- The article encourages reduction of carbonated and sugary drinks for children and stressing the importance of natural milks such as breast milk and cow’s milk over plant-derived milks.
- Children develop taste preferences from as early as nine months and these can affect their dietary choices into adulthood. It is therefore important to guide them towards better nutritional choices early on.
- Age-specific beverage choices are provided as guidelines, stating preferences for breast milk or formula for infants 0-6 months, introducing water and limiting fruit juice as the child grows, and transitioning towards whole milk and later skim or 1% milk as the child matures.
- Contrary to popular belief, plant-based milks such as rice, soy, or almond milks are not equally nutritious as cow’s milk, as they lack essential nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. Consumption of these milk substitutes should only be considered in cases of lactose intolerance or if the family adheres strictly to vegan principles.
- Beverages containing caffeine and artificially sweetened sodas should be avoided for children as they offer no unique nutritional value and can be a major source of additional sugars in young children’s diets.
Four exemplary health groups in the United States have united to encourage parents to scrutinize the beverages their children consume on a daily basis.
“Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids,” the latest guidelines suggest a reduction in carbonated and sugary drinks. It also highlights the significance of natural milks such as breast milk and cow’s milk for children, as opposed to the currently trending plant-derived milks.
“The liquid nourishment a child receives is almost as vital as their solid intake when it comes to a balanced diet, especially in the case of very young children,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) member who was part of the panel.
“Children develop taste preferences from as early as nine months, and these can persist into adulthood,” she further explained. “It is crucial to inculcate a healthy eating behavior in them, and this guide aims to assist parents and carers in that process.”
The panel setting out these guidelines included experts from the AAP, the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Given the current childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, any efforts that parents can make to limit empty calories and enhance nutritional intake are imperative.
Guidelines for Age-Specific Beverage Choices
From birth to age five, the recommendations include:
0-6 months: The preference is for breast milk. If unattainable, use infant formula.
6 to 12 months: Continue with breast milk or formula. As the baby begins accepting solid foods, introduce water for the infant to become accustomed to its taste. Fruit juices should be avoided as they offer no nutritional advantage over whole fruit.
1 to 2 years: This is the right time to include whole milk and more water in your child’s diet. Pure fruit juice can be given, but in small quantities, with the emphasis still being on whole fruit.
2 to 5 years: Continue to offer water and milk, transitioning to skim or 1% milk. A small quantity of 100% juice is still acceptable.
The recommendations glaringly omit plant-derived milks such as rice, soy, or almond milks.
“Over the last decade, we have seen a surge in the popularity of plant-based milks. A growing number of parents are leaning towards them for a multitude of reasons. However, there’s a misconception that they are as nutritious as cow’s milk, which is a fallacy,” warned Megan Lott, Deputy Director at Healthy Eating Research.
Lott, a key contributor to the new guidelines, emphasized that plant-based milk products simply do not contain the essential nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium that children can glean from cow’s milk. The only deviations from this advice might be in cases where the child is lactose intolerant or the family strictly adheres to vegan principles or has religious injunctions against cow’s milk.
Beverages containing caffeine are a definite don’t for children. This category also includes many sodas.
Even artificially sweetened sodas don’t make the cut, as these drinks can be a major source of added sugars in young children’s diets and offer no unique nutritional value.
Nancy Brown, the CEO of the American Heart Association, emphasized that the heart diseases and diabetes affecting millions of Americans often originate from dietary habits established during early childhood.
Dr. Kevin Donly, the president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, also noted the importance of picking the right drinks for the oral health of your children.
For further insights on healthy drinks for kids, you can visit Johns Hopkins Medicine.