When I thought of writing about kids and hydration over the summer, I was anticipating hot summer activities with the kids running wild, not these crazy low temperatures and rain. Even still, hot days will come, kids will sweat, and my poor redheaded rambunctious boy will overheat. Oh the joy of summer!
The body needs water to work properly so it's important to stay on top of your kids when the heat hits. Most of us have been drilled with the repeated advice that you need 8 cups of water each day.
Is it that simple for kids? Yes and no.
Hydrating fluids can come from both food and water -- kids lose these fluids from sweat, tears, urine, and vomit during sickness. Usually, kids can make up the water they lost by having a great big glass of cold water when they come inside. But, as the heat rises and more time is spent outside, dehydration can hit hard and fast. Kids are much more prone to dehydration since their pint-size bodies don't cool down as efficiently.
Hydration during summer sports and fun
When a child is playing vigorously in hot weather, even if just crazily running through a sprinkler all afternoon, he or she can very quickly become dehydrated. By the time he or she feels thirsty, dehydration could have already set in. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes for a 90-pound child who's playing hard. Another way to think about it: every 20 minutes, have a younger kid take about 10 gulps (about 5 ounces) of water and have older kids drink at least 9 ounces of water. If your child is outside or in a hot gym for long periods of time, it could even be helpful to weigh your child before and afterward to see if he's taking in enough fluid. If there is a significant change in weight, nag him to drink more -- before, during and after playing.
To help quench his thirst, the absolute best drink to turn to is water. Skim milk can be hydrating as well as juice, but water should be the first line of defense. Sports drinks can be used every so often, but too often kids think that playing sports necessitates drinking Gatorade. Try and resist the urge to supply Gatorade (or too much juice). Juice and sports drinks are often high in sugar, artificial sweeteners and even possibly caffeine. The sugar, even the natural fruit sugar in juice, can slow down fluid absorption in the body.
I get it though. If you can't get your kid to drink water, Gatorade seems better than nothing, right? Well, yes, better than nothing. Dehydration can be life-threatening. However, there are other ways to entice a kid to drink up.
Add some flavor. How often do you order water with a lemon, or slice a cucumber into a pitcher of water? Kids are the same -- they like flavor. Try using their favorite fresh fruits for a fun twist to normal ice cubes. For example, halve a handful of strawberries, place them on a baking sheet and freeze. Pop a couple into a glass of water for a fun flavored drink!
Provide fruits with high water content. For the child who isn't easily persuaded, make sure you have food with high water content as staples in their diet. What better reason do you need to have a watermelon-eating contest in the backyard? Grapes, oranges, apples, cucumbers and tomatoes are also great water-containing fruits and veggies.
Make fresh fruit frozen pops. Have you seen the frozen pop molds they sell at Target? I love these molds for a couple different reasons. First, this is a perfect way to help keep your child hydrated. Next, he's consuming more fruit. Last, creating frozen pops is a fun rainy day project/science experiment. Slice and layer your favorite fruits into the molds. Fill the mold with 100 percent fruit juice, freeze and then enjoy as a tasty break from the heat.
Above all, enjoy the summer but keep an eye on your kids in the heat. Have them be pee-investigators -- their urine should be a light lemonade color with mild odor. If it intensifies in color and smell, they need to hydrate more. Also, keep an eye out for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms to watch for, include: dizziness, dry or sticky mouth, fatigue, confusion, and few or no tears when crying.
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•Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and three young sons in the Northwest suburbs.