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Keeping Little Ones Healthy Every Sip of the Way

Research shows that what children drink—from birth through age five—can have a big impact on their health. With so many choices, it can be confusing to know which drinks are healthy and which ones to avoid. That’s why some of the nation’s leading health and nutrition experts came together to develop new recommendations to help parents and caregivers choose what’s best for kids.

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These 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 leading nutrition research organization, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

While every child is different, these organizations agree that for most kids, the following recommendations can help to set children on a path for healthy growth and development:

  • All children five and under should avoid drinking flavored milks (e.g., chocolate, strawberry), toddler formulas (also called ‘transition formulas’, ‘toddler milk’, or ‘growing-up formulas’), plant-based/non-dairy milks (e.g., almond, rice, oat)*, caffeinated beverages (e.g., soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks) and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages (e.g., “diet” or “light” drinks, including those sweetened with stevia or sucralose), as these beverages can be big sources of added sugars in young children’s diets and provide no unique nutritional value beyond eating a balanced diet and sticking to water and milk.
  • 0–6 months: Babies need only breast milk or infant formula to get enough fluids and proper nutrition.
  • 6–12 months: In addition to breast milk or infant formula, 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 mealtimes is all it takes. It’s best for children under 1 not to drink juice. Even 100% 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, but make sure it’s 100% 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 are the go-to beverages. Look for milks with less fat than whole milk, like skim (non-fat) or low-fat (1%). If you choose to serve 100% fruit juice, stick to a small amount, and remember adding water can make a little go a long way!

*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.

More detailed information about these different 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 resources to help share these recommendations at HealthyDrinksHealthyKids.org.

 

Want to make progress in your community? Check Out the Sugary Drinks Toolkit from Voices for Healthy Kids!