Do Your Kids Have a Drinking Problem?

Dr. Jana realized her four-year-old had outgrown his sippy cup when he came to her in the living room with the cup in one hand and a carton of milk in the other.

Sippy cups have become indispensible for moms with tots. The spill-proof tops and portability make it easier to hydrate kids when on the go--but that might be contributing to poor drinking habits.

"We are teaching kids to drink continuously," says Dr. Jana, pediatrician and author of Food Fights, "but they don't need to."

It's not the sippy cup alone that has Dr. Jana concerned, it's what parents are putting inside.

"In the first year, parents want to give their kids water even though babies get enough water from other sources," she says. "Parents seem to loose that instinct when their kids grow."

Sugary drinks often take the place of water. Soda is served at birthday parties, Gatorade and orange soda is popular at soccer games, and juice is a staple at daycare.

"Parenting today is driven by things that are quick, easy and prepackaged," says Dr. Jana. "It wasn't that long ago that soda came in two-liter bottles and juice came in family sizes. Nowadays, it's all too easy to grab a single-serving juice box."

What's wrong with juice? Juice companies tout vitamins and nutrients, however, those vitamins are not usually worth the additional sugar intake that comes with it. If kids eat fresh foods, they get enough sugar from their diet and should avoid consuming extra.

What Can You Do About it?

Although you can't control what beverages are served to your kids outside the home, you can control what drinking habits they form.

Water and milk should be staples for kids, with water being the go-to beverage whenever they get thirsty. In Dr. Jana's house water is a free food--something the kids can have without asking. Other free foods include carrots, raisins and yogurt. Soda and juice are treated as a dessert; her kids can have it once a week and she lets them decide when.

"This way they learn it's something special, and they begin to form their own good drinking habits," says Jana. "If they don't get used to drinking sweet, they don't like it as much."

With kids, it always helps to make it fun. When Dr. Jana got a new Zero water filter, she did a taste test with her family to see who could tell the difference between filtered water and tap water. Her kids had so much fun that they held the same taste test with their friends.

Letting your kids pick out their own water bottles--ones that they can take to school and sports practice--is another way to include them in the decision-making process.

The Bottom Line

When Dr. Jana finally took the sippy cup away from her son, he had to sit at the table so he could drink without spilling. That's when she realized kids will only sit still to drink if they are actually thirsty. Kids listen to their bodies. If you teach them to make nutritious choices, they will.

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