Children play hard. Whether on the playground or the sports field, kids can get dehydrated quickly. Drinking enough of the right kinds of liquids is important for their healthy development.

Proper hydration is linked to healthy body weight, reduced incidence of cavities, and better brain function. On the flip side, if kids are running dry, they can experience fatigue, constipation, and/or reduced cognitive performance.

How much liquid do children need each day? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a good starting point is at least six to eight glasses for children and teens. They will need more in hot weather and if they are exercising.

Offering the right kind of drinks is equally important to health and development. Some drinks are great anytime, others only in moderation, and some seldom given, if ever.

First, let’s review the best choices for healthy hydration for children.

Water is the top choice for kids and should represent the largest part of their liquid consumption. Since water has zero calories, it is a great choice at mealtime for picky eaters.

Naturally flavored water is a refreshing alternative when plain water seems boring. Adding fresh fruit and herb combinations can be both fun and flavorful. Invite kids and teens to experiment and create a personal favorite. Some popular combinations are pineapple/mint, strawberry/lemon, and cucumber/watermelon.

Unsweetened milks (dairy or plant-based) provide great nutrition and are much healthier than their sugary counterparts. Since milk can fill kids up, however, offer only a small portion at mealtimes.

Certain herbal teas are safe for children, are naturally caffeine-free, and have health benefits. These include chamomile, mint, and rooibos. Be careful to serve herbal tea at a safe temperature. For sweetness, add a small amount of honey.

The one beverage to serve in moderation is 100% fruit juice. Serving whole fruit is always a better choice than juice because children need fiber, and increased consumption of juice is linked to obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day for children ages 1-6 and 8 to 12 ounces per day for children ages 7-18.

Finally, we end with our “seldom or never” category. If our children are getting regular daily hydration from any of the following beverages, we need to help them make a change.

  • Sugary drinks (soda, fruit punches, flavored milks, and sports drinks): These should be the occasional treat, not the daily rule. The American Heart Association recommends that sugar intake for ages 2-18 should be under 6 teaspoons per day. One 12-ounce can of Coke contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Caffeinated drinks (soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks): The AAP recommends that children under 12 should consume no caffeine and that teens should be limited to no more than 85-100 mg per day. Energy drinks, at over 100 mg per bottle, are dangerous for children and adolescents.

For more ideas and support in raising healthy children, come to Healthy Kids Day, a free event at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA on Saturday, April 27 from 1 to 3 pm.

By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Southwest Michigan