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What drinks do you give a toddler?

What drinks do you give a toddler?

With all the bad press about sugar, many parents are wondering what drinks are best for their toddlers. Check out our dietitian's advice

Fruit juice, cordials and even milkshake syrups have been under attack for containing too much sugar. Does it really have to be water or nothing? As toddlers are often unable to tell you that they are thirsty, providing regular drinks is very important. Tap water (and breast milk if you are still expressing or feeding) are the best options, but other drinks have their places too and can provide variety. Aim to offer 6-8 cups of fluid daily, more if it's hot or your toddler is constipated. Little and often is best.

Which milk?
From 12 months of age, infants can have full-fat cow's milk as a drink. This provides calcium for bones, as well as fluid. Special toddler milks are also available, which are fortified with vitamin D and iron but are more expensive than cow's milk. Semi-skimmed milk is fine from the age of two if your toddler is a good eater and is growing well. Some parents find that toddlers will happily drink milk rather than eat meals. If this is the case, offer your toddler only water before and with meals.

Fruit juices
These are high in vitamin C, which supports immune function, but also contain natural sugars and acids that may harm growing teeth. If your toddler enjoys fruit juices or smoothies, offer one small glass a day or dilute 50/50 with tap water. That way you just get the benefits of the juices. Remember to brush your toddler's teeth morning and night with fluoridated toothpaste too.

Tea, coffee and energy drinks all contain caffeine – which stimulates the nervous system – so these drinks should be avoided during the toddler years.

Fizzy options
Carbonated soft drinks are acidic and can be high in sugar so are best avoided for young children. Some types, such as colas or energy drinks, contain caffeine that may over-stimulate young children.

Bottle or cup?
Experts suggest that infants can move to a cup from six months, and should be finished with bottles by 12 months. This is to protect their teeth from natural sugars in milk and other drinks. Beakers, sports bottles and straws are all good options as the drink is directed to the back of the throat instead of around the teeth. Sports-type bottles filled with tap water are great for travelling.

By Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian and health writer

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