Healthy drinks for kids this summer

By Christina Wright-Yee, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Heading into summer in Southern California means anticipating the above 100-degree temperatures, but we know what we need to do: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! While registered dietitians and doctors encourage you to drink plenty of fluids throughout the summer, we also want to help you make healthy decisions. Sodas, juices, slushies, iced coffee and sports drinks may be fluids, but they can be full of calories and sugar that can lead to weight gain, heart disease and cavities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting our added sugars to less than 5% of our calorie needs. For kids ages 2-8, this is about three teaspoons per day. For kids older than age 8, it’s no more than six teaspoons per day. New research suggests even 100% fruit juices are similar to the sugars added to the soda and other sweetened beverages, meaning juice is no healthier than soda!

The amount of sugar in your favorite beverage may surprise you! One teaspoon is equivalent to one sugar packet like the ones you might find at a restaurant or café. In the below table, the serving size for all beverages is 12-ounces, even if the average serving size is typically larger.

Sugar content in your favorite drink
Type of beverage Number of packets of sugar
Water 0
Diet sodas or sugar-free drink mix 0
Powerade Zero or Propel 0
“Light” Sodas 0-2
Unsweetened tea 0
G2 Gatorade 2.5
Sports drink (Gatorade/Powerade) 5
Lemonade 6.25
Orange juice 7.5
Snapple iced/sweet tea 8-8.5
Powdered drink mix (with sugar) 9
Cola soda 10.25
Fruit punch 11.5
Root beer 11.5
Grape juice/cranberry juice cocktail 12
Orange soda 13
Starbucks Frappuccino 14
Naked/Odwalla Juices 12-14

Remember to always read the nutrition facts label to find out the actual amount of sugars and added sugars. When choosing a drink for you or your kids this summer, you might see the terms sugar-free, reduced sugar or no added sugars. Here’s what they mean:

  • Sugar free: less than 0.5g sugar per serving
  • Reduced sugar: less than 25% less sugar than the typical brand, but this doesn’t mean it is always the healthiest option. There still might be other beverage options lower in sugar.
  • No added sugars or without added sugars: no sugar added during processing, but the product may have naturally occurring sugars.

What can you do to stay hydrated and healthy this summer while quenching your thirst?

  • Swap out your favorite drink for one lower in sugar
  • Eat nutrient-rich juicy fruits and vegetables that contain more than 90% water, including: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, frozen grapes, pineapple, grapefruit, berries, cauliflower, bell peppers, broccoli and tomatoes. Just watch portion sizes!
  • Make your own popsicles using fresh fruits and veggies
  • Add mint and lemon to an ice cube tray and freeze with water, then pop them into water or sparkling water for added refreshment!
  • Add lemon, lime, mint, strawberries, cucumbers or berries to sparkling water or water to boost the flavor.
  • Make homemade lemonade to cut back on the amount of sugar found in store-bought lemonade!
  • Try making a watermelon slushy. Mix two cups watermelon, 1-2 cups of ice, and 1 sprig of fresh mint in a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice to reach desired consistency.

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Healthy snacks for kids this summer

By Janelle Sanchez, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Summer is right around the corner, which brings with it, endless pool days, picnics in the park, and surfing. Staying hydrated is an important part of staying safe this summer. Our bodies are 60% water which maintain the function of various systems including your heart, brain and muscles. Sufficient water intake also helps to regulate your body temperate and even help prevent constipation. It is important to pay attention to not only the water you are drinking, but to be mindful of consuming foods that will also contribute to your water intake. What better way to fight off the heat than by cooling down with some refreshing treats?

Summertime also generally includes a lot of relaxation, celebrations and parties- which often translates into more fun foods than healthy foods, leading to an increased risk for weight gain.

Let’s look at some common summertime treats and try swapping those out with some healthier and more hydrating choices.

Instead of a sugary frozen slushie drink, prep some Cucumber Mint Citrus Infused Water:

  1. Fill pitcher up with water. To make a sizzling drink, use unflavored sparking water.
  2. Add 1 lemon sliced, 1 sliced lime (or as desired), 1/2 cup mint leaves, 1/2 cup sliced cucumber, and stir.
  3. Refrigerate overnight, stir and enjoy!

