By Sally Kuzemchak
May 26, 2015
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When the temperature rises, it's natural to guzzle down extra drinks. It's definitely important to keep yourself and your kids hydrated—and tall glasses of lemonade and iced tea are summertime rituals I don't begrudge anyone (we enjoy them too!). But the truth is, beverages can also be sources of extra calories, sugar, and caffeine that kids just don't need. Be sure you're not making these common mistakes:

Too much sugar.

Between all the sweet drinks, it's easy to gulp down tons of extra sugar in the summertime. Though kids should ideally only get about 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar a day, a small fountain lemonade or sweet tea each contain more than an entire day's worth (about 9 teaspoons). There's also evidence that kids who drink a lot of sweetened beverages may be at higher risk for overweight and obesity. Sweet drinks are fine occasionally, but be careful that your kids aren't sipping them all day long (which is also crummy for teeth). In our house, we try to stick with a one-sweet-drink-per-day policy. And because they get sugary beverages so many places outside the home—like camp, restaurants, and parties—we tend not to keep them in the house.

Too many sports drinks.

There's a common misconception that any kid breaking a sweat needs a sports drink, especially in the summer. Though it's true that some athletes may need them for extended exercise or intense heat (read more about that here), water is adequate hydration in many cases, especially for children who are simply practicing an hour of sports or playing in the backyard. Despite the marketing hype, know this: Electrolytes aren't special, magical ingredients only found in sports drinks. They're simply sodium and potassium, which are easily found in foods like crackers, bananas, and yogurt.

Too much caffeine.

Your kids probably don't drink coffee, but they may sip soda, iced tea, and even those whipped-cream-topped slushies at coffee shops. Caffeine can interfere with children's sleep, worsen anxiety, and even mess with moods. So steer clear of energy drinks completely, and be aware of how many other caffeinated beverages your child gets. According to guidelines from Health Canada, a child age 4-6 should get no more than 45mg per day (the amount of caffeine in one can of soda) and kids ages 7-9 no more than 62.5mg (one and a half cans of soda). A bottle of iced tea can pack up to 40mg, and a small caramel coffee slushie has 70mg.

Too much milk.

Yes, even with a beverage that's loaded with nutrients kids need—like calcium and potassium—more is not necessarily better. According to the USDA, children ages 2-3 need two cups of dairy per day (or fortified non-dairy) and kids 4-8 need two and a half. Yet I talk to parents whose kids gulp milk all day long. What's the problem with that? Too much milk can spoil their appetites for food. And since milk is iron-poor, it's possible for kids to become low in iron because they're drinking too much milk and not eating enough iron-rich food. Read more here.

Above all, encourage everyone in the family to get lots of water. I know that not all kids and grown-ups are fans of plain water (my seven year old included—and in all honesty, me!) but don't give up. Here are some tips:

  • Serve water when kids are really thirsty. It's truly the best thirst-quencher and kids will start associating water with relief from thirst. Keep a pitcher of water or frosty water bottles on hand when your kids are playing outside and pack water for outings. Have your kids pick out a special water bottle or straw if that helps.
  • Consider carbonated water. I don't think kids should always expect bubbly water, since it could turn into a soda habit. But an occasional glass of carbonated water, even with a splash of juice, is a fun break from the ordinary.
  • Freeze cubes of 100 percent juice and occasionally put one in a cup of ice water. It will add a little bit of flavor and color but not lots of sugar.

Got any great tricks for encouraging plain water? I'd love to hear them.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Image: Variety of drinks via Shutterstock