Make water festive for holiday gatherings

chow_121115-494561024We are hosting several parties over the holidays. Many of our friends are more health-conscious these days, and I would like to serve some healthy but festive beverages. Any ideas?  

Clean, fresh water is among the healthiest beverages out there. It’s calorie- and sugar-free and, when you get it from the tap, it’s about as inexpensive as you can get. The Harvard School of Public Health has gone so far as to state outright that “water is the best choice” for quenching your thirst and rehydrating your body, which uses water in every one of its biochemical reactions as well as for metabolism, breathing, sweating and removal of waste.

Choosing water or other calorie-free or low-calorie beverages has benefits all year round. Replacing two 20-ounce sugary soft drinks a week with a calorie- and sugar-free option saves nearly 25,000 calories and more than 1,700 teaspoons of added sugar over the course of a year. So, your guests will likely thank you for serving water in some way.

You could also consider providing other healthful options in addition to tap water, such as sugar-free sparkling flavored waters, nonalcoholic beers and sparkling ciders at the wet bar. Another idea: Make a simple nonalcoholic punch from a variety of juices, iced tea and club soda, and keep it cool with an ice ring made of water and pureed fruit.

Or, you can just add some punch (not literally) to water from your kitchen tap to dress it up for a holiday party. Although some of us can think of nothing more refreshing than a glass of crisp cold water — straight up or on the rocks — some people might find it less than festive.

Here are some ideas that will help your water make a splash (again, not literally) during the holidays:

  • Slice cucumbers and add them to the pitcher along with sprigs of slightly crushed fresh peppermint. The result is a cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching drink.
  • Add raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Allow them to be slightly crushed as you stir them in with ice. You may want to have a cocktail strainer on hand to allow guests to choose whether the berries flow into the glass or not. Either way, the water wili have a subtle sweetness.
  • Opt for a citrus or melon theme: Slice lemons, limes and oranges or cut chunks of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon and let them float in the pitcher.
  • Think ahead and freeze fruits into ice cubes that you add to the pitcher, so the water contains even more fruit as the ice melts.

In addition, put some thought into the container itself. A nice clear glass pitcher is fine as a fallback, but consider other options, too, including a wine carafe or a large beverage dispenser with a spigot.

And finally, no matter what you might add to water for your party guests, keep food safety in mind. Thoroughly rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before adding them to the container. For citrus fruits or vegetables with a rind, like cucumbers, scrub them with a vegetable brush as you rinse.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness.

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Drink up: Choose water first for thirst

78163959None of my kids drink a lot of water. Should I encourage them to drink more? 

Yes, fill up that water glass and encourage kids to drink up.

Just like it does with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, the Institute of Medicine offers recommendations for daily adequate intake of water. Research suggests that most children and adolescents aren’t getting enough.

For school-age children, expert panels generally recommend daily water intake of about 4 cups for children 4-8 years old, 7-8 cups for youth ages 9-13, and 8-11 cups for those 14-18 years old. It’s recommended that children consume this quantity of water daily in liquid form (water, unflavored lowfat milk, and 100 percent fruit juices). For teens, that translates into drinking enough water to fill a 2-liter bottle.

It should be noted that in addition to the daily recommended amounts of water from beverages, there are additional recommendations for water that’s contained in food (particularly fruits and vegetables). But, even considering all water sources, the average intake for children and adolescents falls short.

Young people who drink more water gain a boatload of benefits. First, higher water consumption can help in the battle against childhood obesity. One study found that plain drinking water accounted for only 33 percent of total water intake among adolescents, with the remaining intake consisting primarily of beverages that contained excess calories. Choosing plain water more often — “water first for thirst” — would likely decrease the amount of sugary beverages children drink. And that can be significant: A 2001 study in The Lancetfound that for every 12-ounce sugary soda a child consumed each day, the odds that he or she would become obese over the next 18 months increased by 60 percent.

In addition, drinking tap water is cheap and usually provides fluoride to reduce cavities. Also, if the water comes from a mineral-rich source — normally groundwater rather than spring water — it can be a small but significant source of some minerals.

Public health authorities suggest parents can help children increase water consumption by:

  • Offering water first when your children say they are thirsty.
  • Having only water and other unsweetened beverages available or within your child’s reach
  • Modeling the behavior — drink more water yourself.
  • Checking your children’s school policies on allowing children to visit the water fountain often or bring bottled water into the classroom.
  • Dressing it up — add slices of lemon, lime or cucumber to water to add interest and variety.