Though doctors generally advise eating your calories rather than drinking them, there's nothing quite like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter's day. There's nothing wrong with having the occasional treat and Science Daily even suggests that a cup of hot cocoa can contain more antioxidants than drinks like green tea. Still, some commercial hot cocoa mixes are full of sugar and little else. Do your best to make hot cocoa that is healthy as well as delicious.
Using Cocoa Packets
Stores stock several different brands of hot cocoa from which to choose. Most of them allow you to mix with water or milk. Carefully read the nutrition labels before you make a purchase, paying attention to the calorie count and the amount of sugar that's in each serving. When preparing the cocoa, use milk rather than water, as this allows your child to get extra nutrition along with the cocoa.
Homemade Hot Cocoa
Preparing your hot cocoa from scratch may be your best bet, as it allows you to control everything that goes into it. Cocoa powder is also readily available, but it's unsweetened, so you'll have to add your own sweetener. Heat up milk in a pan and add the cocoa and sweetener. Sugar works well, but you can experiment with other types of sweeteners, such as maple syrup.
You don't need to limit the occasional treat, but if you're serving hot cocoa every day, you may want to watch calories. A single packet of hot cocoa mix can come in at over 100 calories when only made with water. Using milk adds more nutrition, but also more calories. Some children actually need the extra calories, but if you are concerned about your child's weight, you should pay attention to calories. Use a cocoa brand that has low calories and -- assuming your toddler is over 2 years old -- substitute skim milk for whole milk. Watch portion sizes as well. Some mugs for hot drinks are quite large and can contain more than one serving, which means more calories than you bargained for.
Though some versions of hot cocoa are little more than warm sugar water, others do contain an extra boost of nutrition. Look for brands that add vitamins and minerals into the mix to optimize your child's nutrition.
Always test the temperature of the hot cocoa before you give it to your child. If it's too hot, an ice cube can cool it down quickly.
Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.
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