Do your kids drink too much soda?

Do your kids drink too much soda?

Updated: / Carlos Alvarez / Carlos Alvarez

By Karen Cicero
Completely You

When I was 9, my daughter's age, I remember coming home from school, popping open a Pepsi can and starting my homework. I'd also have soda at dinner, and by the time I got to high school, I was drinking it at lunch too. Times may have changed, but our children's soda habits have only gotten worse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that consumption of sugar-filled drinks (like soda) has increased over the last 30 years, and that preteens and teens get more than 200 calories per day from the sweet stuff.

"These extra calories contribute to childhood obesity and displace healthy beverages like milk, which contains the calcium and vitamin D that this age group vitally needs," says Melinda Johnson, dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Chances are you didn't need Johnson to tell you that soda is bad for kids' health -- and that with all that acid and sugar, it's also pretty stinky for teeth too. But what really seems daunting is how to get your kid to cut back . . .  or not have it become the default drink in the first place.

How to Break Your Child's Soda Habit

My daughter got her first taste of soda at a birthday party when she was 4. The lovely staff at Chuck E. Cheese's poured all the kids huge glasses of Sprite. Kate happily drank it all, claiming it was "the best water ever," and then asked if we could get some for home. Thus, my battle over soda began -- a lot earlier than I hoped it would. But here are the tactics I learned over the last five years (much of which seems to be backed up by a new Belgium study published in the journal Appetite):

Don't give kids an ultimatum about soda (or any other food or beverage).

Demanding that kids never drink soda again only seems to make them want it more. Yes, you can control whether your 6-year-olds have soda or not. But you're probably out of luck when they reach 16. It's more important to teach your kid that soda can have a small place in healthy diet rather than nix it altogether. "Give your kid guidance on how to fit in soda while still being healthy -- maybe one or two sodas a week, for example," says Johnson.

Save soda for dessert.

The study also found that not offering soda at mealtimes made a huge difference in how much a child consumes. Johnson suggests offering soda as an alternative to dessert, because that's essentially what it is. "When we serve soda with meals, it sends the message that soda is a food item, when really it's more similar to candy," she says. Think about it: Would you allow your kid to eat M&M'S with her dinner?

Finally, boot soda out of your fridge.

The study found that kids whose parents kept pop in the house drank a lot more of it. (That's a no-brainer, right?) Instead, keep milk, water and a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice in there. Our favorite family beverage: sparkling water. It has all of the fizz and none of the sugar!

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