Full disclosure: I spent over a year of my life working at Starbucks. During that time, I witnessed toddlers downing highly caffeinated caramel Frappuccinos and kids crying because the pretty passion iced tea is supposedly "only for adults." So what should have been a well-deserved coffee break for Mom turned into yet another stress-fest. If only those moms knew what I did—that are plenty of drinks on and off the menu that are OK for kids.
Kids' Hot Chocolate
The old standby comes kid-sized (8 ounces) and kid-temperature (130 degrees). The littlest ones might like it even cooler—100 degrees is lukewarm. It comes with 2 percent milk, but nonfat, whole and soy are also available. Whip cream is optional ... but yummy!
This fruity, decaffeinated drink is totally kid-friendly. It's hibiscus flavored, which is a fancy way of saying red and berryish. The barista will ask if you want it sweetened. This means adding three pumps (assuming you're getting a tall, which is the smallest iced size—12 ounces) of a simple sugar syrup. Adding raspberry syrup or lemonade also tastes good. Green tea and black iced tea—your other options—have caffeine, so aren't good for kids.
Also available in kid's size and temperature and with a variety of milks, a vanilla steamer is simply steamed milk with vanilla syrup. You will see sugar-free vanilla on the menu, but know it's made with sucralose—the sweetener used in Splenda.
Little known fact: Starbucks has smoothies ... and they're good! Flavors are orange mango, strawberry and chocolate. All the smoothies come with a banana (though you can't really taste it), 2 percent milk, and whey protein and fiber (is derived from cow's milk). Strawberry and orange mango smoothies are also made with fruit purees, while chocolate smoothies contain mocha syrup. Since they come in one size only—grande (medium), which is 16 ounces—you might want to share.
This is simply extra-foamy milk—like a cappuccino, but without the espresso. (Cappuccinos are about half foam and half steamed milk, while lattes have about 1/4 foam and 3/4 milk.) Little kids especially love the light, bubbly nature of foam. Ask for it bone-dry if you want the drink to be all foam.
You won't see this drink on the menu, but it's a winner. It's made of strawberry puree, lemonade, cream base (the syrup used to make Frappuccinos blend better) and optional sweetener. The result: A sweet, slushy treat that kids love. You can also get just plain lemonade at Starbucks—it's a little sour on its own, so you might want to have sweetener added.
In the front display case, you'll see cardboard cases of chocolate and vanilla Horizon milk. They're great cold, but you can also ask the barista to heat them for you—instant hot chocolate. Why would you make it this way when it's already on the menu? Starbucks hot chocolate is pretty dark, so if your kid likes a more milk-chocolate flavor, this is a better option.
This is apple juice with cinnamon dolce syrup, heated up with caramel and whipped cream on top. If your child likes a more classic apple cider case, just ask for heated apple juice. You can also simply get the apple juice cold, in a cup—even though there are probably apple juice boxes in in the front display case, some kids find it more fun to get a bar drink of their own.
This drink isn't on the menu, but kids will love it. Grab a Pellegrino from the front display case, then ask the barista to add raspberry syrup (about four pumps) and—if you want—sweetener. The bright, bubbly, fruity drink is fun one.
Many Frappuccinos (the blended, milkshakey drinks) have caffeine, but a few are OK for kids. Strawberries & Crème, Vanilla Bean and Double Chocolaty Chip are all made without coffee and with a caffeine-free base (the syrup that helps the drink blend). You can also get a syrup crème Frappuccino, which is made with milk, a caffeine-free base, ice and whatever kind of syrup you'd like. If your kid wants a caramel Frappuccino, this is the way to go.
Though it may sound kid-friendly, chai actually has a ton of caffeine. If your kid likes the milky, slightly spicy taste of chai, try a tea latte with a decaffeinated tea. (A tea latte is just a tea bag, hot water and steamed milk—though a chai tea latte can be made with a special chai syrup.) Vanilla Rooibos herbal tea is a good chai replacement—it has hints of licorice, cinnamon and fruit.
One of the biggest mistakes most parents make is assuming a caramel Frappuccino is innocuous. It's made with Frappuccino roast (caffeinated), milk, ice, coffee base to help it blend (caffeinated) and caramel syrup. The same is true for a mocha Frappuccino—just substitue mocha for caramel syrup. If your kid likes the chocolate or caramel taste, order a syrup crème Frappuccino in the preferred flavor. These are made without the Frappuccino roast and with crème base (uncaffeinated).