After my first baby was born, I came to realize that with parenting comes advice. A lot of it. Advice on how to get the baby to sleep. Advice on how to give the baby a bath. And CONSTANTLY – advice on how to feed the baby. It comes from every direction, most often from your mother-in-law and frequently from complete strangers without children. Sometimes this well-intended advice is good and is followed by “because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it”. But sometimes it is not so good and is supported with rationale like “because I fed it to you, and you turned out just fine”.
Luckily, at the touch of the HGIC website button, we can find good, research-supported advice that comes from top experts and organizations who know a lot of things about babies, children, food and nutrition. Recently, a few of these leading health experts came together and compared advice and came to consensus about good and not-so-good beverages for young children.
“Consensus?” you ask. Yes! In an effort lead by Healthy Eating Research, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation division, four different MAJOR health organizations (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and American Heart Association) came together and agreed on the following breakdown:
- 0-6 months: Babies need only breast milk or infant formula
- 6-12 months: In addition to breast milk or infant formula, offer a small amount of drinking water once solid foods are introduced. It’s best for children under 1 not to drink juice.
- 12-24 months: It’s time to add whole milk, which has many essential nutrients, along with plain drinking water for hydration.
- 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!
Finally, a general recommendation for all young children says:
- All children five and under should 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- 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.
The take-away message? Breastmilk, formula, regular milk, or water. Anything else is just not necessary and may even be harmful.
Want to know more about the recommendations themselves? Find the full report, comprehensive guidelines, and parenting tool-kit for choosing healthy beverages for young children at:
Ultimately, I encourage you to do your best to cancel out all of that unsolicited, albeit well-intended advice you’ve gotten about appropriate beverages for young children. Instead go with the recommendations from the experts. Your children will grow up with good habits around healthy beverages and will stay happier and healthier through adulthood.