Drink up! 9 healthy choices (other than water)

The truth is, we all know our kids don’t need anything in their lunch box drink bottles other than water.

But we also all know that just as the same day-after-day PB&J can get pretty dull, so to can yet another bottle of plain, room temperature water.

What’s the alternative? Our kids would love to suggest plenty of them, but soda, energy and sports drinks really don’t cut it as quality lunch packing fodder.

Where is the middle ground? What can you pour into their bottles that they will be excited about and you can feel good about? Here are 9 picks for fun and delicious drink choices you can pack without guilt.

  1. Seltzer. Obvious? Maybe. But still a healthy change from the norm. Adds nothing but fizz. Buy it in to-go bottles and cans, or use your home carbonator and pack it in water bottles with tight-fitting caps. And warn the kiddies not to shake…
  2. Fruit. Pop just about any fruit in the blender (even grapes, mango, watermelon, whatever) with a splash of lemon juice and some water, then puree and pour into a water bottle. My son and a friend recently swooned over a blend of pineapple, banana, raspberries and a bit of water. Whatever combination you use, it ends up a refreshing, sweet treat made from 100 percent whole fruit and no added sugar. Just tell the kids to shake the bottle a bit before drinking; some fruits separate over time.
  3. Coconut water. Big city hipsters love this stuff, and your kids might, too. It’s pretty much what it sounds like — the water you get inside coconuts. Most brands have no added sugar and some are blended with fruit juices. It’s a good middle ground for kids craving fruit juice. Many fruit juice-infused varieties have just 60 calories or fewer per 8-ounce serving.
  4. Natural lemonade Part 1. Plenty of companies sell lemonades made with less sugar or sugar alternatives. I don’t mean artificial sweeteners. I mean things like agave syrup or maple syrup. These are a great choice for folks who are more concerned with quality of ingredients than quantity of calories.
  5. Natural lemonade Part 2. My son asks for this all the time. I fill his bottle with water, then add a hefty splash of lemon juice and — my secret weapon — a few drops of liquid stevia. Stevia is a natural, plant based sweetener that has no calories. Some people don’t like it’s aftertaste, but my son and I find the lemon juice completely masks this. It really is delicious. And try this using seltzer water, too.
  6. Natural lemonade Part 3. Stevia not your thing? No worries. Instead, pop the water and lemon juice in the blender, then add watermelon. Blend until smooth, maybe with an ice cube or two, then bottle. Just shake before drinking for an incredibly sweet and delicious drink.
  7. Spritzers. Whether you buy them or make them, bubbly juices are winners. Lots of companies now sell canned and bottle drinks that are blends of seltzer water and juice, with no added sugar. Of course, it’s cheaper to make your own (and easier to create custom blends). Just remember that the “no shake rule” applies to all seltzer-based drinks.
  8. Smoothies. They’re not just for breakfast. Blend milk or yogurt (or both) and fresh or frozen fruit, maybe a pinch of cinnamon, a tiny speck of salt (to heighten the natural sweetness), then pop it in an insulated bottle. Filling and refreshing.
  9. Iced tea: These days it’s hard to find a bottled iced tea that has sugar, so the pickings for healthy lunch choices are good. Just consider looking for a decaffeinated version for the little ones. Or even better, use fruity herbal teas and make your own. My favorite is made from fruity rooibos tea. Brew it, chill it, then add a splash of orange juice. Delicious.

J.M. Hirsch

is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at

. His upcoming cookbook, 

Beating the Lunch Box Blues

, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include 

High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking


Venturesome Vegan Cooking.

He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.

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