For good health and energy to fuel their bodies, kids need water and other fluids. Water is a perfect beverage choice (for both adults and children), since it hydrates without adding unnecessary calories. Our bodies use H2O to regulate temperature, eliminate waste, and cushion our spinal cord and joints. Milk and juice offer benefits, too, as a source of essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C.
How Much Liquid Do Kids Need?
You've probably heard the oft-repeated advice that you should drink 8 cups of water every day. Does the same rule apply to children? Yes and no. According to the Institute of Medicine (a division of the National Academy of Sciences, charged with advising the nation on health topics), most adults get all the liquids they need every day just by eating and drinking normally—with meals, and when they are thirsty. Any beverages, including caffeinated ones, count toward the daily fluid intake your body needs (which is closer to 10 cups than 8, by the way). Food, especially fruits and vegetables, contains water too.
Kids under 8 years old need a little less fluid than adults, but the advice is the same—they should drink healthy beverages with meals, plus sip water any time they are thirsty. Of course, if they are playing or exercising vigorously, or if it's very hot outside, they'll need more liquids to make up for what their bodies are losing to perspiration.
What Should Kids Drink?
- Water: Straight from the tap is fine (bottled isn't necessary) but your child may drink more if it's chilled, and/or if she has a special cup, bottle, or canteen for her H2O.
- Milk: Make it low- or non-fat (for kids 2 and up; littler ones need the fat for brain development). Serve two cups a day for kids 8 and under, three cups for older children and teens. Kids need the calcium and vitamin D in dairy products, so if your child doesn't like milk, try flavoring it (but watch the sugar content). Or find other sources of these nutrients.
- Juice: Limit to 4-6 ounces a day for kids 6 and under (that's ½ to ¾ of a cup). Older kids and teens can have 8-12 ounces a day. One hundred percent fruit juice is best—check the label. Fruit drinks, punches, and ades may have added sugars (and calories). That 100% fruit juice counts as one of your child's servings of fruit for the day—but it doesn't have the fiber that whole fruit does.
- Sports drinks: Generally, avoid these since they add calories and sugar, but few nutrients, to your child's diet. But if he's exercising vigorously and prefers sports drinks to water, let him drink up—it's more important that he stays hydrated. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes for a 90-pound child while he's exercising. The AAP also suggests weighing your child before and after he exercises so you can see how much fluid he lost—then you'll know how much he needs to replace during future workouts.
- Soda: Avoid. It's nothing but empty calories.
Gidding MD, Samuel, Dennison MD, Barbara, Birch PhD, Leann, et al. Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Practitioners. Pediatrics Vol. 117 No. 2 February 2006.
Water: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 6, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/nutrition_for_everyone/basics/water.htm.
Guidelines for Parents and Athletes: Exercise-Induced Heat-Related Illness. American Academy of Pediatrics. May 2000.
Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. February 11, 2004. http://www.iom.edu/CMS/3788/3969/18495.aspx