Just like adults, toddlers need enough fluid to stay well hydrated. Toddlebox nutrition and early feeding expert Sarah Keogh explains how important the right liquids (and the right amounts!) are for your toddler.
A birthday drink!
As your baby reaches the one-year milestone and becomes a lively toddler, it’s time to consider what drinks best support their needs. Coming up to one year, the main drink is still milk. Breast milk is still best at this stage, however some babies are now on infant formula or higher-iron follow-on formula. Toddlers continue to need milk to support their nutrition, as well as other drinks like water. It is great to continue breastfeeding if possible.
Toddlers still need lots of calcium and milk. Dairy foods such as yoghurt and cheese are also great sources. Milk is a tooth-friendly drink, as it is not acidic.
Toddlers need about two beakers of milk per day (150-200mls/5-7oz). Many toddlers drink more milk than they need. It’s best to have milk with a meal and drink water in between.
When toddlers fill up on milk, they can be less hungry for main meals. Although milk is a nutritious food, toddlers do need to learn to eat their normal meals if they are going to have a balanced diet as they grow up. Toddlers can swap a beaker of milk for some yoghurt or cheese to make up calcium if they are not big milk drinkers. Toddlers can drink cows’ milk – full fat, not low fat – as their main milk drink, or continue to use breast milk. Irish research suggests that toddlers maybe lacking in vitamin D and iron. Milk with added vitamin D can also be a great way to make sure your toddler is getting the vitamin D they need.
Growing up milk contains added vitamin D and iron to help your toddler get all the nutrients they require, along with a balanced diet.
Water is the best drink for toddlers. It helps to hydrate them without adding any extra calories or unwanted sugar. Because it’s so tooth-friendly, it’s especially good to use in between meals.
Fruit juices can add quite a bit of sugar so limit the amount you give. Always dilute it well with water (1 part juice to 4-5 parts water) and keep it to meal times only. Apart from the sugar content, fruit juices can be quite acidic: not a good combination for little teeth!
Squashes add flavour to water, but again they are not as kind to teeth as plain water. They are fine to use now and again, but should be diluted with plenty of water (1 part squash to 8 parts water) and only in moderation.
You’re not being unfair to your toddler by just giving them water! They don’t know any better and it’s good for them to learn that not everything has to taste sweet…
Tea & Coffee
Caffeine is not recommended for children under 12. Tea can also interfere with how your toddler absorbs nutrients like iron, so it is best not to give toddlers tea, coffee or energy drinks until they are older. Toddlers will always want what you drink and many toddlers are curious about your tea and coffee.
Avoid these. Soft drinks often contain a lot of sugar and calories and few or no beneficial nutrients. They are also quite acidic and not good for your toddler’s growing teeth.
The ‘Pee’ Test!
Toddlers need six to eight drinks everyday, with a 150 to 200mls /5-7oz serving each time. On a hot day your toddler may look for more water or you may offer more drinks. One way to check if your toddler is drinking enough is if they are having a pee regularly throughout the day. For younger toddlers this means checking the weight of a nappy – if it is heavy, then there is lots of pee, if it is light, not so much. Young toddlers should have several heavy-ish nappies during the day as well as first thing in the morning. If all the nappies are light, then they may need more to drink. For older toddlers who are using the loo, check pee colour. If it is pale yellow-to-clear then they are getting enough to drink. If it is dark or strong smelling, then they may need more to drink.
Good beaker habits
Toddlers should use an un-lidded beaker as much as possible. This helps them to develop the muscles in their mouths that are involved in speaking and swallowing. As this can create a lot of mess, toddler suitable beakers can be used but it is a great idea to make sure your toddler uses an un-lidded cup or beaker several times a day.
Don’t give your toddler a beaker to walk around with and sip from. Give them a drink at regular times throughout the day, so they don’t build a habit of constantly sipping or eating something all day long.
It’s all about timing
Toddlers have small tummies, so it is easy for them to fill up on drinks. For this reason it is best not to offer them a drink for 30-60 minutes before their next meal. This makes it easier for them to be able to eat their meals as they have more room. Also, don’t offer them a drink until they are at least halfway through a meal, or even just at the end. This way they can focus on eating and then take a drink later when they need one. Offer drinks after meals and in between meals to help them stay hydrated.
Get the low-down on how to move from bottle to beaker in the Guide to Beakers & Healthy Drinks, and learn about oral hygiene in Your Toddler’s Teeth.