Research shows that the beverages young children drink have a major impact on their long-term health. And with all the choices available these days, it can be confusing for parents and caregivers to know which are healthy and which should be avoided.
Now, there are new recommendations from some of the nation’s leading health and nutrition organizations, describing what drinks are best for the healthy growth and development of kids ages five and under.
These recent recommendations were developed by experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Heart Association (AHA), under the leadership of Healthy Eating Research (HER), a nutrition research organization, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
While every child is different, these organizations can all agree that for most, the following recommendations can help put them on a path towards healthy growth and development. For children 6 months and older, water is always a great choice.
All children five and under: Avoid drinking flavored milks (e.g., chocolate, strawberry), toddler formulas, plant-based/non-dairy milks (e.g., almond, rice, oat),* caffeinated beverages (e.g., soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks) and sugar-free and low-calorie sweetened beverages (e.g., “diet” or “light” drinks, including those sweetened with stevia or sucralose), as these beverages can be large sources of added sugars in a young child’s diet, providing no nutritional value. Children should also eat a balanced diet and drink only water and milk.
0–6 months: Babies only need breast milk or infant formula in order to get enough fluids and proper nutrition.
6–12 months: In addition to breast milk or infant formula, parents can offer a small amount of drinking water once solid foods are introduced to help babies get familiar with the taste. Just a few sips at mealtime is all it takes. It’s best for children under 1 not to drink juice. Even 100 percent fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit.
12–24 months: It’s time to add whole milk, which has many essential nutrients, along with plain drinking water for hydration. A small amount of juice is ok. Make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice to avoid added sugar. Better yet, serve small pieces of real fruit, which are more nutritious and satisfying.
2–5 years: Milk and water should be the go-to beverages. Look for milks with less fat than whole milk, like skim (non-fat) or low-fat (1 percent). If you choose to serve 100 percent fruit juice, stick to a small amount, and remember, adding water can make a little go a long way!
More detailed information about these various kinds of drinks and why they are—or are not—recommended for young children can be found in the full report.
You can also find more information and a wide variety resources in English, Spanish and Tagalog to help share these recommendations at HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org, including a series of short and engaging videos and a fact sheet on water.
*Notes: Evidence indicates that, with the exception of fortified soy milk, many plant-based/non-dairy milk alternatives lack key nutrients found in cow’s milk. Our bodies may not absorb nutrients in these non-dairy milks as well as they can from dairy milk. Unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good choice if a child is allergic to dairy milk, lactose intolerant, or is in a family that has made specific dietary choices such as abstaining from animal products. Be sure to consult with your health care provider to choose a plant-based/non-dairy milk. It’s important to ensure that your child’s overall diet has the right amounts of the key nutrients found in milk, such as protein, calcium, and vitamin D, which are essential for healthy growth and development.