4 Tips to Help Your Kids Hydrate Right This Fall

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Child HydrationHydrate: In the Classroom Or On the Field

With the days growing shorter and the first blush of fiery color on the hillsides, it’s clear that fall-and the upcoming school year-are fast approaching.

There are 3 essential parts to the equation when it comes to helping your child bring his or her A game to school: Nourishing food, good hydration, and adequate sleep are the secrets to never running on empty.

Most kids fall short in at least one of these areas...and some fail to make the grade in all three.  Today I'm tackling the one that I think often gets shortchanged: hydration.

 Hydrate Infographic

Infographic Source: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html

Why Water?

Many reasons, actually. For peak energy. For a healthy weight. For optimal focus in school. For better performance on the sports field.  Oh, how to count the ways.

The best way to keep your child well hydrated, of course, is to encourage them to drink plenty of it, and to make it a mainstay of their day: as this fun infographic from the USGS Water Science School illustrates, water comprises about 60% of a persons body weight (and even a bit more in children). Yet while that prescriptions sounds simple, in this era of sugar sweetened beverages, juice drinks, energy drinks and even enhanced waters (many of which contain calories or artificial colors), new evidence  from the most recent NHANES data suggests that virtually no demographic of children in the US comes close to satisfying the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for water. Like I said, shortchanged.

Here’s why water is the purest way to hydrate: It has zero calories, which helps promote a healthy body weight. And with a new science suggesting that drinking soda does more than just pack on the pounds, but may contribute to negative mood and behavior in young children as well, sidestepping sugary beverages makes especially good sense until we know more.

In the classroom, water helps your child have sustained energy for the task at hand: research suggests that as little as 1.5% dehydration can lead to a decreased positive mood, sluggish energy, as well as a reduced level of alertness, concentration and short term memory.

On the sports field, water helps to regulate body temperature and maintain maximum muscle strength (a 3-4% dehydration reduces muscle strength by about 2%). Simply put, smart sipping literally means keeping your water bottle on hand for regular drinking throughout the day. And did I mention it's free?

How Much?

Here are the daily water recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes. How does your child’s glass stack up? Keep in mind that things like higher elevation, temperature and humidity can also increase your fluid needs.

Age Daily Water Intake Recommendation

  • 4-7 1,700 mL (about 7 cups)
  • 9-13 girls 2,100 mL (about 9 cups)
  • 9-13 boys   2,400 mL (about 10 cups)

 

Ultra Quick Hydration Check: In children, thirst is not a reliable indicator of hydration status, because they can be distracted or their thirst mechanism may not be fully formed. And by the time we actually receive signals from our body that we are thirsty, we are already dehydrated, which means we’re behind the eight ball and not performing at our best mentally or physically.  For a quick check, check the bowl: urine that’s light in color (like lemonade) with no strong smell indicates good hydration, while urine that’s darker (like apple juice) and has a stronger smell is a sign you need to drink up.

CamelBak KidsTop Hydration Tips

  1. Use a BPA Free Reusable water bottle-reusable bottles help you save hundreds of dollars a year that you’d spend on bottled water. And it’s a much more eco-friendly choice. There are many fun children’s versions with leak proof lids that fit in lunchboxes and sports bags. I love the CamelBak line (Disclosure: I am a proud partner with CamelBak).
  2. Chill it to drink more. Research suggests that we drink more water if we find it cool and refreshing. Pop your reusable water bottle in the fridge or add ice if you prefer it chilled.
  3. Keep it handy and in your sight. If your child sees it, he or she will sip it. Put one one in the car, the backpack, and encourage them to have on their desk during the day so they will be encouraged to drink regularly. (these are great habits for grown ups, too!)
  4. Serve water with meals and snacks. In addition to the 3 servings of low fat milk or enriched non-dairy milk alternatives (like soy, almond, coconut or hemp) that the USDA Guidelines recommend for children each day, be sure to also put water on the tables for meals and snacks. This will help them cultivate healthy drinking habits for life.

 

Fuel with the Right Foods

For some fresh and easy lunchbox ideas check out my Deliciously Different Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love, and bookmark Chef Ann Cooper’s incredible stash of easy, inspiring lunches that will keep your kids fueled all year. As for sleep, health experts recommend 10-12 hours per night for children ages 3-12, and 8-9 hours per night for children ages 12-18.

