The Best Healthy Drinks for Kids Besides Water

Kids crave soda pop, sports drinks and fruit juice for a flavor kick, but are some alternative water options better than others? Experts at Henry Ford Health offer advice.

We all know that water reigns supreme when it comes to healthy hydration. But with a bevy of beverages on the market, it’s hard to stick to H2O alone. That’s especially true for kids who are drawn to the sweet or bubbly options at stores and restaurants and look at you with those pleading eyes.

So, is it OK to break down and let them have a cola? Or how about sports drinks after a soccer game or a glass of OJ at breakfast? Does it really have to be water all the time?

Good news! Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness for Henry Ford LiveWell, says parents can shake it up and offer some healthy drinks for kids beyond water.

Healthy alternatives

While colas and other “pop” is discouraged due to caffeine, sugar or even artificial sweeteners, sparkling waters (i.e. La Croix and Polar) are great options for kids who enjoy bubbly sips.

“These drinks provide the same hydration as water, and they’re lower in calories and other ingredients than soda,” Leatherwood Cannon writes. “In fact, most sparkling water brands have only two or three ingredients.”

Still, it’s important to check the nutrition labels of these sparkling drinks to ensure there isn’t added sugar and that they have low or no sodium, she advises.

For kids who aren’t keen on bubbles but would like more flavor than plain water provides, fruit waters, like Hint or Mash, or homemade blends can be a great option. Get kids involved and allow them to come up with cool combos … pineapple-kiwi, anyone?

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said that in some cases – like after a big soccer game – beverages with electrolytes are best.

“The reason: When kids get overheated and dehydrated, they’re not just losing water,” Thayer writes. “They’re sweating out electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride.”

What about sports drinks or enhanced waters?

Sports drinks such as Gatorade or fortified water, like Smart Water, help replenish the electrolytes kids lose after a hard sweat. A super popular sports drink with kids and teens is Prime Hydration, developed by YouTube celebrities Logan Paul and KSI. Prime Hydration is low in sugar, caffeine-free and is made with coconut water, so it’s a fine sports drink choice. But be sure you aren’t buying Prime Energy drinks – or any energy drinks for your kids – as they are loaded with caffeine.

The fruit juice question

And what about fruit juices? There is a lot of conflicting advice on whether they offer a healthy drink option for kids. That may be because it’s not a yes-or-no answer, says Alyssa Katz, a community dietitian with Henry Ford’s Generation with Promise team.

First, make sure you’re giving your kids 100% juice and not juice “drinks,” which often have a lot of added sugar.

Second, drinking juice is very age dependent. Kids under 12 months shouldn’t have any juice, for instance. And older kids should limit their portion to 4-8 ounces a day. Even better if the juice is diluted with water.

“A glass of juice is considered a serving of fruit, but it’s best to encourage kids to eat the whole food, not just the juice,” Katz says. “Drinking juice means missing out on all the fiber you find in whole fruits.”

When it comes to hydrating your kids, yes, water is a wonder. But it’s not the only option for healthy drinks. Bottom line: Limit your child’s intake of beverages that have caffeine, added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

But most important, make sure your kids keep hydrated.

“When it comes to summertime sweating, kids are a vulnerable population,” Leatherwood Cannon writes. “They get dehydrated quickly, with consequences ranging from fatigue and irritability to heat exhaustion and stroke.”

So, whether it’s sparkling and flavored waters, sports drinks or good ol’ H2O, make sure they drink up as the summer temps rise.

Learn more about Henry Ford Health at henryford.com

Metro Parent Editorial Team
Metro Parent Editorial Team
Since 1986, the Metro Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for metro Detroit families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.

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