Every living being needs to keep their bodies hydrated to survive — from the tiniest ladybug to curious toddlers and always-hungry teens. And when it comes to what to drink, health professionals agree: plain water is the best drink choice for kids.
With zero calories, no added sugar or salt, and economical, water keeps bodies in tip-top shape. As the most abundant substance in the body, water helps regulate our body temperature; is essential for bones, teeth, body tissues, skin, and joints; helps transport nutrients and oxygen to our cells; and even improves children’s moods, memory, and attention.
Canada’s Food Guide advises that everyone make water their drink of choice — kids included. Working up a sweat running around at recess and during PE, and even breathing, our bodies are constantly losing water and need replenishing.
But, how much water or liquids do kids even need? The answer, well, depends.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that to stay well hydrated, “children ages 1 to 3 years need approximately four cups of beverages per day, including water or milk. This increases for older kids to around 5 cups for 4- to 8-year-olds, and seven to eight cups for older children.” The AAP notes that these amounts can vary per individual and may differ depending on kids’ activity levels, their weight, overall health, and environmental conditions like heat and humidity.
While the amounts might seem like a lot and have parents wondering how they’re going to get their little ones to drink that much, the recommendations are for total water, which can be from other sources such as other beverages, soups, smoothies, and fruits and vegetables — some of which contain almost 90 per cent water.
Tips to encourage healthy hydration
While the benefits of water and staying hydrated are evident, not all kids are fans of plain ol’ water. So what can you do if your kids just don’t like the taste? Here are some tips on how you can encourage them to get enough fluids throughout the day.
- Keep it cold. My kids don’t particularly like water straight from our tap because it’s just not cold enough for them. I bought a slim-fit water jug for the fridge which I wash out and fill up weekly and they’ve greatly increased their water intake.
- Jazz it up. Add pieces of frozen fruit. Not only will it transform a regular drink into a “fancy” drink, but frozen fruit will work like ice cubes and can be eaten afterward. Yay fibre!
- Water it down. My kids don’t drink juice very often, but when they do I dilute it so that it’s half juice/half water. They don’t even notice and don’t get as much sugar as from regular juice.
- Try a different container. This seems too simple to work, but a personalized mug, a fancy cup with an umbrella, or a whirly-twirly straw can encourage more water consumption.
- Fruits and veggies for the win. Offer fruits and vegetables that are high in water content. Some of the ones to choose are watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and oranges.
And while water is the simplest to stay hydrated, Canada’s Food Guide lists white milk (unsweetened lower fat milk), and unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages and soy beverages as other healthy drink options.
Water for infants and babies
Infants up to the age of 6 months should only be drinking breast milk or formula and do not need to drink water between feedings. When babies start to eat complementary foods at around 6 months of age, they can be offered a small amount of water in a cup. For more information on keeping infants and babies hydrated as well as when and how to introduce water, consult the print or PDF version of the From Tiny Tot to Toddler guide offered by Québec’s ministry of health and social services.
Drinks to avoid
Some drinks that children and teens shouldn’t be consuming are sugary sports drinks and caffeinated beverages.
The Caring for Kids website, developed and funded by the Canadian Paediatric Society to provide parents with information about their children’s and teen’s health and well-being, warns against giving children sports drinks and caffeinated energy drinks (CEDs). While these drinks can give a temporary energy boost, CEDs can also have anywhere from 50 mg to more than 200 mg of caffeine per drink, which surpasses the maximum safe daily limit for children and teens. In a 2017 Position Statement, the Canadian Paediatric Society cited adverse events associated with the consumption of CEDs including tachycardia, increases in blood pressure, electrocardiogram changes, vomiting, diarrhea, delusions, and more. Pediatricians agree: Energy drinks should never be used instead of water to rehydrate.
Caring for Kids also advises that sports drinks are not necessary for kids who are participating in routine or play-based physical activity. While sports drinks are advertised as being needed to replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, provide fuel during sports, and aid in recovery; for most children and teens, water is still the best way to stay hydrated throughout their sports activities.
For youth athletes competing in high-intensity sports and/or prolonged events, you can read more about their nutritional needs at Nutrition for your young athlete.
Water for everyone
I’m not a huge fan of plain water, but keeping my favourite cup by the sink reminds me to drink whenever I come into the kitchen. And creating “fancy drinks” (water with fruit) to serve alongside dinner is another change that has us all drinking more. Being a good role model yourself and opting for healthy drinks is a great way to help get your kids into the habit of drinking water before they’re thirsty, and staying properly hydrated will keep everyone’s bodies strong and minds sharp.