As a registered dietitian working with moms, babies, and young children, one of the most common things that we discuss is juice. So many times I hear from parents and caregivers that their children just will not drink water and will only drink juice. I often get asked when it’s okay to start giving their infants and children juice. I think the youngest I’ve heard a child getting juice was an infant that wasn’t even quite three months old, yet!
The current recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (1) are as follows:
- Children under 6 months of age should not be given fruit juice.
- Children age 1 through 6 years old should limit juice to 4-6 ounces a day.
- Children age 7 to 18 years old should limit juice to 8-12 ounces a day.
- For children over 6 months, fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruits, which provide fiber and other nutrients.
- Do not allow your child to carry a cup of juice or juice box with them throughout the day.
In order to see what a young child over age one should should be consuming (at most!) each day, I recommend mom or dad actually use a half cup measuring cup to visually see four ounces. Most of the sippy cups and regular cups on the market will easily hold eight ounces, so it’s really easy for kids to get at least double the amount of juice recommended daily.
Since I’m not one who likes to just say “don’t do this”, I love to have a list of alternatives to share with caregivers. Here are some of my top suggestions:
Dilute juice at least 50/50 with water. This means if your child wants an eight ounce cup of juice, fill it halfway with four ounces of juice, and the remainder with four ounces of water. If your child likes soda or bubbly drinks and you’re trying to break that habit, you can try diluting the juice with sparkling water instead. One of my old coworkers made “Sunshine Coolers” with her kiddos, adding a splash of orange juice to a cup full of ice, and topping it off with plain sparkling or carbonated water.
Make juice ice cubes. This one is particularly fun in the summer time. You just need to pick up some inexpensive ice cube molds if you don’t have any (I picked up a set of two ice cube trays for $1 at Dollar Tree). Take 100% fruit juice and fill the ice cube molds, then freeze. When your children want something to drink, you just need to add a couple ice cubes to a glass of water or carbonated water (I like adding regular ice cubes too, to really keep it chilled and the juice cubes from melting too fast!). This is a great way to control the sweetness in your child’s drink, while still adding a little flavor.
Add fresh or frozen fruit slices. This is my favorite! Parents and caregivers can cut up fresh fruit (or use frozen fruit) and let kids add it to their water. As the fruit sits in the water or the frozen fruit “melts”, small amounts of the whole fruit juices will infuse into the water. Plus, kids love finishing their water and getting to dig into their cups to eat their leftover pineapple slices, orange slices, strawberries, etc! This is a great way to get a serving of fruit with your drink, the includes all of the fiber and other nutrients found in the whole fruit that is missing from juice. (Just be cautious of choking hazards with young children, please!)
Make juice popsicles! This can be a fun alternative way of offering juice in the summertime. Find an inexpensive popsicle mold (I’ve also picked one up at the Dollar Tree before) and fill with juice, diluted juice, or a little juice that has been blended with whole fruit. This can be a fun summertime treat!
Bottom line, there are a lot of other options! My favorite is adding fresh or frozen fruit to water. Whenever my mom or I host a get together, we always put a pitcher of water out with orange slices, or some other fruit, and the water gets gulped down like crazy! Some of my favorite combinations include:
Orange + Mango
Blueberry + Peach (this has more blueberry flavor if you slice or crush the blueberries first, but it’s still fun to eat the blueberry pieces after you finish your water!)
Apple + Plum
And my #1 Favorite: Raspberry + Strawberry + Lemon + Sparkling Water! It tastes like a sparkling berry lemonade!
Get creative and have fun with it. Show your children to have fun with it too, and definitely encourage other sources of hydration for your little ones beyond juice and sweetened drinks!