Find out if your kid’s drink is in disguise: Look behind the label
Parents have a lot to worry about, and unhealthy drink choices are not always on the top of our list. When we think about trying to give our kids more wholesome meals, what usually comes to mind is eating less fast food and providing more vegetables. Maybe you’ve already cut back on the amount of desserts in your home, or you refuse to buy sugary cereal. But in fact, so many of the drinks in our refrigerators and pantries are loaded with sugar (often even more than those sweet cereals and desserts), and not just the obvious ones like soda.
Most of the concern around sugary drinks has focused on soda and its negative health impacts—especially for kids. But what about the hidden sugars in seemingly kid-friendly, “fruit-adjacent” drinks, such as Capri Sun and Minute Maid products? Beverage companies use crafty language, packaging, and marketing tactics to gloss over just how much sugar is packed into drinks like these, and they’re counting on you not to notice the nutrition labels.
Researching and finding healthier options—especially affordable ones—can feel like a luxury for parents, who are already time-strapped. But while eliminating sugary drinks from your household might feel relatively unimportant, consider this: Most kids aren’t drinking soda every day anymore—parents are learning that’s just too much sugar. But those same added sugars are present in many juice drinks, teas, and sports drinks that kids are consuming. A single SunnyD has almost as much high-fructose corn syrup (read: sugar) as a Coke. Juice box brands like Hi-C and most varieties of Capri Sun are far from real fruit juice and packed with added sugar.
Alright, save the lecture, you’re thinking. I understand that this matters, but V8 is gross, and my kids will have a fit if I take away their Gatorade and hand them a water bottle. We get it. For busy parents, checking nutrition labels when you’re just making a quick grocery run can sound like a big lift. And finding an alternative to sugary drinks—especially ones your kids will actually drink—can feel like an impossible task.
Good news: there’s help. Switch the Drink, a tool from local initiative Howard County Unsweetened, simplifies the process of figuring out whether a drink is full of sugar or not. If it is, Switch the Drink automatically offers similar choices you might like that are much better for you—and your kids.
Does your kid love blue Powerade? There’s a better option. Try switching to something like All Sport Zero, a similar sports hydration drink without calories or sugar. If that seems like too sharp a turn, the tool also offers Powerade Zero as an alternative.
There are dozens of options listed on Switch the Drink, and not just the kinds favored by those yoga-obsessed moms whose cars have a “Namaste” sticker. No, we’re talking Tropicana OJ, Honest Kids fruit juice, and diet Ocean Spray, to name a few.
Switch the Drink doesn’t just help you figure out if a drink is sugar-free or healthy; it actually spells out which options are best for kids and where exactly you can find them right here in Howard County. Transitioning to a healthier choice might feel like a burden—just one more thing on your never-ending to-do list. But know this: it takes less time to use the tool to find a couple of options than it does to read this article.
And it’s OK if you don’t switch immediately or even completely. It doesn’t make you a bad parent if you still have some sugary drinks in your home. The key is to start offering healthier choices and moving toward drinks that will reduce your kids’ sugar intake. If, over time, you can switch to grabbing sugar-free options when you’re at the store, your kids will benefit. Or start with small steps like dividing sugary favorites in half and cutting them with water, or reducing intake from two a week to one.
They’re still going to drink this stuff at their friend’s house, grandma’s, or at school, you’re thinking. Sure. But since it’s pretty easy to find low-sugar options, you can still help improve your kids’ overall health and long-term tastes by offering the better stuff at home.
Best of all, experimenting with different healthy options can help to model the consumption habits you hope your kids will adopt later in life. Providing only sugarless choices in the fridge means your kids are more likely to get on board than if you’re downing a Coke while trying to hand them an Aquafina. As any parent knows, perfection is impossible. But a better way is within reach.