Not many parents realise that by encouraging their children to drink plenty of fresh water, they're automatically helping them build healthier, stronger bodies.
Water is the ideal drink to quench thirst and ensure hydration. Our bodies need water to regulate body temperature and to provide the means for nutrients to travel to all our organs. Water also transports oxygen to our cells, removes waste, and protects joints and organs. Poor hydration can affect a child's concentration levels, memory and learning ability.
"While most parents know that everyone should be drinking 6 – 8 glasses of water each day, they often find it difficult to get their children to drink water," says Megan Pentz-Kluyts, a leading registered dietetics consultant and nutrition coach.
However, there are healthy ways of making water tastier. Try these easy steps:
1. Keep a big bottle or jug of water in the fridge that has been flavoured with fresh fruits and herbs, such as chopped lemons, strawberries, apples, oranges or mint, as this flavours the water and ups the intake of nutrients, without adding too much kilojoules.
2. Children love to cool off in summer, and ice lollies are a great option. Make your own lollies with water that has a little of their favourite fruit juice added, or make plain water lollies more enticing by adding pieces of chopped fruit and freezing them in the lollies.
3. Dilute fruit juices with water (½ cup water + ½ cup of juice) to increase water consumption. It's better to eat fruit whole as they provide nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, which may not always be found in the same quantity once the fruit has been made into a juice.
4. Make your own rooibos iced tea by adding teabags to boiling water according to the strength desired. Once cool, add a cup of clear fruit juice like apple or cranberry juice to the tea and a couple of slices of fruit.
5. Freeze bottles of water overnight so that the water is still cool later in the day when the sun is beating down. Use fun containers with your children's favourite characters on them or co-ordinate the colour of the container to match the fruit or herb that's been used to flavour it for easy reference when grabbing from the freezer for school.
Use drinks to quench thirst
The main objective of fluids is to provide children with the hydration they need. Energy and nutrients should rather come from eating small regular meals and snacks, than from drinks.
Too often children become full from drinking fluids that are high in kilojoules and poor in nutrients. As a result, they turn down food, which means that they miss out on getting essential nutrients such as fibre, protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals.
"Check the labels on sweetened and flavoured mineral waters or commercial iced teas as they're often high in sugar and energy, and are thought to contribute to obesity due to an increased daily energy intake. Regular consumption of sweetened cooldrinks has also been associated with dental cavities and type 2 diabetes," says Pentz-Kluyts.
By encouraging your children to drink water from an early age, you'll form a habit that will be easy to follow through for the rest of their lives.
You can set the best example by always reaching for water when you're thirsty or by making sure that there's always cool water readily available, whether in the fridge at home or packed into the car for after-school runs or family outings.
(Magna Carta, November 2009)
Read more: The parent's guide to food labels