The Best Kids’ Drinks to Pack for Back-to-School Lunches

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

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 healthy drink options to pack in their lunchboxes.

Healthy kid drinks for school lunches

Top 5 Healthy Kids’ Drinks to Pack for Back-to-School

1. Milk

Not only does milk provides protein (~8 grams), it also provides essential nutrients, including potassium, Vitamin D, and calcium. Depending on ages, most kids need 2 to 3 servings of dairy every day to meet their calcium needs. What’s more? A serving of 2% milk contains about the same calories as a serving of juice. If your kid is lactose intolerant, you may try lactose-free milk. If you’re concerned about bovine growth hormones, choose organic milk instead. Note: Due to different regulations, Canadian/EU/Australian milk does not contain rbGH.

Calories per serving (per cup 2% milk) : ~ 125

2. 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

3. Fortified plant-based milk, like oat milk and almond milk

Non-dairy plant-based beverage is a tasty option for kids and may offer other health benefits, too! One serving of soy milk provides about 6 g of protein. If your kid is not a fan of soy milk, try other options, like almond milk (1 g protein), oat milk (4 g protein), coconut milk (<1 g protein), and more. Make sure to choose one that is calcium-fortified, non-GMO, and lightly-flavored (less sugar added).

Calories per serving (per cup): ~ 60 (plain) – ~140 (flavored)

4. Water

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, and possibly caffeine. 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 may not be appropriate for kids. A bottle of plain old water may not be glamorous, but it’s a much better choice.

Calories per serving: 0

5. 100% Juice

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 may contain sweetening agents, emulsifiers, and even oil! Keep in mind that even 100% juice gets 100% of its calories from natural sugar. One cup of unsweetened apple juice provides 24 grams of sugar, while a cup of orange juice provide 21 g of sugar. 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 (per cup): ~ 120

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.


beverages, healthy drinks, kids drinks, milk, school lunch


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