Instead of indulging with an ice cream sandwich, opt for a DIY Fruit and Yogurt Popsicle:  

  1. Blend your favorite fruit  in a food processor or blender on high speed until nearly liquified into a smoothie-like consistency. Try blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or banana.
  2. Pour blended fruit into a large bowl. Add Greek yogurt and lightly mix together. Blend more to get a mixed look, blend less to get a more patterned white and fruit look. For additional sweetness, try adding some agave or honey to the mix.
  3. Pour the thick liquid into popsicle molds. If your popsicle mold has slots for sticks, you can insert them before freezing. If not, freeze for two hours, then insert a wooden popsicle stick in the middle of each mold. Continue to freeze for an additional four to six hours or overnight.
  4. Run popsicle molds under warm water to easily remove.

Recipe adapted from

Instead of opting for corn dogs or pizza for a quick meal, try this Avocado Chicken Salad:

  1. Drain and shred canned chicken or tuna in a bowl.
  2. Chop up cilantro, avocado, cucumber, bell peppers, tomato, red onion and add to the protein mix.
  3. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into a bowl, add salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix together, and pour over salad mixture.
  4. Eat with a spoon and enjoy! Or add inside of a whole wheat pita and enjoy as a wrap!

More ideas for healthy summer snacks for kids:

  • Frozen grapes
  • Frozen bananas dipped in Greek yogurt and chocolate chips or nuts
  • Hydration-loaded fruit and vegetable “fries” including jicama, watermelon and cucumber sticks
  • Chilled spring rolls
  • Cold pasta salad made with zoodles and a light dressing
  • Fruit-filled ice cubes

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Tips for traveling with picky eaters

By Sarah Kavlich, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When you’re a parent dealing with a picky eater, childhood and picky eating can seem synonymous. It’s easy to cater to the pickiness in an effort to avoid a struggle at mealtimes. However, this can sometimes worsen their habits. With summer just around the corner and as we move into warmer months filled with fun, travel and a break from school, parents can use this opportunity to try some new and interesting foods with their picky eater. Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, this time of year can offer an opportunity to experience a new culture through food.

Tips for introducing new foods to toddlers

Remember that kids are learning to eat so consider changing your mindset before heading into meals. Remember that they won’t necessarily eat much of a new food the first time they try it. Repeated exposure to that new food will help them become more comfortable with the food over time. Research suggests it can take up to 20 encounters with a food before someone develops a preference. So, if it is a food you would like to be a mainstay in your child’s diet, don’t give up right away but also don’t force it. Maintain structure by letting your child know that everyone in your family eats the same meals, and there are no separate kids’ meals. This can be a tough pattern to break but offering a small amount of the new food alongside a few familiar foods or a favorite dipping sauce during the meal can help.

Tips for traveling with picky eaters

Exposing your children to new foods while at home, in a lower pressure environment, can help expand their palate before traveling. Start by offering just a small taste test of the new food alongside some familiar foods that your child already feels comfortable eating.

Talk about your upcoming adventure and some of the things your family might experience there, including testing new food together. Kids learn by example and often model the behavior of the people they are closest to, so make sure you have an open mind as well. It’s ok for children to have different food preferences than their parents.  If your child shows interest in a new food that you may not enjoy, go ahead and let them try it without assuming they won’t like it.

On your trip, pack a few of your child’s favorite foods or snacks that travel well like bars, dry cereal or crackers, or pick up some fruits, vegetables, yogurts, or cheese at a local market to help ease them into the new cuisine. Healthy snacks will also help your child from becoming overly hungry between meals. Use words like “exploring” and “adventure” as you offer new foods to promote a more enjoyable atmosphere. Most importantly have fun as you learn together and create lasting memories with your family.

At home before a trip, set the stage by offering some of the foods you might experience on your upcoming travels, like this healthy recipe:

Rice with Lemongrass and Green Onion


(Serves four)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 3/4 cups water

2 12-inch-long lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch-long pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large green onion, chopped


Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup onion and turmeric and sauté 5 minutes. Mix in rice. Add water, lemongrass and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand covered 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass.

Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onion and sauté 1 minute. Add rice and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

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Health Benefits of Winter Spices

By Joyelle Temming, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As the days get shorter and colder, it’s always comforting to take in the fragrant smell of winter spices.  Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and anise have aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. It may surprise you that they have many health benefits too.

The winter season is synonymous with the common cold, so it’s a wonderful time to add spices to your diet that contain antibacterial properties and antioxidants that can help keep your immune system healthy! While spices should not be a substitute for medical treatment or prescription medicine under the supervision of a medical provider, incorporating spices into your daily cooking may help cut back on excessive sugar and salt as well as boost your overall well-being. All spices are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are a healthier alternative to sugar and salt to add flavor to your food.

