Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD
Last Updated on:
With summer coming to an end it’s time to start planning (and shopping) for healthy back-to-school lunches. One of the easiest ways to up the health-factor of your kids’ school lunches is to make sure you’re choosing the best kids’ drinks to pack in their lunchboxes or brown bags.
Top 5 Kids’ Drinks to Pack for Back-to-School
Milk provides lots of essential nutrients, including protein, potassium, Vitamin D, and calcium. Depending on their age, most kids need 2 to 3 servings of dairy every day to meet their calcium needs. What you may not realize about milk is that a serving of 1% milk contains fewer calories than a serving of juice! If you’re concerned about bovine growth hormones, choose organic milk instead.
Calories per serving (250 mL 1% milk carton) : about 105
Yogurt drinks (and Kefir)
Yogurt drinks (and the fermented milk beverage called Kefir) provide many of the nutritional benefits of yogurt in a drinkable form that doesn’t taste or feel too much like yogurt – so they’re good even for picky eaters. They’re rich in protein and calcium, and count as a serving of dairy. They also contain beneficial active live culture, which may help improve gut health and boost immune system. Choose one with less than 1 teaspoon of added sugar. That means no more than 7 grams of sugar listed on the label in a 2 oz yogurt drink bottle (3 g of natural sugar from milk + 4 g of added sugar).
Calories per serving (~ 2 oz): 60 to 70
Water is the perfect drink to replenish fluid loss from sweat and kids’ activities. You may be tempted to throw a bottle of sports drink (or energy drink) in the lunch box instead, but sports drink is not ideal for kids. Sports drink is also known as energy drink precisely because it is a bottle full of energy – that is, calories. Most kids and teenagers don’t suffer from the “energy crisis” experienced by adult athletes, so they don’t need all those extra calories. Many sports drinks are also packed with caffeine and herbs that are not appropriate for kids. A bottle of plain old water may not be glamorous, but it’s a much better choice.
Calories per serving: 0
If a juice box or carton contains 100% juice, the label should day so. If the container doesn’t say 100% juice, it’s probably “juice drink,” which can contain preservatives, sweetening agents, and even oil! If the ingredient list is a few lines long with ingredients that sound like your Chemistry 12 textbook, it’s very unlikely 100% juice. Keep in mind that even 100% juice gets 100% of its calories from sugar, so the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 – 6 oz a day for kids under 6, and 8 – 12 oz a day for kids over 7 years of age.
Calories per serving (250 mL): about 120
Fortified non-diary drinks
Non-dairy milk is a tasty drink option for kids and may offer significant health benefits, too! One serving of soy milk provides about 8g of soy protein. If your kid is not a fan of soy milk, try other options, like almond milk, oat milk, brown rice milk, and more. Make sure to choose one that is calcium-fortified, non-GMO, and lightly-flavored (less sugar added). Check out our GoUnDiet database on non-dairy milk to compare your options.
Calories per serving (250 mL): ~ 80 (plain) – 140 (flavored)
The Bottom Line:
Choosing a healthy kids’ drink option is an important part of packing your child’s lunchbox. By avoiding drinks with too much sugar, and picking one of the healthier option loaded with nutrients, you can maximize the nutritional value of your kids’ back-to-school lunches.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.