, yet kids hardly drink any of it these days. This week, Registered Dietitian Jane Harrison offers a few practical tips to get your child in the habit of drinking water and shake off the sugary drinks.
|Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD
Question: What is the best way to get my child drinking water instead of sugary drinks?
Do you have a hard time getting your kids to drink a good old fashioned glass of water? Fierce competition from sports drinks, ice tea, lemonade, slurpies, fruit drinks and sodas doesn’t make your job any easier.
It all adds up
Consider Andy, a 4th grader, who starts his day with some orange juice at breakfast. Dad packs a juice drink for his morning snack. Lunch brings lemonade, followed by a sports drink during his afternoon baseball practice. For dinner, mom allows Andy to have “just one” cup of soda as a treat.
Though this may all sound harmless, Andy’s drinks amounted to 26 teaspoons of added sugar. This doesn’t even count his cookie at lunch or frozen yogurt after dinner.
Studies show that overall sugar intake has skyrocketed right along with the rise in childhood obesity. And sweetened drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the diet.
Studies also show that using water as a replacement is a simple and effective way to cut back on excess calories. Doing so could go a long way toward helping to prevent or treat childhood obesity as well as prevent cavities and other health problems associated with excess calories and sugar.
The case for water
We know that drinking water is the best way to quench thirst without providing added sugar and calories. But how do you encourage your kids to ditch the sugary drinks and fill up on water instead?
If you’re still in the toddler phase, take advantage of the opportunity to make water the go-to drink from the start. Remember, once kids get used to the taste and start choosing sugary drinks over water, it’s much harder to make changes.
If your kids are already hooked on sugary drinks, your task is more challenging but certainly doable! And it’s a good idea to plan on making it a gradual process to bring them back to water.
Use these tips for the best chance at success:
Teach your kids about the importance of water. They may enjoy these facts:
- Water is the most needed nutrient of all. A person can live without food for a few weeks but a person can only live without water for a few days.
- The human brain is two-thirds water.
- Water carries oxygen and other nutrients into all your cells and organs.
- Water helps to lubricate your joints.
- Water helps to prevent constipation and keep your intestines running smoothly.
Set new rules
- Have one meal or snack where you typically offer juice or another drink. At other times, simply ask “what would you like to drink – milk or water?”
- Instead of juice drinks, send them to school with light-weight metal bottles that keep water cool and fresher tasting than plastic. Not only does the water taste better, but you don’t need to worry about leaching issues from plastics.
- Bring only water to the park or playground.
- Unless your child will be active for more than one hour, bring a water jug versus a sports drink to their game or practice.
- Keep chilled water in the fridge; provide a jug of water with slices of lemon or lime.
- Make unsweetened ice tea with lots of added lime, oranges and/or lemon. Use flavored tea bags for added taste such as mint, ginger or raspberry. Consider adding fresh mint.
- Give them their own ”grown up” glass for water (as opposed to plastic cup or sippy)
- Introduce carbonated waters (flavored but not sweetened).
- Make a point of drinking water in front of your kids.
- Offer fruit instead of juice. In addition to having fiber and other nutrients, whole fruit has water “built in” and is a natural thirst quencher.
- Buy frozen cans of 100% juice and dilute by adding at least two cans of extra water. Do the same for lemonade.
- Add a small amount of juice to seltzer as a soda alternative
Finally, don’t rely on diet drinks as a substitute. Their super sweet taste doesn’t allow kids to get used to the taste of less sugar. And long term effects are unknown.
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Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on Littlestomaks.com is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by Littlestomaks.com.