Are Starbucks drinks OK for kids? Which ones are best, and which ones should you avoid? Here is everything you need to know from a dietitian mom about Starbucks drinks for kids.
Raise your hand if you can’t make it through the Starbucks drive-through without your kiddos begging you for their own “special drink”. You may wonder if you should just shut that down and hand them their water bottle, or perhaps you want to treat them but have no idea which drinks are appropriate for kids and which ones to avoid. Or perhaps you’re wondering how to customize a Starbucks drink to be kid-friendly! As a registered dietitian, mom, and Starbucks lover, I’ve got you covered.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to choose the best Starbucks drink for your child (and why), while considering many factors such as age, preference, and budget. I’ll share some advice on how to talk to your kids about Starbucks drinks (what to say and what not to say) to avoid teaching diet culture, and how to offer these drinks in a food-neutral way. I’ll also share over 20 Starbucks drinks that are appropriate for kids, and how to customize them so that they’re right for your child. Let’s dive in!
First of all, should my child be drinking Starbucks drinks?
There ARE Starbucks drink options that are safe for kids to enjoy, on occasion or as often as feels right for your family. To discern how often you might want to offer your kids a Starbucks drink (or give in to their requests, first remember, as the parent, YOU are in charge of what and when foods and beverages are served. It is perfectly ok to say “yes” and equally ok to say no. If for whatever reason the answer is no, I will walk you through how to do this in a way that nurtures your child’s relationship with food and doesn’t feel restrictive.
Sometimes we parents feel an obligation to buy our child a Starbucks drink because we are buying one for ourselves. Or maybe it’s more of an “I just don’t want to deal with the whining” type of scenario. Sometimes giving in is the solution (and no judgment there –I’ve done it too!), but it’s worth noting that when this routine takes hold, children begin to expect a drink at every visit, making it impossible for parents to get a coffee without also buying something for their kids. This understandably can make Starbucks visits an expensive and possibly frustrating experience.
Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (sDOR) outlines a system of feeding that clearly defines parent-child roles when it comes to feeding. This evidence-based feeding philosophy helps to raise competent eaters while supporting a healthy relationship with food. According to the DOR, it is the parents’ role to decide when, where, and what is offered to their children. Kids decide whether to eat (or drink) and how much. So again, parents can absolutely turn down a Starbucks drink request from their child in a gentle, but assertive way. My advice (and what I do) is to offer them randomly, without notice or expectation attached. Sometimes it will be just mom or dad getting a Starbucks drink, and sometimes kids might get one too (but not at every visit!).
Regardless of why you’re choosing to decline the request, it’s important to do so in a positive and non-restrictive way. “Buying Starbucks drinks is not part of the plan today, but later this afternoon let’s make some hot chocolate at home”. Or, “Today is not a kids’ Starbucks day, but I plan to go later in the week and, at that time, you will be able to each choose a drink”.
Are Starbucks drinks healthy for kids?
Starbucks has a wide range of drinks to choose from, many of which are suitable for kids, while others should only be consumed by adults. Labelling Starbucks drinks as “healthy” or “unhealthy” unfortunately doesn’t serve you or your child. These labels attach a moral value, which may cause your child to feel like they are “bad” or shameful for enjoying (or wanting) a drink from Starbucks. Instead, I recommend keeping language neutral around Starbucks drinks (and all foods!) to allow for food freedom and food enjoyment to shine through!
Keeping things “food-neutral”, doesn’t mean that all foods or beverages are nutritionally equal. Some foods provide more vitamins, minerals and nutrient density while others provide pleasure, satisfaction and fun! Depending on the type of drink, various nutrients are provided.
Milk-based Starbucks drinks are a good source of the following essential nutrients:
- Protein: building blocks for muscles, organs, hair, skin, nails, and immune function.
- Vitamin D: Essential for calcium absorption and bone health as well as immune system support.
- Calcium: Important for building bones and teeth and supports nerve cell communication and muscle contraction.
