Image As consumers, it comes at us every day, a brightly colored, exotically flavored array of beverages all tagged with the same familiar plea: “Drink me.” Unfortunately, just like Alice in Wonderland, we don’t always know exactly what we are drinking or how it will affect us. So, how do we know which bottles to choose, especially when it comes to our children?

When it comes to healthful drinks, Alice’s mother probably knew best how to avoid the rabbit hole. Milk, water, and juice are still the big three at the tea party of healthful beverages, although even they have their limits. So here’s the fine print on the back of those little labels, and the choices Alice probably wished she’d made.


According to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), milk is still your child’s best bet for getting the calcium he or she needs. Children between the ages of four and eight should consume two servings of milk or dairy products per day, while kids between the ages of 9 and 18 should consume about three servings. One serving equals 8 ounces of milk, which contains about 400 milligrams (mg) of calcium. The NICHD also recommends that children under one year should drink only breast milk or iron-fortified formula, children between the ages of one and two should drink whole milk, and children between the ages of two and five should be switched to reduced-fat, low-fat, or fat-free milk. This transition can occur gradually, but is important to your child's health because whole milk is high in calories and saturated fat.

If your child doesn’t enjoy the taste of milk, try flavoring it with chocolate or strawberry powders or syrups. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that kids who drank flavored milk actually drank more milk without significantly increasing their sugar intake.

If your child is lactose intolerant or if you prefer soy or rice milk as an alternative, check the label to ensure it has the nutrients your child needs; these beverages don't naturally contain calcium or other nutrients in dairy milk, but some varieties are fortified. Also, work with your child’s pediatrician to come up with a diet that meets your child’s calcium needs.

Fruit Juice

If, like Alice, your child is longing for something sweet to drink, 100% fruit juices are a decidedly more healthful alternative than sodas, fruit drinks, or sweet, fruity caffeinated teas. However, pediatricians warn against allowing your child to overindulge in fruit juices, as their high carbohydrate (sugar) content could cause ]]>diarrhea]]> , abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, ]]>obesity]]> , and tooth decay. In addition, fruit juices often contain only minimal amounts of the protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, or dietary fiber. Too much fruit juice can take the place of more nutrient-rich foods such as milk and whole fruit.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children between the ages of one and six should limit their fruit juice intake to 4 to 6 ounces per day. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice intake should be 8 to 12 ounces per day. The AAP also suggests you encourage your child to choose whole fruit over fruit juices to meet their recommended daily fruit intake.


Water is always a healthy choice, and if your kids are like most of us, they’re not getting enough. Fortunately, water contains no fat, no sugar, no caffeine, and no calories. On an average day, we lose two to three quarts of water just through normal bodily processes. If your child is active, he or she will need even more. And, while the old rule for drinking eight glasses of water a day is currently under debate, adequate water consumption affects our bodies, right down to the cellular level. If your child isn’t fond of water, try mixing water and fruit juice to add some sweetness. Also, many healthy food choices are good sources of water, particularly, fresh fruits and vegetables.

What Can You Do?

Unfortunately, Alice’s mother didn’t join her on her adventure down the rabbit hole, so she was left to her own devices. Obviously, it will be easier to monitor your child’s beverage options when he or she is too young to voice an opinion. But your child may be more likely to continue healthful beverage habits into adulthood if he or she has learned them at home. One of the most effective ways of teaching healthful choices is by being a role model. Try opting for milk, water, or juice over coffee, sodas, or other beverages. You might just be surprised how the story ends.