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.