Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping their children develop lifelong food preferences – including beverages. If chosen wisely, beverages can be an important source of needed nutrients. Or, they can be a source of empty calories that provide excessive energy and lead to poor health.
A child’s beverage of choice is frequently the same as those available in the household and what he or she sees other family members drinking. There are important mile-stones that can help your child minimize their consumption of sugar-sweetened, empty calorie beverages. For starters, offer and role-model healthful beverage choices that are full of nutrients and low in sugar and empty-calories.
During the first 4 to 6 months of your infant’s life, breast milk and infant formula provide all the nutrients and energy your infant needs for growth and development. Feeding infants other fluids, such as juice and sweetened beverages, fills their small stomachs and keeps them from getting the nourishment they need to grow. This can result in a fussy baby and more importantly, poor growth and development. Offering sugar sweetened beverages in a bottle also makes it more difficult to transition older infants to a cup when the time is right.
Having the necessary muscle and eye-hand coordination to drink from a cup usually occurs around 6 to 8 months of age. What you offer your child in the cup is as important as serving healthful solid foods. Breast milk and infant formula continue to be the best choices. Older babies will be more likely to accept the cup if it contains a flavor with which they are familiar. It will also help them learn to drink milk with meals, which is an important habit for building strong bones and teeth.
Speaking of teeth, babies should never be placed in bed with a bottle. Sucking on a bottle while sleeping, regardless of its contents, can cause the mouth to be misshaped and result in poor tooth alignment. The fluid may also puddle in the mouth and result in decayed teeth, frequently known as baby bottle mouth syndrome.
Introducing beverages in a cup is the first step of weaning your baby from the bottle. Around one year of age all beverages, including whole milk, should be served only in a cup at regularly scheduled meals and snacks. If they are thirsty between meals and snacks, water is the best choice.
Experts advise that infants and toddlers have little need for juice, and no need for sugar sweetened beverages such as sweet-tea, fruit drinks, or sodas. These beverages spoil appetites and squeeze out more nourishing foods, especially when they are consumed between meals. Similar to sugar-sweetened beverages, juice contains a large amount of naturally occurring sugar. If you do decide to offer juice, Children age 1-6 years, should have no more than 6 ounces of juice a day, this represents one serving of fruit. Older children and adults can also benefit from limiting consumption of 100% fruit juice, limiting their consumption to 8-12 ounces a day, this represents 2 fruit servings a day. Drinking more fruit juice than these recommended amounts a day may provide excessive calories and lead to unhealthful weight gain. The excessive sugar can also cause diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. In addition, sipping juice and sugar sweetened beverages between meals and snacks constantly exposes teeth to sugar, leading to painful dental decay and caries.
As toddlers grow into older children, there will be opportunities when they can choose between soda, milk, sweet-tea, water, juice drinks, etc. It is hopeful that with good role- modeling at home, they will continue to make a healthy choice of beverages and you can feel confident knowing that you are continuing to offer low-fat or non-fat milk or water with meals and role-modeling healthful beverage choices.