Lunch Box: Supplemental Drinks for Kids

Supplemental Drinks for Kids
Anna Reinwald is a clinical diabetes specialist for OSU Medical Center. She is a regular contributor to Good Morning Oklahoma's Lunch Box segment.

There are lots of times when we wish our children would eat healthier. There are times when nutritional supplements,in the form of shakes or bars, can be a big help.

Energy drinks are not included on this category. Most pediatricians and dietitians do not recommend these products for children, including teens. They typically have caffeine, and the exact amount may be hard to figure out from the label.

This means your child may be getting the same as a cup of coffee (100-200 mg caffeine) or cola (35-50 mg caffeine) or a lot more, up to 300-400 mg caffeine. Caffeine can be dehydrating and cause sleep problems in children, so it should be limited.

Here are some of the products that are available.

Sports Drinks:

Most children need to drink water during practice and sporting events. Sports drinks can be used if children are involved in sports or practice that last over 60 minutes. We don't recommend them as a beverage with meals or snacks.

They are not nutritionally balanced and typically can't substitute for a "real meal".

Meal replacements:

These shakes or bars provide around 250 calories and usually have about the same amount of protein as in an egg or an ounce of cheese. These products are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals and would take the place of meal. These products are a great option for a child who is unable to eat a real meal due to oral surgery or busy sports schedule. If your child has failure to thrive or difficulty gaining weight, these products and others like them can be very useful in reaching weight and development goals. Most children who have difficulty gaining weight need close supervision by their pediatrician, a Registered Dietitian and Occupational Therapist trained in helping these children.

Many of these products are lactose and gluten free, which are important considerations for many families.


Smaller containers of products similar to the meal replacement shakes, usually 120-150 calories. These shakes may be a good snack option, since they are fewer calories than the meal replacement. Or they can be used as a beverage with a light meal.

Yogurt or Kefir Smoothies

These products are another option for quick snacks on the go. They are satisfying but not too heavy on calories. Most yogurt and kefir drinks are about 140-180 calories, so they would be a good snack for most children. A lot of us grew up drinking Ovaltine. It does have some added vitamins and minerals, but the milk provides most of the nutritional benefit.

For some children, adding a small amount of these flavorings helps them drink milk.

How do these products compare with a typical milkshake or smoothie?

A typical 8 oz. milkshake from a fast food restaurant or an ice cream or yogurt shop is about 300 or more calories. Some small milkshakes can be as much as 500 calories!

How does these products compare to a homemade yogurt smoothie?

The benefits to a homemade smoothie are that you control how much sugar, fat, and calories go into it, and the price is usually less. By using lower fat milk and yogurt, and fresh or frozen fruit, you can make flavors your kids like without overloading them with calories. The downside is that they are not portable, like a smoothie you buy in the grocery store. Most homemade smoothies taste great if you drink them immediately, but can't be put into a cooler to be consumed several hours later.

You can buy "smoothie kits" in the frozen food section of the supermarket, but they are usually more expensive than regular frozen fruit.

BOTTOM LINE: Nutritional drinks can be part of your child's healthy eating plan under certain situations. If your child usually eats 3 meals per day and does include fruits and/or vegetables with all meals, he or she probably does not need these drinks. They are not a substitute for eating healthy foods! Getting your family to eat more healthy foods is a priority for their short term and long term health.

Making your own smoothies is a fun way to get kids involved with cooking. Let them choose their favorite fruit combinations. Most kids do need supervision with a blender!

Banana Blueberry Smoothie

1 cup frozen blueberries (or strawberries, mixed berries, etc.)

1 frozen banana

1 cup juice

1 cup yogurt

Blend ingredients until smooth. Serves 2.