Friday, March 9, 2012

Kids and Soda: Drawing the Line and saying No

When my boys were little, honestly, I thought nothing of letting them have soda pop. It's a cultural thing, right? Fifteen years ago when I'd take my kids to birthday parties or potlucks or any kind of picnic or gathering, there was soda to drink. Sure, sometimes they had water or other options, but kids love soda! So tasty and bubbly and full of sugar! I drew the line at caffeine, though. I didn't let them have caffeinated soda because I didn't think it was healthy for children (but soda was?) and I didn't want the hyperactive behavior it was rumored to trigger. But yes, my little boys grew up drinking soda, just like I did. Just like my Mom probably did. When I was little my Mom always had a can of Tab in her hand, while I preferred non-diet Coke. I didn't drink it all the time, and neither did my kids, but I certainly saw nothing wrong with them having soda with their friends. I didn't keep it in the house all the time. I only bought it on special occasions like birthdays or holidays or when we ordered pizza. But it was there, they always got root beer with their Happy Meals and I thought that was just fine.

I do not think it is just fine anymore. The empty calories, the lack of nutrition, the quick, blood-sugar-spiking dose of high fructose corn syrup, the numerous health risks of soda and the incredibly high amount of cavities each of my boys had despite regular tooth-brushing all led me to cut soda consumption back drastically in our family. We all stopped drinking soda for several years and instead switched to filtered water, herbal teas, and low fat milk except for the occasional soda indulgence for a birthday or when they were away from home. Then, when I started Medifast, I started drinking diet sodas as a crutch. I stopped again last month and don't miss it a bit.

But you know, a lot of parents do let their kids drink soda. When I lived in the south, I saw mothers putting RC Cola in their babies' bottles instead of milk, and putting soda in baby bottles is common in some other countries as well. But even if you already know what a bad idea that is, at what age do you let your child have soda? Do you ever?

When my daughter was very small and I was very large, we used to go to McDonald's for lunch quite often. I never, ever considered letting my 2-year-old have soda in her Happy Meal. As unhealthy as I was, I still made sure she got milk and not sugar water. I saw no reason to let a toddler have soda or develop a taste for it.

When she was 3, we went out to lunch with a friend and her children who were 3 and 5. When we ordered, I gave my daughter a choice between apple juice and milk, and she chose juice. My friend did not give her children a choice; she ordered Diet Coke for both of them. The little one piped up and objected, saying, "I want juice too!" The waitress offered, "Juice is free with the meal, same as soda..." but the mother said, "No, they don't need the calories!" and so the kids got Diet Coke with their fried chicken strips and french fries.

My daughter is 6 now. she has tasted soda literally a handful of times in her life. Once was when she took a sip from a relative; another time our family had root beer floats for one of her brothers' birthdays. Occasionally she will go to a birthday party where the only beverage offered is soda, and I allow her one serving. But for the most part, we avoid it.

Last month, I decided I was no longer going to drink soda at all. None, ever. Last night, I took my daughter to the mall to shop for clothes. We decided to stop in the food court for dinner at one of our favorite spots. She ordered a slice of pizza and I got a salad and a drink for us to share. When I got to the cash register where you pick your beverage, the cooler that is usually full of cartons of milk and bottles of apple juice was empty. I asked:

me: "Do you have any milk?"
cash register guy: "Nope, all out! We have Pepsi, root beer, Mountain Dew..."
me: "How about apple juice?"
guy: "Nope, we have Hawaiian Punch though."
me, looking at the soda machine red Hawaiian Punch label: "You don't have any juice at all?"
guy: "Hawaiian punch!"
guy: "We have bottled water too."
daughter pipes up: "I want soda!"
me: "No, I don't think that is a healthy choice. How about bottled water?"
daughter, starts to whine dramatically: "Soda!!! I want soda!!"
(people waiting in line behind us now)
me, to cash register guy: "Bottled water."
(child drops to her knees and makes noises like she is being tortured)
me: "You will stop that or we will go home now."
(child resumes normal behavior)

We went to our table and enjoyed our meal together. My daughter was smiling and animated and drank most of that bottle of water herself, without a single complaint. I was SO GLAD I did not give in and buy her soda. I am very hopeful that as she gets older, she will make good choices for HERSELF without my dictation. And yes, I will still allow her a serving of decaffeinated soda if she chooses that at a birthday party where no other options are served.

