With recommendations that children should only drink water or milk to avoid tooth decay, we’ve looked to see if there are any alternatives toddler drinks that are still healthy but don’t have the high sugar content that is causing the dental problems.
The good news? There are lots of options – which shouldn’t replace water and milk but are a nourishing treat when your toddler is craving something different.
1. Coconut water
Packed with nutrients and boasting a sweet taste, coconut water is great for your little one. It’s also a good source of calcium and vitamin C and can help prevent dehydration when your tot is unwell, as it replenishes the natural salts that are lost when they're sick or have diarrhoea. You can buy coconut water in most supermarkets and health stores.
While fruits do contain natural sugars, they aren’t anywhere near as bad as the sugars found in fruit juice and squash. ‘Try offering a small smoothie of 100-120ml (3-4fl oz) after your child’s meal instead of a pudding,’ says Dr Frankie Philips, dietician and nutrition advisor at Organix. Blend up some bananas, berries, yoghurt or milk as a treat bursting with goodness. You can even mix vegetables mixed with fruit to make a delish, but healthy, drink.
3. Homemade strawberry milk
Blend half a cup of berries and mix it into milk to give your little one’s cup of milk an occasional fruity twist.
4. Unsweetened fruit juice
If you do decide to give your tot juice, make sure it’s pure unsweetened fruit and dilute it so it’s not as sugary. ‘The Department of Health suggests one part juice to between six and 10 parts water and no more than 120 – 180ml once a day,’ says Frankie. ‘Pure fruit juice contains useful vitamins and if given at meal times, the vitamin C content can even help the body to absorb more iron from food.’
Ideally, give any fruit juice in an open-lidded beaker or cup, rather than a bottle or a cup with a valve that encourages sucking. ‘In an open flowing cup it's swallowed more quickly and it doesn't stay in contact with the teeth for as long,’ says Frankie. ‘Even unsweetened fruit juices contain natural sugars and “no added sugar” flavoured drinks are acidic and can cause tooth erosion if in contact with the teeth for long periods of time.’
Squeezing a few drops of lemon juice or popping some cucumber slices into your toddler’s water is a great way to give it some flavour.
5. Water with lemon
Squeezing a few drops of lemon juice or popping some cucumber slices into your toddler’s water is a great way to give it some flavour, without damaging their teeth. Lemon is also a great for digestion and a great source of hydration – making it perfect for hot summer days or when your little one’s exhausted herself on a playdate.
But if you want to encourage your little one to drink more water, there are ways you can make it more appealing. ‘If your child is not keen on water, try adding some ice, putting it into a cup they choose for themselves or using a cute straw to make it more appealing,’ says Frankie.
6. Vegetable juice
Vegetable juice is a way to get lots of goodness into your toddler – and gives them a chance to drink something other than milk or water. You can mix the vegetables with some fruits for a more child-friendly flavour – carrots and oranges work well together as do mangos, pineapple and kale. If you don’t fancy making it yourself, Vegesentials are delicious juices made from 100 per cent fruits and vegetables.
7. Homemade hot chocolate
While tea and coffee aren’t recommended for young children, you can treat your toddler to a homemade hot chocolate once in a while. Heat up some milk and add in one or two cubes of good quality chocolate to give the milk a sweet flavour. It’s best to wait until your little one is over the age of two before giving them chocolate, though, as it contains a small amount of caffeine that can leave him excitable and unable to sleep.