How to choose the perfect DRINK for your children? (Healthy Drinks for Kids)

There are so many drinks on the market today.  Even sitting down to write this article it is overwhelming all the different options there are for hydrating your children and a parent can start to really worry and wonder if there are any healthy drink options for kids.

Below we have included a comprehensive chart that compares popular drinks for kids

But what we drink and what we feed our kids can make a big difference.  So, I hope this helps you make an informed decision regarding all the different drink options out there for young kids (and adults too).

I don’t really go into the impact of high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.  You can chose to use or avoid those ingredients, but I will more be focusing on the amount and type of calories, vitamins, and electrolytes (sodium, potassium).

First answer the following questions to help you know where to start:

  1. Age?  Infants (children under 1) should only be drinking breast milk or formula.  At this age water is unnecessary and even bad.  Children older than 1 year old should be limited to 4 to 6 oz ofjuice per day.  Children should get about 16 oz of milk per day.  Too much milk or juice may cause your child to eat less of other foods that are needed for a balanced diet.  One of my favorite resources for childhood nutrition is Texas WIC:  Water should be offered regularly throughout the day.  Avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks.  I do not recommend caffeine for children as it may impact sleep, cause anxiety or headaches.  I think it is best to limit or restrict caffeine in young children until they are old enough to understand the side effects and weigh that against the advantages.


    What NOT to do!

  2. Activity?  Are you playing at the park or beach?  The interesting thing with adults is it seems we are either exercising or relaxing.  There isn’t always a lot of in between, but with kids play can be exercise or relaxing.  It is easy enough to tell the difference.  Is your child flushed, panting, sweating… then they are exercising.  If they are mostly sitting or standing in one spot it is more like relaxing.  Sweat contains fluid, sodium, and to a lesser extent potassium.  This is a good place to start when trying to decide what you might want to drink after high sweat losses.
  3. Weather?  Extended amount of time in the heat even just sitting around can lead to sweating and possibly dehydration.  Staying hydrated in this scenario is important.  Cold weather does not mean no sweating or fluid losses, but it does mean less.  If you are outside in heat all day long it is important to replace losses from sweat, even if you are not active.
  4. Nutritional needs?  I wanted to throw this in there because every person is unique and has different needs.  If your child is diabetic, lactose intolerant, allergic to gluten, vegetarian these will all impact the types of food and drinks consumed.  For people with kidney disease potassium and sodium sometimes needs to be restricted.  A sports drink may work well for one person but may be too high in electrolytes for someone with kidney disease.  Fruit juice is great in moderation, but a person with diabetes needs to pay close attention to the amount of sugar they eat/drink.  Make sure to always put nutrition needs as a priority and talk to your doctor or dietitian if you have specific questions about individual needs.

Scenarios: What to Give Your Kids to Drink at Specific Times

Now apply the previous information into the following scenarios.  In each case our body has different needs and a different drink may be appropriate.  It is important to note that the one thing that we can’t get from the foods we eat is adequate water.  Everything else can also be found in food: sugars, sodium, potassium, protein, etc.  However, in the middle of physical activity food can weigh you down or upset your stomach.

