OBJECTIVE--To survey the drinking habits of young children with reference to the consumption of plain water, and to estimate the proportion of a child's recommended energy intake contributed by drinks. DESIGN--A prospective survey. SETTING--Health centres, mother and toddler groups, and infant schools in and around Southampton. SUBJECTS--39 preschool and 66 infant schoolchildren. INTERVENTIONS--Parents kept a diary of all drinks consumed by the child over 48 hours. Parents were interviewed with a questionnaire about the drinking habits of their child. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--The type of drinks and volume of fluid consumed over 48 hours; the proportion of a child's recommended energy intake consumed through drinks. RESULTS--72.5% of the preschool group and 50% of the infant school group never drank plain water. Squash was by far the most frequently consumed drink. 15% of the preschool group consumed just under 50% of their recommended daily energy intake in drinks. CONCLUSIONS--Young children consume large quantities of squash which constitutes a substantial energy supply. It is possible that they are conditioned at an early age to the sweet taste of drinks that may be no nutritional benefit to them.