Have other tips to help your child bring their A game this fall? I'd love to hear them!

Reboot Your Kids' Eating Habits for 2010

Healthy KidsFor all you moms out there, grandparents with tots in your lives, or anyone who's interested in feeding our kids in a better way, there's a fantastic website you really must bookmark, SuperKids Nutrition. I love it. It's run by a dietitian who's a mom, is loaded with real life advice and tips, and if you do one thing in 2010 to reboot your kids' eating habits, it is to start incorporating some of this stuff into your routine and your shopping cart.

I recently did an interview with SuperKids Nutrition, about simple, everyday changes families can do to pack more planet friendly eating. Below is a variation of that interview, with a few blog-friendly edits. I hope these tips help you and your family move towards leaner, cleaner, greener eating, one snack at a time in the New Year!

How can busy moms look beyond packaged foods to allow them to still have quick snacks on hand and be able to put quick meals together?

Focus on one-ingredient foods as the mainstay of meals and snacks. It is still fast and easy, but more nourishing in every sense. And it helps point you toward greener choices, too – what's not to love?

So, let's review the "one-ingredient" food list.

One ingredient foods may include oatmeal, canned beans, chicken, almonds/nuts, fresh or dried fruit, or frozen single vegetables (such as "frozen peas", no added sauces), bulk couscous, a bag of rice, a box of pasta, tofu, canned pumpkin, or even eggs. This simple philosophy immediately starts clearing the clutter from your food choices.

Do you have some ideas or tricks to get through the grocery store with less packaged food in your cart?

Registered dietitians always say, "shop the perimeter" but I think that's not so true anymore; marketers are catching on. Plus, there are some great things in those inner aisles: whole grains, brown rice, heart-healthy oils, to name a few. So I would say to be sure that you have about two-thirds fresh items in your cart (fruits, vegetables, poultry, dairy, tofu/soy, fresh-frozen fish) with about one-third packaged food items. This will allow you to have more real food and less packaged foods.

So, folks can limit packaged food but can still use some in a pinch?

Yes. "Packaged foods" is a super-broad category and you can find some great options to help you in a pinch. In general, my advice is to ignore the front label packaging (that's where all the hype is that the manufacturer wants you to see), and read the ingredient list. It should read like something from your kitchen, not a food lab. In general, choose packaged foods that have 5 ingredients or less, all of which should easily look like things you'd find in your home.

How can moms or dads help children understand the importance of "real food?"

Connecting our kids to food is so important. For instance, I was recently talking at a mom's event where a mom told me her child that would not eat a whole apple "because it turns brown". The child was used to only eating apple slices from a snack bag! Educating our children about nature and its variability is an important part of showing them the true experience of real food.

In your book, you talk about the idea of reducing our "carbon footprint." It's great to know we can make a large impact very easily.

Convenience not only costs more, but also adds carbon to the atmosphere. Cutting back on disposable items alone can have a huge impact, as can simply including more one-ingredient foods in your pantry. Aim for progress -- not perfection -- and focus on one change at a time. For example, you can try reducing your reliance on individually packaged snacks or choose to cut up your own fresh vegetables to start you on your way to eating greener. Maybe you feel that individual drinks are a must for the cooler when you go on a picnic or a hike. Save this convenience for those times and use pitchers of water, juice or beverages at home; it's a great way to save money too!

So what types of "one-ingredient" snacks can we offer?

Seeds, nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), edamame (i.e., cooked baby soybeans), fresh snap peas, fresh berries, and cherry/grape tomatoes are some options. You can also combine some of these to make a snack (think trail mix).

How can parents get their kids involved?

They can offer age-appropriate responsibilities for snacks. Consider using large, airtight jars with scoops for dry goods. Provide a "snack drawer" or have some chopped veggies ready to eat, bagged in the fridge. Right now my 3 year old loves it when I give him a bowl of pistachios, still in their shell, to open and eat while I make dinner (disclosure, Paramount Farms Pistachios is a client of mine). They love to participate!

Any tools we can use with our kids?

My favorite tool around "Edible Education" comes from Field to Plate. It is a great worksheet series you can do with your child to help map their palate and develop a real roadmap, based on taste and flavor, towards step by step healthier eating habits.

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Got other ideas to reboot kids' eating habits in 2010? I'd love to hear them!