It’s good to have some facts about drinks so you can give your children a healthy start. The official advice is simple: the best drinks for children are water and milk.
Best drink choices for kids
Children lose water all the time through their lungs, skin, urine and faeces. Lost water is best replaced by tap water. The fluoride in tap water also helps protect teeth. Water is ideal for children.
At about 6 months, you can introduce your baby to solid foods.
At about 12 months, you can introduce children to cow’s milk. Full-fat milk is better than low-fat milk up to the age of 2. The fat in regular milk provides extra energy that toddlers need. They are growing rapidly.
Breastfeeding can continue, but there’s no need to continue with infant formula. ‘Follow-on’ formula and toddler milks aren’t needed.
From about 12 months, you could use rice milk and oat milk (fortified with at least 100mg calcium/100mL) if you want. But these drinks don’t have enough protein and vitamin B12, so children would need to have plenty of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, yoghurt or cheese to make up for what they’re not getting from cow’s milk.
Avoid goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, coconut milk and almond milk before the age of 2. Avoid soy milk before the age of 2, unless your doctor recommends it. Then make sure it’s fortified.
Drinks to limit or avoid
Don’t give babies fruit juice. It can interfere with their appetite for breast milk or formula.
For toddlers, fruit juice is not suitable. It can contribute to tooth decay, especially in bottles.
For older children, pure fruit juice with no added sugar can be included occasionally.
For all ages, 1 serve of fruit juice is 125mL, which is half a small box of juice.
Drinks with added sugar aren’t recommended. This includes soft drinks, cordial, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy drinks and sports drinks. They increase the risk of children becoming overweight.
Tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks contain caffeine. They are not suitable for children.
The dose of caffeine in these drinks is high for a child compared with an adult. Caffeine can disturb children’s sleep and make them jittery.
How much sugar in drinks?
A standard can of soft drink (375mL) can contain up to 40 to 44 grams of sugar. That's the equivalent of 10 to 11 teaspoons. A bottle of sports drink (600mL) can have as much as 7 to 9 teaspoons. A cup of fruit drink (250mL) can have 6½ teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of vitamin water (250ml) can have up to 3½ teaspoons.
Sugary drinks are acidic, and so are artificially sweetened drinks. They both damage tooth enamel.
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Last reviewed: March 2020