- Vitamin A: Important for vision health, immune function, and skin health
- Vitamin K: Essential for proper blood clotting, as well as helps maintain strong healthy bones.
- Vitamin B12: Plays an important role in energy metabolism, red blood cell formation, nervous system function as well as cell division and growth.
All Starbucks drinks also provide:
- Energy: Most Starbucks drinks that are approved for kids will contain carbohydrates from milk (lactose) and/or some added sugar (a form of quickly digested carbohydrate) that provides a source of fuel for kids, with energy for their brain and muscles
- Hydration: Milk, water, juice and milk alternative-based Starbucks drinks will all be a source of hydration for your child.
- The fun factor! Having fun and enjoying a variety of delicious foods and drinks is one way that kids can explore new flavors, colors and textures
Which drinks are good options for kids?
Starbucks has a wide range of drinks that are suitable and safe for kids to enjoy. Here are all the Starbucks drink options from the Canadian and US menus that are good options for your kids to enjoy on occasion:
- Crème-based Frappuccino’s: Pumpkin spice, chocolate cookie, Apple crisp oat milk, strawberry crème, Caramel Ribbon crunch, Vanilla Bean Crème (in Canada), White Chocolate Crème (in Canada), Double Chocolaty Chip Crème (in Canada)
- Blended strawberry lemonade
- Lemonade (in Canada)
- Steamed milk (called “Steamers” – you can add any flavored syrup)
- Vanilla Crème (steamed milk with vanilla syrup and whipped cream)
- Pumpkin Spice Crème (steamed milk with pumpkin spice syrup and whipped cream)
- Cold milk
- Hot chocolate
- White hot chocolate
Offered in Canada:
- Bottled chocolate or regular Milk2Go
- Can of San Pellegrino sparking water
- Organic apple juice box
- Well Cold-Pressed Juice
Offered in the United States:
- Chocolate, vanilla milk or regular milk box
- Can of Spindrift sparking water
- Bottled evolution organic fruit juices
Which drinks should kids avoid?
As mentioned above, Starbucks drinks containing caffeine should be avoided by young children (under 12) and caution should be taken with kids over 12). Caffeine can easily add up throughout the day from consuming caffeine-containing beverages and foods, such as soft drinks, chocolate, energy drinks and even sports drinks such as Prime hydration and Biosteel hydration that are becoming more popular with kids and teens. The side effects of consuming too much caffeine can be dangerous in how it affects a child’s heart rate/rhythm and blood pressure.
The energy drinks available for purchase at Starbucks in the United States should be avoided by kids. The Rise Kombucha drinks available at Canadian Starbucks locations surprisingly also contain between 10-60mg of caffeine (depending on the flavor). For older kids Kombucha may not be a concern, but for younger kids, it is something to be cautious about.
How to talk to your child about Starbucks drinks without diet talk
As concerned parents, it is easy to get caught in the trap of naming foods and drinks “unhealthy”, “too sugary”, or “junk” when we’re bombarded with this terminology daily (thanks to diet culture). Well-meaning parents label and categorize foods in this way to raise their kids to be healthy and strong. Unfortunately, using this type of dichotomizing language around food always does more damage than good. If the underlying intent of it is to prevent a child from gaining weight or to change the shape of their body, there may be some underlying fatphobia or anti-fat bias that needs to be reflected on.
Instead of bringing diet culture into your decision, first, decide whether it’s a yes or a no, and then practice food neutral and positive ways of following through with your decision.
How to choose the best Starbucks drink for your child
Get them involved
When choosing the best Starbucks drink for your child, be sure that they have a bit of a say in what is chosen! The last thing you want is to spend money on a (not cheap) Starbucks drink, and have your child unhappy with what was ordered. If you can get them involved in the choice process, they are more likely to enjoy themselves, allowing the whole family to enjoy a more positive Starbucks experience!
