It’s easy to toss a juice box in your child’s school lunch, hand them a pouch in the car or pour them a cup before they run out the door to play. It’s a refreshing, nutritious option for a warm spring day, right? As refreshing as a juice drink might be for your kiddos, the nutritious part is debatable.
The problems with juice drinks
The main issue with any product containing the word “juice” is sugar. One small juice drink can contain more sugar than a can of soda and that amount of sugar can wreak havoc on a child’s small body.
Whereas an actual piece of fruit offers fiber in addition to vitamins, fruit juice has considerably less fiber than the fruit itself. While fruit and fruit juice both have natural sugars, extra sugar is often added to juice products for taste. In fact, what’s sold as apple juice is actually part pear or grape juice, which packs even more sugar for a sweeter taste.
Sports drinks that boast the added benefits of electrolytes usually include enough sugar and sodium to outweigh any benefits. Even vegetable-based juice drinks often contain large amounts of sodium: as much as half of a child’s daily allowance in just one serving. Powdered drink mixes are typically full of artificial sweeteners, and fruit punch, although it often claims “100 percent Vitamin C,” usually has much more sugar than the vitamin benefits are worth.
Your child should be getting his or her vitamins from actual fruits and vegetables, not from juice.
The better alternative to juice
From stomach issues to tooth decay, the sugar in juice drinks is simply not good for children to consume on a regular basis. Aside from the unnecessary additives and sugar overload, filling up on juice means your child isn’t filling up on more nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, giving your child fresh fruits and vegetables to eat, along with plain water to drink, gives them the best of both worlds — all the vitamins and nutrients, none of the added sugars, sweeteners or extra calories.
Encouraging your child to drink water is about more than simple hydration, although hydration is important. Water helps keep your child’s body temperature stable, regulates digestion, prevents constipation and urinary tract infections, and can be a good source of fluoride for stronger teeth.
What if my kids hate drinking water?
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition member Dr. Nicolas Stettler emphasizes the importance of kids becoming accustomed to drinking plain water at a young age (as soon as possible after they reach one year of age).
“Developing a taste for water is important, because kids who consume too many sweetened beverages may come to expect that every drink should be sugary,” Dr. Stettler says.
Just like with certain foods, early exposure can help avoid aversion, but as any parent knows, children can still be picky. If getting your child to drink water is a struggle, these tactics can help.
Princesses and Superheroes. Does your little one love princesses or superheroes? Find a fun cup that represents a favorite character of theirs and designate it as their exclusive water cup. Let your child know that the special cup can only be used for “princess water” or “superhero water” and help get them excited about drinking from their special cup.
Picking it out. Older children might enjoy picking out a special water bottle. Let them take ownership of selecting a water bottle of their choice and encourage them to use it every day.
Make it a team effort. Monkey see, monkey do – the more your children see you drinking water, the more likely they will want to do the same. If your little one loves to copy mom or dad, try getting matching water cups for the two of you and drinking your water together. Water is good for everyone, after all!
If you do choose to serve juice, six to eight ounces per day is plenty for children. Look for options with 100 percent juice, no sugar added and no artificial sweeteners. Remember, you can always dilute your child’s drink to half juice, half water — most young children can’t tell the difference.