During the summer, more than ever, it's important to get your kids to drink more water. Between the slushies, popsicles, juice boxes, and sports drinks that always seem to be around when school's out, it can be hard to be sure your kids are getting enough actual water in their bodies on a daily basis.
If your child seems low on energy, irritable or just not her herself, it might be a sign she's getting dehydrated. At this point you should give her something to drink to see if she improves.
Better than treating dehydration though is avoiding it altogether. Kids get distracted easily when running around a beautiful sunny day, and some children under five years old can have a hard time recognizing or verbalizing that they are thirsty, says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, author of "The Big Book Of Organic Baby Food".
The key is reminding your kids to drink several times an hour on a hot day. Kids ages one to four need roughly 4 to 6 cups of water a day, but Middleberg points out, more important than age is your child's weight, activity level, and climate when it comes to how much they should be drinking. "Paying attention to things like bright yellow urine, cracked or chapped lips, low energy, and crankiness, which could all mean your child is dehydrated. Since kids don't sweat as much as adults, this puts them at risk for heat exhaustion since sweating is the body's way to cool off," she says. On very hot days, aim for about 4-ounces every 20 minutes or so when outside.
We've asked the experts for sneaky ways to make sure your little ones are staying as hydrated as they can be.
Add some flavor. Fresh fruit gives a hint of natural sweetness to plain old H2O. Try cutting watermelon into cubes, set them on a baking sheet, and freeze. "Freezing your fruit won't make it more hydrating but it does lock in nutrients," says Middleberg. Plus, freezing fruit can bring out the fruit flavors, she adds. Pop a few into your child's glass of water for a refreshing treat (they'll love the colored cubes floating around!) Also try pureeing fruit with ice and setting into quirky cube trays, like the Sharks In My Glass! Silicone Shark Fin Ice Cube Tray ($5, amazon.com) or the Have An Ice Day Smiley-Face Ice Tray ($10, amazon.com).
Upgrade H2O intake. Spice up any activity to distract them from what you really want them to do (aka drink more water!). Try the Slinky Drinks Gummy Worm Straws that dress up a glass of water with A+ kid appeal. Made of silicone, they're reusable and dishwasher-safe ($9 for three; amazon.com). "Kids love games, so let them have a sticker each time they finish a 'glass' as a prize. Or create a specific water-drinking chart and for every water bottle finished they get to post a star," suggests Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, founder and owner of City Kids Nutrition in New York City.
Gotta get more milk. We don't often think of milk when it comes to quenching our thirst, but new research found that milk is better than either a sports drink or water. Canadian experts at McMaster University point out that milk replaces sodium lost in sweat and helps your body retain fluid better, as well as providing protein needed by children for muscle development and growth, which is not found in other drinks. "Milk will be better for your body than a sports drink—consequently the sports drinks or a juice are loaded with sugar," says Malkoff-Cohen. "Protein does take longer to be digested by the body so your child is benefiting from these nutrients in addition to getting hydrated," she says.
Don't rule out veggies. When you're packing your kid's lunch for summer camp, don't skip the veggies. "It's definitely harder to entice children to eat veggies during the day since they're not as sweet as other options, so you have to get creative," Malkoff-Cohen says. On a hot day, a veggie juice will taste satisfying, or the traditional "ants on a log" (aka peanut or almond butter on celery with raisins) will be a fun side their friends will be oogling over. The most kid-friendly veggies, which contain about 90 percent of water in each, are bell peppers, broccoli, celery, and cucumbers.
Make homemade ice pops: Frozen treats aren't just for kids, and since they require minimal prep they're the perfect make-ahead summer desserts (they're actually far healthier than sugared cereals so let them pop a popsicle for breakfast too!). "Homemade ice pops range from refreshing and fruity to decadent and creamy," says Middleberg. She suggests blending fresh fruit with coconut water (if you can sneak in veggies, bonus points for Mom) for the most nutrients and putting them into ice pop molds. We suggest a mix of frozen mango, orange juice, honey, vanilla, and coconut water for the ultimate creamy mango pop! Try the Tovolo Jewel Pop Ring Mold with a super cute ring pop shape that slips right onto your kids' finger ($12, set of 6; amazon.com) or the Tovolo Ice Cream Pop Mold with an ice-cream cone like handle ($30, set of 4; amazon.com).
Play follow the leader: The best way to get your kid to drink more water is to make sure you are, too. "More than anything they look up to you and will emulate your behavior, so if you're doing it alongside them they're going to be much more likely to do so as well," says wellness coach, Robyn Youkilis, best-selling author of the books Go with Your Gut and Thin From Within. By encouraging your kids to drink more water, or stay hydrated more often, you're going to down a couple more glasses throughout the day if you want them to copy. Make it fun and say "Cheers" as everyone sips down—your kids will look forward to this ritual and will start rushing to raise a glass before you.