To keep within your feeding role of choosing what is offered, you can give your child the choice between 2-3 menu items, helping to narrow down options based on their flavor and temperature preferences. Here are some things to consider when providing your child with drink options:
Caffeine content (this is important for kids):
A little caffeine consumed here and there from foods like chocolate, or the odd caffeinated soda or soft drink, is not a cause for concern. However, kids should not be offered caffeine-containing drinks from Starbucks (specifically coffee or espresso-containing), as they often exceed the recommended amount. In Canada, the guidelines for caffeine consumption for kids under the age of 18 are “no more than 2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight”. So, if a child is around 25 kg, that means no more than 62.5 mg of caffeine per day. Even the smallest size café latte at Starbucks has more caffeine than this (around 85 mg). As a rule of thumb, I suggest avoiding any caffeine-containing beverage with kids under the age of 12 (perhaps with the exception of hot chocolate), and then exercising caution with kids ages 12-18.
Caffeine is a chemical stimulant that raises blood pressure and heart rate. This can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, difficulty concentrating and problems sleeping (learn more about this in my energy drinks post). All coffee and tea-based Starbucks drinks will contain some level of caffeine. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the drink contains caffeine simply based on its name or appearance.
I recommend looking up drinks ahead of time to see if a drink contains caffeine (or asking the barista) and help you decide if the caffeine amount is something you are comfortable offering your older child or teenager. Some of the tea-based drinks will contain some caffeine, but a lower amount may be appropriate for your child based on their age and weight. To find out the amount of caffeine in each beverage at Starbucks you can visit their website, click on “menu” and then scroll down to nutrition content and click to see the full breakdown.
As mentioned above, the goal is not to demonize sugar or make kids feel ashamed for liking sweetened beverages. Food neutrality is about taking the morality out of food (and beverages) but still recognizing that foods vary in nutritional value. Consuming drinks high in sugar on a regular basis and in large amounts can start to displace other nutrient-dense foods and drinks that kids need for proper growth and development. This is why it is important to be aware of sugar content, the size of the drink and its possible impact on your child’s appetite for other foods that day.
That said, in some cases, a drink with lots of sugar may be beneficial when your child has expended a lot of energy and needs to refuel. However, on other days, a high-sugar drink may not be what is best for your child when you look at the big picture of what’s going on in their day. You know your child best! Follow your parent’s intuition when it comes to discerning whether or not a Starbucks drink is appropriate, or ask for “half sweet” as an alternative (I do this often). And in case you were wondering, your child will not become addicted to sugar.
Starbucks has a variety of milk types to choose from when customizing your chosen beverage. Ranging from cows’ milk to a variety of plant-based milk alternatives, most people can find an option to enjoy! Let’s take a look at all the milk types offered:
Cows milk options:
- 2% milk- This is the default milk that is used for Starbucks beverages. Part of the fat of 2% milk is skimmed out, however still contains more fat than non fat or “skim” milk.
- Whole milk- Contains between 3-4% milk fat, with no fat skimmed off in processing.
- Non-fat milk- This milk has had all the fat skimmed off in processing, leaving a thinner, less energy and nutrient dense milk.
- Lactose-free milk- This milk is a good option for individuals with lactose intolerance. This milk has had its lactose (a form of milk sugar) broken down to galactose and glucose during processing, to make it more easily digested by those with lactose intolerance.
- Heavy Cream- Contains about 36% milk fat, and is made by mixing in a higher percentage of milk fat into the product. It is thick and creamy and contains less of the other components of milk including milk sugars, and protein.
- Soy beverage- Made from soybeans, and contains a comparable amount of protein and fat as 2% cows’ milk.
- Almond beverage- made from almonds, this milk alternative provides a creamy flavor and texture to drinks but is lower in protein and carbohydrate when compared to cow’s milk.
- Coconut beverage- Made from coconut meat, this beverage provides a sweet, creamy flavor. It is also lower in carbohydrates and protein when compared to cow’s milk.
- Oat beverage- Made from oats, this beverage has a subtle earthy sweet flavor and creaminess. It is much lower in protein compared to cow’s milk.