I draw the line at making soda a regular part of our normal diet. I am not making it the forbidden fruit that she gazes after and longs for but never gets, but I am teaching her by example AND by guidance how to make good, healthy choices MOST of the time. Yes, you can have a piece of cake at the party. No, we are not having cake for dessert every day or every week. I believe children need to know which foods are "everyday" foods (fruits, vegetables, whole healthy foods) and which ones are "once in awhile" treats (candy, cookies, potato chips). It's up to each parent to decide what is on or off the table for THEIR children. But I do urge you to consider that habits you are building in your child and how they may affect them later in life.

*For those who are concerned about children drinking juice, which is also high in sugar (albeit natural sugars and not corn syrup), here is a link to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for juice consumption in babies and children. Only you can decide whether juice is beneficial or harmful to your child, depending on their weight and medical issues.


Erika said...

I know what you mean. Growing up we could have one can of soda on Friday night (that's when we went to Blockbuster to rent movies, and I always got a Jolly Good Fruit Punch soda from the grocery store). It wasn't until I was in college, when my access to soda was pretty unlimited that I went way over the top. I haven't had it for about a week now and I feel great, but I'm not completely over the craving quite yet so it's still an effort.

But on the flip side, we were not a water drinking family. My parents never said to drink water. We were required to have a glass of milk with dinner (the thought of it makes me gag now, I never have milk by itself anymore, only in oatmeal or something). So it wasn't until adulthood that I became a regular water drinker.

Katie Ann said...

My parents both drink soda, but never gave it to me or my two sisters growing up, just because kids don't need it and I imagine it would've been fairly expensive for a family of five. We grew up drinking water, milk, and juice. I remember going to a birthday party in kindergarten at McDonalds and for whatever reason someone gave me orange soda and I freaked the heck out because I'd never had carbonation before and it burned my mouth. I'm 26 now and still can't handle it. My sisters don't drink it at all either. I could count the number of cavities we had all together growing up on one hand. So proof that you can instill good habits in someone early on and have it stick.

Andra said...

Great post! Giving up sugary and diet drinks was the very first thing I did back in 2008 when it was time to overhaul my health and fitness. It wasn't nearly has hard as I thought it would be.

I do still love the very occasional icy cold Coke as a treat on vacation but for daily hydrating I keep a PUR filter on our kitchen tap. Water is the house beverage of Shady Dame!

Kathleen said...

Dear Lyn, good parenting job with your daughter. When I was a child, we rarely had soda in the house. On the occasion my father would buy soda, we could pay him 25 cents if we wanted to drink one. Luckily for me, I never was able to stand carbonated drinks. Neither could my best friend. So soda never really appealed to us. The only way I ever really loved it was in a root beer float! (Making it even unhealthier!) But having ice cream AND soda in the house in the same time happened maybe once a year, so the 'unhealthiness' wasn't really an issue. But I am glad you are not making soda, as you say, 'the forbidden fruit'. I know from experience that always backfires and makes the kid want, crave and sneak the forbidden food. Way to go on kicking your 'bubbly' habit!

Virtual Paul said...

I certainly see your point. Sugared soda I am sure was a big part of my being diabetic. I guess we are in the diet soda camp, but with Diet Rite cola because they use Splenda instead of nutrisweet.

