What’s really in the juice box? 5 Tips for picking healthy drinks for kids

This summer has been full of steamy hot days, leaving many kids craving hydration. What seems tasty and refreshing, however, isn’t always the best choice. Ditch the unnecessary sugar and offer the fluids your family really needs.

Here are five ways to help pick healthy beverages for your child:

1. Water-you worried about

Water is always the best drink bet when playing sports or being active...or anytime!

Water is always the best bet drink-wise when playing sports or being active…or anytime!

Water should be your child’s staple drink. It is the best source of fluids and vital for the health of all people. If your child is participating in sports or other activities and you’re worried about their hydration or energy, water is really the most beneficial choice.





2. Milking it

Encourage kids to drink milk with their meals.

Encourage kids to drink milk with their meals.

We recommend a glass of milk with every meal. Most of the time skim or a low fat percentage is best, but you can ask your doctor for a recommendation. Your growing child needs calcium and vitamin D for all sorts of good things, like healthy bone density and strong teeth. Not all children are receiving enough of these beneficial dairy bonuses. Drinking milk with meals ensures daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and is a good way to both promote portion control and healthy drinking habits. If your child gets used to milk, a no-sugar-added, simple refreshment, they’re less likely to refuse healthy beverages down the line.


3. To be 100% sure, get 100% juice

When selecting any beverage, especially juice, look for natural ingredients and low added sugars.

When selecting any beverage, especially juice, look for natural ingredients and low added sugars.

When buying special drinks or juice, always check the nutrition facts. Some kid-targeted juices or beverages have as little as 10% juice, but offer large percentages of sugar and artificial additions. If you don’t recognize the ingredients on the label, you could probably find a more healthy option. Try to find 100% juice options. Children are best off having one or two portions of juice a day, and sticking to milk or water at meals. Keep in mind that excessive juice drinking can lead to diarrhea and a suppressed appetite. If you are concerned, check with your pediatrician.




4. Low down on cool down

If kids are craving a frozen drink, make it at home with lots of fruit.

If kids are craving a frozen drink, make it at home with lots of fruit.

If you’re looking for frozen treats to quench your family’s thirst, try to go homemade. Controlling the ingredients that go into blended beverages can make a big difference in reducing unnecessary sugars and portion control. for a few ideas, check out our post on smoothies and chilled treat ideas. If you’re concerned about the fats or calories in something like a milkshake, ask your doctor, but most children have space in their diet for occasional goodies like this.




5.  Caffeine watch

Soda dehydrates kids, adds lots empty calories and sugar to their day, and has caffeine side effects.

Soda dehydrates kids, adds lots empty calories and sugar to their day, and has caffeine side effects.

If you’ve allowed your child to drink soda, not only are the calories they are getting very high and empty, the caffeine can have negative effects on their sleep and behavior. When we intake caffeine, it is processed by a much larger physical system. For kids, the same amount of caffeine may last for hours longer, and can cause problems sleeping or following normal routines. There are sports drinks and carbonated, flavored water alternative beverages that contain a healthy amount of sugar, natural ingredients and no caffeine. Be sure to check the labels while picking options! You can also mix drinks that are one part carbonated water and one part healthy juice to offer a “soda” to your child.




Making these choices work

Children who have enjoyed other, less-healthy beverages in the past, or who request them often, need good examples and guidelines. Parents serve as the best example and kids will follow their lead. If you ditch soda, they will be less likely to ask for it. Having family guidelines in place, like a glass of water before any other drink in the morning or milk with every meal, will make good habits easier to keep.

These are all general recommendations informed by senior dietitians and nutrition experts at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. If you’re ever concerned about your child’s diet or weight management, consult your pediatrician.

For information about programs at Mott Children’s Hospital that can help families address weight management or eating disorders, visit www.mottchildren.org.

Do you have any special summertime thirst quenchers your family enjoys? How do you keep your child’s glass filled with the healthiest choice? Share ideas in the comments below!  

This article is part of a six-week series of summer activity ideas, healthy recipes, and safety tips for Camp Little Victors: Virtual summer camp, real summer fun. We hope you can use this and other articles in the series from physicians and staff at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to make this a happy and health summer break for your family. Enroll now!


University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” including #4 in the country for heart and heart surgery. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.