The Best Drinks for Toddlers?

1-3 Years

During your baby’s first year, breastmilk or formula provided most of the hydration and nutrition he needed. If you decide to keep breastfeeding, your toddler will continue to benefit from the valuable nutrition and disease protection of breastmilk. Once you decide to wean, or if you’re using formula, it’s time to switch to cow’s milk.

As you’re making the transition, you’ll want to know which toddler drinks are best. We’re answering your questions and offering easy-to-follow guidelines.

Milk: What kind and how much?

At this age, your child needs bone-building nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and cow’s milk is a great source. Whole milk is also a good source of the protein and fat your child’s body and brain need as she develops. Plain milk is best. Flavored milks have a lot of sugar your child doesn't need, and giving her flavored milk now could make it more difficult to get her to want plain milk later.

Once your child turns 2, we recommend switching from whole milk to low-fat (1 percent) milk.

Your child doesn’t need as much cow’s milk as she did breastmilk or formula. The rule of thumb about milk for toddlers is between 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of milk a day. Offer milk with meals, but avoid serving it between meals because it’ll fill her up and can lead to a mealtime struggle. 

Water: How much?

We all know water is good for us, and it’s good for your child, too. Here’s the rule of thumb about providing water for toddlers: Offer plenty of water each day, and serve it as the go-to beverage between meals and when you’re out and about.

Make water more exciting by offering it in an open cup with your child’s favorite character or color, or by using a fun straw.  

What about juice and other drinks?

We do not recommend giving your toddler fruit juice or any other sugary drinks, like lemonade, sweet tea, fruit punch, soda or smoothies. They all contain too much sugar, which can lead to a number of health problems. For example, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drinking too much juice can lead to:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Increased risk of tooth decay
  • Increased risk of diarrhea, gas and bloating
  • Increased risk of exposure to bacteria in unpasteurized juices

If you choose to give your child juice, we recommend sticking to 100 percent fruit juice, watering it down and limiting it to 4 ounces a day (this aligns with the AAP recommendations of fewer than 4 ounces a day for children ages 1 to 3). And be sure to offer juice only in an open cup at snack times as sipping on a bottle of juice, a sippy cup of juice or a juice box for an extended period of time further increases the risk of tooth decay.

Tip: To avoid a power struggle, let your child choose his cup instead of his drink. For example, instead of asking, “What do you want to drink?” ask, “Do you want your water (or milk) in the blue cup or the red one?” This will help your toddler feel as if he has a choice, while making sure that he gets the nutritious drinks that he needs most.

What about toddler formula?

Formula companies are marketing “toddler formula” hoping you’ll transition your child to their (expensive) product, instead of to plain milk. If your child is growing well, there’s no reason to give him any special formulas, nutritional shakes or drinks. These might contain more calories and sugar than your child needs, and can fill him up too much to eat his food at mealtimes.

Serve it up in an open cup

If you haven’t ditched the bottle or sippy cup for an open cup yet, it’s time. Learning to use an open cup is a key developmental skill for your child, so keep working with him on it. Expect a mess, and offer help when he needs it. When you’re on the go, offer water in a toddler cup with a flip straw or a small children's water bottle.