    1. Scenario 1: Quiet day at school, cool weather, limited physical activity.  Water would be the best option here.  Sodium and Potassium needs are met through food and water will not add any unnecessary calories.  There is no need for electrolyte replacement (sodium, potassium), extra sugar, or protein.  Milk would also be a good option if they haven’t already met their dairy needs for the day.  *Just a reminder here when children drink sugary drinks it often causes them to eat less of the foods they need for a balanced diet. BEST OPTION:Water, milk
    2.  Scenario 2: Out in the heat, sweating a lot, not active.   If you are not active you don’t need to replace calories burned, so your hydration here does not need to have any carbohydrate/sugar.  Since you are sweating, your body will need extra electrolytes to replace those lost from sweating.  Water is a great option here if you have a snack to go a long with it.  Since you’re not out running around you shouldn’t have any problems tolerating a snack.  Another great option here is a flavored drink with electrolytes that doesn’t have sugar (a zero calorie sports drink or flavored water).  When the option is given between a flavored drink and water people tend to drink of the flavored drink.  If your child never seems to remember to drink enough this may be the best way to make sure they are staying hydrated.  BEST OPTION:Water, artificially flavored zero calorie sports drink (G2, Propel, etc).  If you are opposed to High Fructose Corn Syrup watch out for Powerade as it contains HFCS.3605287518_ca8e3b8619_z
    3. Scenario 3: Working out, not much sweat.  Even when it is cold and we don’t seem to sweat much we still lose fluid.  Usually if exercise lasts less than one hour water is perfect for hydration.  If exercise continues longer than an hour carbohydrate, fluid, and sodium need to be repleted.  The perfect drink in this case is a sports drink.  Soda will replace sugar, but not much sodium.  For more great information about soda and kids visit  Milk is high in protein which is best after workouts not during.  Juice will replace sugar and potassium but not sodium.  Vegetable juice will replace sodium and potassium, but not much sugar.  BEST OPTION: Water for short workouts, Sports drink for longer workouts (Gatorade, V8 100%).
    4. Scenario 4: Working out with a lot of sweat.  During exercise in the heat we burn calories and lose electrolytes when we sweat.  This is the perfect setting for a sports drink.  Carbohydrate will help replace fuel lost, and the electrolytes will replace those lost in sweat. BEST OPTION: Sport drink, 100% Fruit and vegetable juice.
    5. Scenario 5: After a Workout.  The best time to replete glycogen stores in your muscles after a workout is within the first 30 to 60 minutes.  Click Endurance Sports Nutrition, 2nd Edition for a great book about sports nutrition.  High carbohydrate drink will help achieve this goal.  It is also important to consume protein within 2 hours of working out.  Low fat milk provides electrolytes, carbohydrate and protein.  Milk also provides vitamins and minerals that are good for our body.  Juice would be a great option right after workout.  It is high in sugar and will also provide several vitamins that we have an increased need for when we workout (antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin A).  BEST OPTION: 100% Fruit and vegetable juice, Sports drink, Juice, Milk
    6. Scenario 6: Vomiting Diarrhea I wanted touch on this topic as well because Pedialyte is specially formulated for the needs of someone vomiting or having diarrhea.  The electrolyte losses here are more than with physical activity.  There is also less need for carbohydrate.   In the chart below you can see how sports drinks tend to be higher in sugar and lower in electrolytes (sodium, potassium) then Pedialyte.  This drink is designed with a specific purpose in mind and is very effective for this type of dehydration.  BEST OPTION: Pedialyte

>>>Check out the Pedialyte Popsicles here!<<<<

The following chart is the nutrition content for many popular drinks all in an 8 oz portion size.  You can scan through to determine what drink is highest in carbohydrate, sodium, etc.  Once you know what you need out of your drink compare what is out there to make the best decision for you.  You will find one example of almost every type of drink so if your favorite beverage isn’t listed on there just look for something similar.  As always children are more likely to do what you do not what you say.  Show them what the best choices are out there and they will probably start to follow suit.  Happy Hydrating

K (MG)
Gatorade 53 0 14 14 0 100 30
PowerAde 74 0 18 14 0 67 34
Propel 0 0 0 0 0 76 Vit C, Vit E, Niacin, B6, Pantothenic acid
Vitamin Water 48 0 12 13 0 0 352 Vit C, B6, Pantothenic acid, Niacin, B12,Mg
Milk Varies Varies 12 12 8 107 366 Vit A, Ca, B12, B6, Mg
Choc Milk Varies Varies 26 24 8 150 418 Vit A, Ca, B12, B6, Mg
Pedialyte 17 0 4 4 0 245 185 Chloride, Zn,
7-Up 96 0 25 25 0 28 0
Coke 93 0 26 26 0 30 0 caffeine
Tea, sweet 75 0 18 18 0 5 0 caffeine
Sunny D 60 0 16 14 0 180 0 Vit C, Thiamin
Capri Sun 80 0 23 21 0 20 0 Vit C, Calcium
V8 Fusion 110 0 27 24 0 90 200 Vit A, Vit C, Vit E, Calcium
Kool-Aid 93 0 25 25 0 20 0 Vit C
Smoothie 144 0 36 34 0 38 0 Vit C, Vit A
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Image Credits: Håkan Dahlström (title text added), Kate GardinerPaul Hocksenar

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