If your kids are like most in America, they're drinking tons of soda, fruity beverages (including 100% fruit juice), energy drinks, milk beverages, and other sweetened beverages. These liquid calories make up, on average, about 20% of their total daily calorie intake--or about one out of every five calories they ingest. While all drinks can certainly be worked into an otherwise healthful diet, especially those that provide key nutrients (e.g. milk, rich in calcium, vitamin D, and high quality protein), it's clear that too many liquid calories can crowd out healthful beverages and certainly contribute to excess calorie intake that can expand our kids' waistlines and lead to diet-related diseases and conditions associated with being overweight including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, over recent decades, we've gone from serving our children the basics--milk, fruit juice, and water--to watching them gulp down an ever-expanding variety of sweetened beverages including vitamin-infused water and soda. Of course it's hard for kids, just like adults, to resist these beverages that taste great, often come in attractive packaging, and are easy to gulp down when you're on the go especially when the weather is warm. But because portion sizes are so enormous--case in point, a small soda at a movie theater tends to often mean a 32 ounce portion--the equivalent of almost 3 cans of soda--and because these beverages are often high in calories, mostly from sugar, and many are devoid of key nutrients, it's important to teach kids to think before they drink. These drinks will certainly hydrate you, but those high in calories and sugar can cause peaks and valleys in blood sugar, they won't really fill you up, they will erode your teeth (especially if your teeth are soaked in a sugary beverages for long periods throughout the day), and too many may very well crowd out healthful beverages such as calorie-free water or seltzer, low fat and skim milk, and even 100% fruit juice. Milk is rich in calcium, vitamin D, high quality protein, and other key vitamins and minerals to support optimal growth, especially growth and maintenance of bones and teeth during the critical childhood years), and 100% fruit juices such as orange juice, purple grape juice, apple juice and cranberry juice are often good sources of key vitamins and minerals as well as antioxants, powerful chemicals that sop up free radicals that can damage cells and produce disease.
Being the mother of two boys (one is almost 10 and the other will turn 6 in a few weeks), I decided a while back that we would not keep soda in the house or offer it to our children. While my husband and I do drink soda (but only diet soda), we do not keep it in the house--instead we keep 1% and skim milk, bottled water (and filtered tap water), and orange juice in the house; we also keep on hand 4 ounce apple juice boxes, especially for my younger son who is not such a big fan of fresh fruit (and even he prefers milk to juice--my older son loves his oj, just like me, but the mantra in our home has always been milk first, then juice). My older son does like to have gatorade from time to time, especially after basketball when he is all sweated up-- I do allow this, but it is not something I keep in the house and he has it only from time to time and usually stick to just plain water to hydrate, especially after exercise. When he does have juice (usually orange juice), I encourage the no more than one cup a day rule--this is easy for him to follow especially because he loves fresh fruit so much and he also enjoys water and low fat/skim milk. Both of my kids drink a lot of water and at least 2 or 3 cups of milk a day--plain, low-fat or skim milk (I don't buy flavored milks because I think of them as milk and cookies--and since I did not offer this to them when they were young, they did not develop a taste for them)...I often advise parents to choose their battles, and if flavored milk is all your kids will consume, I recommend at least looking for low fat varieties, keeping portions small, and teaching kids that flavored milk or even yogurt drinks count as milk and a treat, like a cookie or candy because of the extra calories they contain from sugar.
Only time will tell if my beverage rules will help my kids develop into healthy teens and adults--so far, they are growing well both physically and mentally, are at a healthy body weight, and seem to be getting all the nutrients they need to support them at school and on the ballfield. For now, I'm sticking with the rules and know at some point I will have to expand the rules to include coffee beverages (which my kids have yet to try--and I don't even drink coffee but see all the teens doing it-yikes! ) and dare I say it, alcohol!!