The type of milk chosen in a kids’ Starbucks drink depends on many factors, including their age, tolerability, and preference. It’s important to note that nutrition-wise, cow’s milk is superior to the others when considering the amount of protein and the vitamin and mineral content. So, if your child can tolerate it, I would suggest choosing cow’s milk. More on milk types below!
The great thing about ordering at Starbucks is that their drinks are highly customizable. You can alter almost anything, from choosing milk type, number of syrup pumps, whipped cream or not, and even the temperature of your drink! It can sometimes actually seem a bit overwhelming. Let’s take a look at some simple ways you can modify a Starbucks drink for your kiddo!
How to customize a Starbucks drink for your child
After you and your child have narrowed down what to order there are a few adjustments that you can make based on individual preference:
First consider cup size
Did you know that Starbucks offers a “short” (also known as “kid”) size? It is close to 8 oz, about 1 cup volume. A Tall drink is 12 oz (about 1.5 cups), a Grande is 16 oz. (about 2 cups) and a Venti is 20 oz. (about 2.5 cups). Order the size that makes most sense for your child to enjoy comfortably, with the goal of wasting the least amount of beverage (and money) possible!
Consider type of milk
If your child is sensitive or allergic to cow’s milk, you can choose from the variety of plant-based milk options at Starbucks (as mentioned above). Soy milk contains similar amounts of protein and fat compared to 2% cow’s milk, and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. It would be the 2nd best choice nutrition-wise. Almond, oat, and coconut milk alternatives are not as nutrient and energy-dense and do not provide nearly as much protein and fat content.
If you are choosing cow’s milk for your child, I always recommend whole milk under the age of 2 years old, as the extra fat in whole milk helps to nourish their rapidly growing bodies. After the age of two, you can switch to 2% milk, as desired. I don’t recommend switching to non-fat milk for kids, as it is just not as satisfying. However, if your older child prefers the taste and texture of thinner non-fat milk, by all means, order their drink with it!
Adjust temperature, if applicable
If you are ordering a hot drink for your child, you may want to consider asking for it to be warm, instead of their regular “steamed hot” temperature to avoid mouth burns, especially if your child will be consuming the drink immediately after it is ready.
Adjust pumps of flavored syrup, if applicable
Starbucks drinks can come out pretty darn sweet, making them actually less enjoyable for some (including me!). If you find the sweetness level a bit much for you and your family you can ask for the drinks to be “half sweet” as an option. A Short size typically comes with 2 pumps of syrup, Tall with 3, Grande with 4 and Venti with 5 pumps. So, you can ask for 2 pumps in tall or 3 pumps in a Grande if you want it “a little less sweet”, for example.
Consider topping adjustments
Some drinks come with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, caramel drizzle, cinnamon sugar dusting etc. Some don’t! If you want a particular topping for your child or would prefer one left off, make sure to ask the barista or look up the drink ahead of time before ordering. The Starbucks website is wonderful in outlining what is in and on each of their drinks offered!
Can kids have coffee or tea-based drinks from Starbucks?
All coffee and caffeine-containing tea-based drinks should be avoided by kids under 12 due to their caffeine content. Even the “Starbucks Refreshers” which may seem caffeine-free at first glance, actually contain green tea extract and have between 45-50mg of caffeine per 16oz (Grande) serving.
How often should I offer my child Starbucks drinks?
If Starbucks is a place you like to visit often, I recommend that you offer your child a Starbucks drink randomly and without notice or expectation. This could mean about half the time you go (when your child is with you). However, the frequency you offer them a drink is honestly up to you, and what makes sense for your family. There are many things to consider including budget, the age of your child, and their ability to safely manage their own Starbucks drink without spilling it everywhere. The most important thing is to try and keep language around Starbucks drinks neutral. Remember, you as the parent get to make the decision on what, when and where a Starbucks drink is offered!
- Starbucks Coffee Company: Canada
- Menu: Starbucks Coffee Company: United states
- Caffeine in Foods – Canada.ca