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How to Keep Kids Hydrated

Learn about the hydration needs for kids and how to use food, beverages and water to keep kids hydrated, even on hot, humid days.

Did you know kids overheat faster than adults?

One reason for this is kids have a larger body surface area in relation to their body mass than adults, causing their internal temperature to rise faster and acclimate more slowly to rising outside temps.

With soaring temperatures, inevitably come long beach days, hours out on the boat, sports camps, family barbecues, swimming, parks, and hot, fun exhaustion for kids.

As a pediatric registered dietitian, I know the summer heat is no joke. Take your active child’s hydration seriously on hot summer days to prevent overheating and dehydration.

Let me show you how!

How to keep kids hydrated.

How Much Water Should a Child Drink?

You’re probably wondering how much water your child needs. It depends on many factors such as age, activity or weather. Your child needs more water in the summer or after running around outside.

And he’ll need extra fluids are if he’s running a fever or having diarrhea or vomiting.

Here are some average requirements to give you an idea.

Fluid Needs of Children

Water in Food

Water isn’t the only way to make sure your child stays hydrated.

Did you know that about 20% of the water you need comes from food? Fruits and vegetables have a water content of about 70-90%?

It isn’t surprising that a favorite summer fruit, watermelon, is 96% water!

Fruit is a refreshing hot weather snack!

Pack cut up fruits such as melons, berries, and even citrus fruits for barbeques or the playground. Try keeping a fresh fruit salad in the refrigerator for an easy go-to snack for your child to grab after playing in the sun all day.

Tip:

Have fun making fruit kabobs to help kids meet their fluid needs. They will gobble them up! Try Catherine McCord’s Magical Fruit Wands for some fun family barbecues!

Once a child is thirsty, they’re already on their way to dehydration.

Sports and Activity Guidelines

Does your child play sports? If so, he’ll need even more water to replace all fluid lost in sweat.

How do you know how much fluid your child lost?

For older kids taking part in strenuous sports camps or games, weigh them before and after the activity to determine fluid losses.

1 pound lost = 2 cups of fluid. Replace the same amount of fluids lost with water.

Make sure your child drinks water before playing sports and during. If he’s playing for more than an hour, he’ll also need some carbohydrates to keep his energy up.

Tip:

Did you know that low-fat chocolate milk is a good sports recovery drink? Your child will get protein from the milk for muscle repair and carbohydrates from the natural and added sugars to replace all the energy used up!

Eat like a champion sports nutrition class

Learn more about nutrition needs for sport!

What about Electrolyte Drinks for Kids?

Water is enough for most children and adolescents. But, if your child plays sports for a few hours, especially in the heat, he may need more than something to quench his thirst.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade contain carbohydrate, sodium, and potassium. These are the nutrients lost during really high energy activities.

Electrolyte drinks aren’t necessary for afternoons at the playground. Your child won’t lose enough fluid through normal activity to need those extra electrolytes. Sports drinks are loaded with almost as much sugar as regular soda (check out the table below for sugar content of drinks).

So, save Gatorade for kids during vigorous exertion lasting longer than one hour for quick repletion of fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Energy drinks are not recommended for children or adolescents. Unlike sports drinks, they contain caffeine and herbal supplements.

Healthy Drinks for Kids

Does your child like sweet drinks?

Sugar sweetened beverages such as soda, energy drinks and fruit juice make up 24% of added sugars in the U.S. diet.

But not all drinks quench thirst. Sugary drinks actually cause you to lose more fluids. The body tries to balance the sugar concentration in your body. When you have too much sugar, water moves out of your cells and into your bloodstream to balance the amount of sugar in your blood. Another reason is that your body needs water to use sugar for energy.

Most of you know that juice has little nutritional value, fills kids up, contributes to accelerated weight gain, adds lots of unnecessary sugar, and yikes – promotes tooth decay!

Make healthy drinks available so your kid goes for them first.

Here are some ideas for healthy drinks:

  • Water
  • Water infused with fruit
  • Fruit and plain yogurt or milk smoothies
  • Low fat or skim milk
  • 100% fruit juice

This table compares the added sugar content of some common drinks.

Drinks for Kids Comparison chart

Tip:

Add water to 100% fruit juice for a lower-sugar option. Check out our Homemade Sodas for a thirst-quenching alternative to sugary sodas.

Hydration for Kids: Quick Tips 

So how do we keep kids hydrated during these hot summer months? Here are some easy to follow tips:

  • Offer fluids every 20 minutes–4 ounces for little kids, 6 to 8 ounces for bigger kids.
  • Drink before, during, and after long periods in the heat and/or exertion.
  • Replace lost fluid with older children during sports or rigorous physical activity. Remember: 1 pound lost = 2 cups of fluid.
  • Choose water over juice.
  • Flavor water with 100% fruit juice ice cubes. Also try freezing whole fruit and adding to jugs of water to bring outdoors.
  • Make frozen fruit popsicles with whole fruit and diluted juice. It’s a summer treat and a great way to involve kids in the kitchen!
  • Offer fluid heavy foods such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Make water fun with kids “water sangria,” fun straws, and cool water bottles.

The Bottom Line

Teach your kids to be water drinkers!

Take extra care in the summer, while playing sports or when they’re sick. With soaring temperatures, inevitably come long beach days, hours out on the boat, sports camps, family barbecues, swimming, parks, and hot, fun exhaustion for kids.

Kids get distracted when they’re playing. Don’t leave it up to them to make sure they’re getting the fluids they need.  

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