The Best Healthy Drinks to Help Kids Grow
Kids drink a lot of beverages; but not always the right ones. In fact, beverages accounted for 47 percent of added sugars in children and adolescents’ diets, according to 2017 study. This can lead to weight gain and diabetes, making healthy drinks critical to ensuring kids grow tall and strong, and thrive as they become teenagers and adults.
While you can’t always control what they drink at school, breaking the habit starts at home, according to the same 2017 study: "Interventions for parents that focus on limiting the home availability of sugar-sweetened beverages and role modeling dairy beverage intake may be effective in promoting healthy beverage intakes among children."
Swap out those sugar-sweetened beverages for some of these healthy drinks that help kids grow, including shakes, smoothies, and 100 percent fruit juice.
Protein Shakes for Kids
Protein shakes may be marketed to adults, but this healthy kids drink is perfect for growing bodies. Kids ages 2 to 18 need anywhere from 2 to 6.5 ounces of protein each day, depending on their age. If they don’t eat a lot of meat, or don’t like other protein-heavy foods like eggs, fish and dairy, you’ll struggle to make sure they get enough.
Protein shakes make it easy to get this protein because you can put it into a healthy (and tasty) drink that kids will love. They key, however, is getting the main ingredient right: the protein.
Look for protein powders like Healthy Height, which is specially developed and tested by pediatricians so you can be sure it’s kid friendly. If you want to start with the protein powder you have at home, check out our kids protein powder guide first, where you’ll find tips for checking ingredients, serving size, and more.
If you’re ready to jump in, don’t waste time. Give some of these fun recipes a try this week:
Water is an essential nutrient for kids and adults alike. The amount needed depends on a wide variety of factors, including age, gender, air temperature, humidity and activity level, but there are still a few guidelines you can follow. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, those are as follows:
- 5 cups/day: Girls and boys, ages 4 to 8 years
- 7 cups/day: Girls, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Boys, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Girls, ages 14 to 18
- 11 cups/day: Boys, ages 14 to 18
While our water intake comes from both beverages and food, getting kids to consume enough can feel like a challenge. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure your growing kids get plenty to drink each day. Here are a few ideas to add to your tool box:
- Send your child to school with a water bottle. If they have water with them, they’re more likely to drink it.
- Invest in a fruit infuser water bottle, which allows you to infuse kids water with whatever fruit they love most. For those who don’t like the taste of water, this will be a life saver.
- Serve a glass of water before breakfast and dinner to get two cups out of the way at home.
- Inquire about availability of water at sports practice and games. If there’s not adequate water available for hydration, speak with the school about changing this.
“Got Milk” campaigns are some of the most famous, and many kids have been encouraged to drink more as they see celebrities flashing the famous “milk smile” in commercials and ads. The question is: Does your growing kid drink enough milk? Many parents have turned to milk alternatives in recent years, including almond or soy, yet studies continue to find cow’s milk to be best for growing children:
“In a cohort of children at age 4 years, the volume of milk consumed was associated with higher weight status and taller stature, while at 5 years, higher milk consumption continued to be associated with taller stature,” according to a report by the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia.
Another study, published in 2018, found that the diets of kids who drank milk, rather than another healthy option, juice, had higher levels of key growing nutrients, including calcium, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin D. While all of those nutrients are important, Vitamin A is especially valuable for growing kids.
We discussed the benefits of Vitamin A in a recent blog post, Why Vitamin A is Important for Kids Growth, which include:
- Development of teeth and tissues, in addition to bones, thus helping to build a proper body structure.
- Quick repair of bones, muscles, and tissues in case of any damage, important as most children are prone to falls and accidents.
- Development of proper eyesight as it is vital for healthy retina. It helps in developing vision in low light conditions.
- Healthy growth of soft membranes and skin cells.
Fruit and Veggie Smoothies for Kids
Smoothies for kids, like protein shakes, are a great way to boost the nutrient content of their diet quickly and without them even knowing. Not to mention, they’re easy to make and can be drank on-the-go—perfect for the busy parent:
“They’re easy to make and can be frozen, so there’s great convenience for the working mother. Since you control the ingredients, they’re bound to be healthy. And, since kids are predisposed to loving cold, icy treats, they’re likely to accept smoothies as a meal or snack far more readily than they would other healthy alternatives,” explains Natalie Bracco, Working Mother contributor.
The key is focusing on both fruits and vegetables, and adding a little fat. Using a mix of fruits and vegetables allows you to maximize the health benefits of the smoothie, boosting the fiber, antioxidant and overall nutrient levels. Not to mention, many little ones eat plenty of fruit—but the same can’t be said for their daily vegetable intake.
Don’t forget another crucial component to the smoothie: fat. Fat (and protein) helps the body absorb many of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables. It also helps kids feel full longer, rather than experiencing a sugar high and the inevitable crash.
With all of this in mind, the ultimate kids smoothie recipe is really a blend between a protein shake and a fruit and veggie smoothie:
Fruits + vegetables + protein + fat + water + natural sweetener (optional).
100% Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is an easy way to boost fruit intake, but not all fruit juice is good for your growing kids.
"Fruit juice was an important source of potassium and magnesium in the diets of these children and has been positively linked to achieving recommended intakes of vitamin C and folate in 2 to 5 year old children in previous research" according to a 5-year analysis.
Yet, many commercial juices are filled with added sugars, natural flavors and preservatives that reduce the health value of this important drink for kids. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good option for your family; you just need to read the label.
Avoid anything with too much added sugar, and always avoid high fructose corn syrup—or any of the many nicknames for this additive. (Get the full list of names here). Remember that kids ages 2 to 18 should have no more than 25 grams of added sugars each day, which equates to six teaspoons of added sugar.
The drawback of fruit juice, even 100% fruit juice, is that it lacks the fiber that your child gets when eating fruit whole. Instead of cutting this healthy drink out altogether, allot only small servings of juice. Give them just one small glass with breakfast or at snack-time, and encourage them to eat whole fruit whenever possible—which is always the healthiest option. This allows your growing kids to reap the benefits without going overboard.
Choosing Healthy Drinks for Kids
Healthy drinks can play an important role in your child’s growth and nutrition intake—and can help reduce their consumption of unhealthy drinks, like soda, according to the same 2018 study.
Use these ideas to help your kids grow and curb their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks like soda. Smoothies and protein shakes for kids are perfect for on-the-go nutrition, and increasing your child’s intake of other healthy drinks, like milk, water and 100 percent fruit juice ensures that they’re getting the nutrients they need—even if they don’t like meat or the vegetables you put in front of them.