I am new to your blog and followed. I wanted to say "hi". I also blog about my weight loss journey.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't raised without pop(northeast Ohio, haha) at all and am so thankful for that. I've always found colas especially to be yucky. I remember being at bulirthday parties where there was only pop and always being like "eh." As a very rare thing, I'd Get a Sprite with a sandwich. But yeah, pop was big growing up in the 90s. People weren't as into high fructose corn syrup etc etc and you didnt see tons of heavy kids. It was such a different time...I wonder how many of those kids are now struggling with their weight...

Kristi said...

My kids have never had a sugared soda, 11 and 8. But they have had diet sodas, usually diet rite, because of the Splenda issue, fairly regularly.

Anonymous said...

I had unlimited access to sugared soda when I was a kid, and I had few health problems. Now as an adult, I don't have a taste for it and drink it rarely.

So all this to say, there are different paths of healthy living.

Anonymous said...

You are an awesome Mom. You just get better with time! Your kids are lucky to have you.


beverly said...

Lynn - I know you are looking at diets now and wondered if you have investigated Ayurvedic. I am currently playing with it and I think I like it. A lot!

beerab said...

Growing up, we rarely had soda, maybe once a month when my parents would order pizza. Even now I rarely drink it, probably still at that once a month (and most likely less) frequency. It's just not my thing. I pretty much always drink water, sometimes milk, and now and then some wine :)

That's ridiculous for a parent to prefer diet soda over apple juice! No offense to your friend- I just think that's crazy- IMO I'd rather drink regular soda than diet.

Anonymous said...

I am SO off juice! My nutritionist said that it takes about 6-7 oranges to make a glass of orange juice. It is so much healthier to give your daughter a whole orange than a glass of orange juice. My kids don't drink any soda. Usually at parties, if soda is being pushed, you can always ask for water. Now, me (on the other hand), I grew up on Tab and Fresca. So I love Coke Zero too. I am trying to get off it. I used to drink it for breakfast (sad) but now it's just for the 4:00 pick-me-up. Soon to be eliminated.

Lyn said...


You said "It is so much healthier to give your daughter a whole orange than a glass of orange juice."

While I agree in *general* that fruit is better than juice, as I said, only a parent can know what is best for their particular child, according to their weight and medical issues. My daughter's medical issues make eating an orange impossible at this time, so her nutritionist and pediatrician want her to have some juice. I am glad your children are able to eat oranges, and hope my little girl can someday, too.

birchgirl said...

My opinion. My younger son never drinks soda because he does not like it. My older son has 1 coke on Friday night (at home), and a coke at a restaurant on Saturday. I don't think the issue is soda. The issue is we have lost the notion of "treat". Of course, never drinking soda will not hurt you, and drinking calories is a huge factor in the increase in obesity. But wow, a soda tastes great when it is truly a "treat".

Anonymous said...


I did not mean that you shouldn't serve your daughter juice (sorry). I have a daughter too and the nutritionist said it that way "your daughter." (Meaning MY daughter). No offense. I don't mean judgement for you. My daughter LOVES OJ (and I used to too). I try to offer her a whole orange instead and usually she takes it and I feel happy. Oranges are tough to chew and swallow so I understand. I meant my post more as a commentary on whole fruits versus juice. Love your blog and your outlook!


Lyn said...


no offense taken :)
A lot of readers don't know about the struggles I've had with her health, so I wanted to explain. Thanks for being supportive!

Caitlin Carsey said...

My rule is when he's old enough to ask for it, it can be a treat. Until then none. Period. And never as a regular habit.

swimmermom said...

I have 3 kids. We do not have soda in the house, ever, and juice very rarely. The kids will sometimes drink milk but it is mostly used for cooking or cereal. Water has been the house beverage since they started taking liquids other than breastmilk. :-) If they are thirsty for something acidic or fruity, they are welcome to eat fruit and drink water with it.

None of us has ever been overweight. (I read Lyn's blog because I enjoy her writing and she helps me understand friends and loved ones who struggle with their weight.) The kids are all strong, healthy, and tall for their ages.

The kids do love soda when there's an opportunity to have it, and they are allowed one serving in a party setting or whatever. They will usually reach for Izze-type carbonated juice before anything else.

