The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of children (and adults) don’t need Gatorade, Powerade, or anything similar: a piece of fruit and big glass of water would do better. Sugar will actually slow you down if you're running less than a 12 mile race, and eating a salty snack and drinking water will serve you better than drinking a sports drink after intense exercise, which the average second grade soccer game doesn’t count as, anyway. That snicker’s bar worth of sugar in a 12 ounce Gatorade? Not doing any favors for Little League exercisers.
Milk is, of course, the other classic drink for kids. Whole milk is a great alternative to my previous list of overly sweetened and overly colored drinks. I’d ignore the recommendations you were given ten years ago though, and avoid skim. Kids who drink skim and one percent milk are heavier than kids who drink two percent and whole milk. Add to this that skim milk is heavily processed and with no apparent health benefits, and whole milk seems to be a pretty clear answer. More and more, we’re seeing that it’s sugar and not fat that makes us fat; there’s no need to avoid whole milk.
Although the FDA still permits Red Dye No. 40 and other additives, a 2007 European study and a slew of anecdotal research linking food dyes to hyperactive behavior have many parents rethinking unnaturally colored foods and drinks. Evidence is still inconclusive, but it’s enough to give parents pause. Is it worth the risk? Combined with the fact that most foods using these dyes are overly processed and of dubious nutritional value anyway, probably not.
What about almond milk? Soy milk? Rice milk? Generally, the answer is that if the drink is all natural, low in naturally occurring sugars, and free of calorie-free sweeteners and added sugars, it should be just fine. Don’t hesitate to sub in water instead, though.
The problem is that when you eliminate the fiber and bulk from a piece of fruit, what you’re left with is vitamins, water, and a whole lot of sugar. In addition to training your children to drink their calories and encouraging a growing sweet tooth, you’re also serving them liquid sugar that is processed by the body in exactly the same way it would process the sugar in a soda. In a world facing an obesity epidemic, teaching your children’s taste buds that drinks should be sweet is setting them up for trouble. Juice is all natural, yes. But healthful? No.
One of the biggest gifts you can give your child is a taste for water. Among all of the colorful, sweet drinks available to us, we’ve largely forgotten how refreshingly delicious water can be. I know that many of you are reading this skeptically, but positive references to water reach far back in our written record. Once upon a time, before we had saturated our taste buds with high fructose corn syrup and pure fruit juices, phrases such as, "Like a cool drink of water when you're worn out and weary is a letter from a long-lost friend," would have made sense. Remember reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder? She recalls her father digging a well and says, "The water was clear and cold and good. Laura thought she had never tasted anything so good as those long, cold drinks of water." Forget the idea that every meal needs to have a treat with it, and let your child have the most quintessential drink of all: water.
Why no calorie-free sweeteners? I think it makes sense to wait until new products are thoroughly tested before giving them to our children — none of the miracle sweeteners from the past 30 years have fared particularly well over time, and our past record isn’t particularly inspiring for future no-calorie sweeteners. The second reason is simply that it’s better to avoid conditioning kids to think that drinks should be sweet.
Kids love this creamy, rich, healthful blend.
A refreshing and sweet beverage for a special treat — with no added sugar.
A cool, refreshing, and perfect drink for either a hot summer day or a midwinter afternoon when you just want to remember what summer feels like.
A timeless classic, this concoction soothes little ones.