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New Guidelines on Healthy Beverages for Young Children

Leading Health Organizations Issue Consensus Statement Providing New Guidelines on Healthy Beverage Options for Young Children

By: Ashley Rosales, RDN

  • Tuesday, November 5, 2019
  • 4 Minute Read   

Early childhood is a key opportunity to establish healthy dietary patterns, which are important for supporting optimal growth and development as well as preventing diet-related chronic diseases. Research shows that what children drink from birth through age 5 can have a big impact on their health since beverages contribute significantly to total dietary intake during this critical period. However, with the rapidly expanding beverage options now available in the marketplace, parents and caregivers can be confused about which drinks are healthy and which should be avoided.

Many authoritative bodies have issued guidance and recommendations for healthy beverage intake, but gaps have existed in the types of beverages discussed. Given the importance of beverage consumption in early childhood and the need for comprehensive and consistent evidence-based recommendations, in September 2019, Healthy Eating Research, a group under the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released a consensus statement recommending the best beverages for children ages 0–5; this statement was developed in collaboration with key national health and wellness organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Heart Association. The report, Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood: Recommendations from Key National Health and Nutrition Organizations, provides comprehensive recommendations for beverage consumption consistent with a healthy diet for children from birth to age 5. This report will likely be referenced by key public health stakeholders in policy development and advocacy, especially since it coincides with the development of the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which for the first time will provide guidance for infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months, as well as women who are pregnant.

Learn the recommended beverages for children aged 0-5.

Highlight of Key Findings:

Beverages recommended as part of a healthy diet in early childhood:

  • Plain drinking water and plain pasteurized milk. Plain water is important for overall hydration and to meet overall fluid needs. Dairy foods like milk are important in a child’s diet as they provide key nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins and protein. Age-specific recommendations are also included:
    • 0–6 months: Babies only need breast milk or infant formula to get enough fluids and proper nutrition.
    • 6–12 months: In addition to infant formula, a small amount of plain drinking water can be offered once solid foods are introduced.
    • 12–24 months: This is the time to add whole milk—which has many nutrients—along with plain drinking water for hydration.
    • 2–5 years: Plain drinking water and plain pasteurized milk are the go-to beverages.

Beverages to limit:

  • 100% fruit juice. When possible, children should meet their daily fruit intake through whole fruits in fresh, canned or frozen forms, without added sugars. If serving 100% fruit juice, limit the amount. Adding water can make a little juice go a long way.

Beverages not recommended during early childhood:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages. The report reinforces restricting sugar-sweetened beverages in early childhood due to associations with lower diet quality, development of unhealthy taste preferences and other adverse health outcomes. Sugar-sweetened beverages include, but are not limited to, soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, sweetened waters, sports drinks, energy drinks and sweetened coffee and tea beverages.
  • Plant-based milks/non-dairy beverages. Evidence indicates that, with the exception of fortified soy milk, many plant-based, non-dairy milk alternatives lack key nutrients found in dairy milk, and nutrients in these plant-based beverages might not be absorbed as well.
  • Other beverages. Additionally, young children should avoid drinking flavored milk, toddler milk, low-calorie sweetened drinks and drinks containing caffeine.

Learn the recommended beverages for children aged 0-5.

The full guidelines and accompanying technical report can be found at healthydrinkshealthykids.org. The site also offers parent-focused one-minute video resources, available in English and Spanish, covering the different topics included in the guidelines and useful tips on how to make healthy changes. Additional materials and resources, including shareable infographics and educational handouts, are also available.



Ashley Rosales, RDN

Ashley Rosales, RDN

Ashley, Nutrition Science Officer, is a practicing registered dietitian nutritionist with more than a decade of experience.

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