Are Coffee Shop Drinks Safe for Kids?

The caffeine (and sugar) in those frosty beverages adds up fast.
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The idea of a child sipping a cup of coffee seems, well, kind of wrong—but kids slurping down coffee-flavored slushies topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings doesn't seem so out of the ordinary anymore. So if your child swings by the coffee shop with you, does the caffeine in her Frappuccino really matter?

Actually, it does. Kids have much less leeway when it comes to caffeine consumption, and the caffeine in those coffee shop drinks (not to mention other beverages popular with kids like soda and energy drinks) adds up fast.

Though there are no official U.S. recommendations for children's caffeine intake, Health Canada does have maximum intake levels for kids. Here's how some typical coffee shop drinks stack up against their advice:

  • Age 4 - 6 years: No more than 45 mg/day (a bit less than a Mini Mocha Frappuccino)
  • Age 7 - 9 years: No more than 62.5 mg/day (roughly the amount in a Tall Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino)
  • Age 10 - 12 years: No more than 85 mg/day (about the amount in a Grande Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappuccino)

There are also plenty of drinks that go well over these limits:

  • Grande White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino: 90mg
  • Grande Iced Chai Latte: 95mg
  • Grande Caramel Frappuccino: 100mg
  • Grande Java Chip Frappuccino: 110mg

The espresso beverages, like the Iced White Chocolate Mocha, can pack up to 150mg for the Grande size—about double the maximum amount advised for tweens! (In contrast, Health Canada says adults can safely have up to 400mg/day.)

In children (and adults), caffeine increases blood pressure and lowers heart rate, and some research shows that it has a greater effect on boys than girls after puberty. The Poison Control Centers say that caffeine can cause disrupted sleep and decreased attention and reaction time among kids—and that children who consume caffeine regularly can have withdrawal symptoms like headaches if they cut back.

There are options at the coffee shop with very little or even no caffeine at all. Here are a few:

  • Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino: 0mg
  • Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino: 0mg
  • Caramelized Honey Crème: 0mg
  • Organic Chocolate Milk Box: 0mg
  • Double Chocolately Chip Frappuccino: 10mg (Tall)
  • Shaken Sweet Tea: 15-20mg (Tall)
  • Chocolate Smoothie: 20mg (16 oz)

And, while you're being mindful of the caffeine your kid's drink, also know that these frosty, creamy beverages often contain heaps of added sugar. Get the scoop.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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