Here are five common winter spices and their surprising health benefits:

  1. Cinnamon
  • Lowers fasting blood sugar
  • Provides relief from arthritis
  • Contains polyphenols that fight bacteria and boost your immune system
  • Lowers bad cholesterol
  • Contains antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress that can contribute to the development of chronic disease
  • Contains four grams of fiber per one tablespoon of cinnamon
  1. Cloves
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Clears the respiratory passages
  • Improves digestion
  • Contains antioxidants, particularly a compound called eugenol that has been shown to have anti-cancer properties
  • Contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as manganese, vitamin K and vitamin C
  • Strengthens immune system, improves blood clotting, and maintains brain function
  1. Nutmeg
  • Nutmeg oil is a proven pain reliever
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Relieves insomnia and depression
  • Improves cholesterol levels and regulates blood pressure levels
  • Contains antibacterial properties with the potential to inhibit activity of bacteria that causes periodontitis and helps prevent tooth decay
  1. Ginger
  • Suppresses nausea
  • Reduces bloating, gas, and constipation
  • Minimizes menstrual cramps
  • Contains enzymes and antioxidants that help fight bacterial infections and boost the immune system
  • Fights inflammation
  • Aids weight loss and has promise in decreasing body fat by preventing overeating, improving energy levels and stopping fat generation in the body
  1. Anise
  • Contains antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C
  • Excellent source of many essential B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin; contains minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium
  • Has antifungal properties specific to candida, a naturally occurring fungus found in the throat, mouth, and intestines
  • Best natural source of Shikimic acid, which is used in the anti-flu medication Tamiflu
  • May have mild sedative properties for sleep

These spices can be a great addition to recipes during the winter when fresh produce is harder to find. To maximize health benefits, keep in mind that fresh spices are recommended over dried spices.

Try these seasonal recipes with your family to incorporate winter spices into your diet:

Chai Concentrate

4 ½ cups water

1 stick cinnamon

Fresh ginger, smashed (about 5 thin slices)

7 whole cardamom pods, smashed

2 whole star anise pods

10 whole cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon orange zest

10 teaspoons loose tea or 10 tea bags

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla


Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat.  Add all of the ingredients and let steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain out the bags and spices.  Mix equal parts concentrate to milk. Will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

1 sweet potato

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup honey

1 (6 ounce) container vanilla yogurt

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners; set aside. Prick sweet potato several times with a fork and place onto a baking sheet.
  2. Bake the sweet potato in the preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Stir in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, honey, yogurt, and mashed sweet potato, just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Blend together the oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.
  6. Bake muffins in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Source: All Recipes

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Powerful Health Benefits of Pumpkin

By Sue Freck, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When pumpkins appear outside of your favorite market or store, it’s one of the first tell-tale signs of fall.  These days, they come in so many artisanal varieties, shapes, sizes and colors that they make the perfect accent to fall décor, in addition to classic jack-o-lanterns shining on the porch.

But besides their visual appeal, pumpkins are one of the most versatile and nutrient-dense vegetables in the squash family. Pumpkins are a powerhouse squash in that they are very low in fat; have zero cholesterol; are rich in dietary fiber; and are chock-full of vital antioxidants, minerals such as potassium, and vitamins. Those vitamins, such as Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, can be found in the flesh of the pumpkin. The fleshly part of the pumpkin also contains the potent antioxidant, beta-carotene, which gives it its vibrant orange color, but is also converted by the body into essential vitamin A.

One cup of canned pumpkin (not the pie mix with added sugar) contains about 83 calories, 7 grams of fiber and 504 mg of potassium. Add cooked or canned pumpkin to breakfast smoothies, Greek yogurt, or baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, or breads for a nutrition boost. Cubes of roasted pumpkin can be added to salads, stews, soups and pastas.  Additionally, scooping out the pumpkin seeds and roasting them is a quick and easy source of dietary fiber and fatty acids, which are essential in maintaining heart health. Try extending these health benefits to your canine friends by adding a couple scoops of pure canned pumpkin to your dog’s food or add to your favorite homemade dog biscuits recipe.

Pumpkin can enhance the nutrient content and flavor of many of fall’s family meals and snacks, savory or sweet. Here is a no-fuss delicious pumpkin recipe:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Recipe from Taste of Home

  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1-1/4 cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups 2% milk

Optional toppings: toasted chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, and additional brown sugar and milk

Directions: In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients; stir in water and milk. Transfer to a greased (use coconut oil or canola spray) 3-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low 5 to 6 hours or until oats are tender, stirring once. **Note: This recipe can also be made in a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot on a manual setting, adjust pressure to high and cook for 10 minutes.

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