When we are hosting a kids' party, I buy plain carbonated water and frozen 100% juice concentrate, and make our own "Izze."

Just one snapshot of how a healthy-eating, healthy-weight family handles the soda issue …

Steelers6 said...

I made a decision to stop drinking soda pop in Oct 2009. It was 'just' diet Coke, but I was trying to improve health, fitness, & wellness, so I thought it should go. I am doing great and have not had any since then. [pretty sure it would taste like canned chemicals to me now.] It has been interesting though, because now that it is no longer what I choose, I see just how much that is the preferred beverage in America. It's amazing, isn't it. Water is my beverage now. :) I think my coworkers think I'm pretty boring. My coffee is usually totally nekked too. Yawn, right?

I do let my teen daughter order pop occasionally, but she views it as special. It is so common in USA and I too didn't want it to be viewed as all forbidden.

I'm so glad you got wise in time to take such good care of your princess.

InWeighOverMyHead said...

My mom let me have soda like water growing up. I don't let my kids drink soda except maybe twice or so a year. You did the right thing for sure!

Diandra said...

My older sister (whose husband is type 1 diabetic) was determined her daughter would have no sugar at all until she was at least three years old. Of course that did not work out - but she is still making efforts to raise her child with good food habits and reduce the risk of my niece becoming diabetic as well. No soda in their house, reduced amounts of sweets and sweet breakfast spreads, and homemade cake is always whole-grain and reduced in sugar. I am curious to see how that worked out.

My other niece, a foster child, was addicted to sugar when she came into my younger sister's family - at the age of two. She would shake uncontrollably as soon as she saw anything sweet, grab whatever it was and stuff it into her mouth without chewing (surprised, anyone? That is what happens when you raise children in a shelter, with thirty in a group and only one adult to supervise them...). My sister forbade everyone from bringing sweets when visiting, and I know it was especially tough for our father's girlfriend, but by now the situation has drastically improved, and sweets are okay in moderation. (I don't think it possible to raise a child completely off sugar, not as long as they are supposed to interact with the rest of the population.)

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

I'm coming around on this one myself. I stopped drinking soda last year but i still let my kids have it. I did stop buying it. But if we are out somewhere I let them have it. Or if they have friends over I let them have it for a special occasion. However, I do feel soda was a large part of the problem in keeping me addicted to sugar. And I had to have it first thing in the morning. So I really don't want to pass that on to my kids.

katie said...

My siblings and I were born in the late 50's, early 60's. My Mom stocked the refrigerator with milk, and OJ...never soda. Never.
Soda was only on a birthday or a big holiday and even then a couple of glasses. For snacks there was always fresh fruit and pretzels...never candy or cookies.
Cookies were brought out for dessert after dinner. So..we all never got interested in junk or soda or craved sweets. We really enjoyed them when we had them and didn't feel deprived. Food was not ever used to treat emotional states. We all grew up slender and healthy and athletic...never even a cold!!

that TOPS lady said...

I love this post. I grew up drinking soda and pretty much nothing else. Sadly, I raised my kids the same way (they are 10 & 12, so they aren't finished being raised!). My 12 year old would drink NOTING but soda. But then *I* got on the health kick and quit all soda. I didn't force him to stop because at age 12, I wanted it to be his decision. But I watch a lot of food documentaries and they have heard about the ph level of diet soda only being one number different from that of battery acid, etc. They have seen me turn away from it and guess what??? The kids have extremely cut down their soda intake. I am sick right now (the flu) and my well intentioned mother brought over Diet Dr. Pepper for the kids. After she left, 12 year old said "Mother! We can NOT drink this stuff!" yay!

ACM said...

Even a diet soda (1) is as acidic as drinking battery acid, and (2) keeps alive the taste for super-saturated sweetness. So I think everybody wins when you just don't drink it. An uphill fight, though, in our super-saturated culture!!