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Nutritional Drinks for Kids

What’s a mom to do when her kids refuse to eat anything that looks remotely healthy, or when she's rushing out the door in the morning and there’s no time to prepare a nutritious meal? Outwit and out think. Savvy parents use nutritional drinks on occasion to keep kids moving in healthy directions. It’s easy to see why: they’re fast and loaded with vitamins, minerals and sometimes protein, calcium and fiber, too. Oh, and they’re kid-tested to please junior taste buds. If your child is unsure about her new nutritional drink, try straws. Lots of them. They’re every mom’s secret weapon for getting youngsters to try new liquids. After all, every drink is more fun if you can suck it up through a straw.

When and Why to Use Nutritional Drinks

Breakfast is an ideal time to introduce nutritional drinks. Kids can sip them while the bread toasts, or, if your picky eater has something against eating breakfast, a nutritional drink can help him make it through the morning without stomach rumbles. After school, a tasty energy booster can tide kids over until dinner. Become the neighborhood Hero Mom by just saying no to pizza rolls, chips and cookies: pass cans of nutritional drinks instead. Or, if you sent your child to bed without supper because he refused to stop using his straw as a weapon, a nutritious, milk-based drink could send him to dreamland once he’s calmed down. Nutritional drinks are also used as supplements if a child's parents and pediatrician are concerned about a child being too thin.

MORE: 10 Habits of Healthy Kids

What’s Inside Those Cans and Powders?

Scientists and nutritionists collaborate when formulating recipes for nutritional drinks for kids. From the FDA to discriminating moms, opinions are tested before these supplementary products land on grocery shelves. Typical nutritional drinks list vitamins and minerals on their labels, but to comply with emerging research on nutrition, some also contain boosts of antioxidants, protein and fiber.

This is also the time to become a super sleuth, Mom, as not every drink labeled as "nutritional" is all that great. Read those labels. Compare the ratio of vitamins and minerals between brands and always scope out sugar content. If there are 7.5g of sugar or more per 100mL, that's a lot of sugar. Drinks that contain 300 mg of sodium or more or 10g or more of total fat are also not very good for you. If you find weird names like maltodextrin (a common starchy thickener) or short-chain fructooligo saccharides (types of artificial sugars) and you don’t want your kids perpetually fired up, keep searching.

Be Discriminating to Avoid Allergic Reactions

Next time your kid’s friends assemble, ask those with allergies to step forward. Chances are, only a few remain behind. Childhood food allergies can range from milk to strawberries and from gluten to nuts. Some nutritional kid drinks address this hot button issue by splashing “no additives” or “gluten- and/or lactose-free” across packaging, but preservatives and food colors like BHA/BHT may still be lurking. Even Harvard has weighed in on the effects of preservatives and food colorings on hyperactivity. If your child has allergies or sensitivities to food colorings and preservatives, be on the lookout for both in the drink you choose.

MORE: Sneaking in Healthy Food for Toddlers

Must You Go the Pre-Packaged Route?

You don't need a prepared drink to give your child something healthy. If you want to skip commercial products, invest a little time and grab your blender to make quick and nutritious drinks for kids from scratch. Jonni McCoy, author of “Miserly Moms” and “Miserly Meals,” recommends blending together 1/2-cup frozen fruit, 2/3-cup milk, 2 or 3 teaspoons protein powder and a teaspoon of sweetener. Let the kids push the button—once the lid is secure, of course. Sneak 1/2-teaspoon Omega-3 oil and/or 2 teaspoons wheat germ to power pack the drink with nutrients. Substitute unsweetened juice for the milk to create signature fruitshakes if your child is lactose intolerant.

Encouraging Kids to Consume Nutritional Drinks

If you really want your child to try a nutritional drink, and she's just not interested, bring out the big guns. Your blender can turn a can of supplemental drink or packet of powder into a big deal if you add a banana and some ice cubes and plop a cherry or strawberry atop that straw. A crazy, twisty straw can be fun to use as your child watches the drink move its way toward her mouth. Distractions are fun, too. Make it a "sip and move" game: kids move one space at a time on a game board each time they take a swig—but no chugging, please. You want your kid to get some added nutrition—not get sick!

MORE: Healthy Junk Food for Kids

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