Caffeine and Kids Birthdays

We don’t really think about caffeine and kids, that is, we don’t serve them cappuccino for breakfast or anything. Or do we? The sources of caffeine are everywhere and can wreak havoc on sensitive bodies.

Caffeine is a stimulant (one that mom likely loves, needs and uses quite safely) that can cause kids to become jittery and nervous. Too much (which can be very little) can cause muscle tremors, irregular heart rate, raised cholesterol and, leaching of calcium from the bones. Plus, withdrawal can be a huge drag causing flu-like symptoms, headache, nausea, aches and pains.

I have seen a perfectly well behaved child drink a carton of chocolate milk and have his mother pulling her own hair out 20 minutes later and wondering why the sudden “energy spurt”.  Not all kids are that sensitive but some are.  We don’t really think about chocolate pudding or a dish of chocolate ice cream as being the culprit of a difficult bedtime but it sure can be.  Hopefully your child doesn’t suffer from headaches but I know of many who, when all sources of caffeine are removed, suddenly have them no more.  It can be as simple as brownies two days in a row causing a withdrawal rebound headache on the third.

Here are some sources of caffeine that can easily creep in:

  • Decaf coffee (depending upon the brand many can still contain as much as a cup of tea)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Cocoa powder
  • Chocolate cake, brownies, ice cream, mousse or pudding
  • Any cola diet or regular (so far, in Canada at least, other clear soda’s do not contain caffeine)
  • “energy” drinks containing guarana or yerba mate
  • Some pain medications (check with your pharmacist)

It is best to avoid all of these sources for as long as possible, they don’t really deliver any other nutritional value so it should be fairly easy.  Health Canada has an official position on how much is too much which you can get here: But, I prefer to say, let’s start with none until they are old enough to order their own cappuccino or until we are sure that it isn’t contributing to “unexplained” problems.

At some point, though you will encounter temptation.

  • For instance, your child will be at a birthday party and they will serve brownies, with chocolate milk and a side of chocolate ice cream.  Perfect! No child likes to be held back or held out of the festivities and, unless you KNOW, there is a problem, count this as your own little experiment. Let them enjoy the foods and simply watch carefully for any behaviour changes, sleep upset or headache within the next 24 hours.  If you see some, bingo! You now know what to avoid.
  • If you are in a coffee shop and you would like to include your child in some café culture try this: ask for some steamed milk for your child and sprinkle it with cinnamon, rather than cocoa.  Most establishments will indulge you at no extra cost because they
    too want your child entertained while you sip!


About the Author:

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert is a nutritionist and food communications consultant. Her Food Network show,Just One Bite! aired for 5 years on both Food Network and BBC Kids. She is currently a trusted on-camera correspondent for CTV Newschannel as well as CBC and regular health expert on the daily lifestyle show, Steven and Chris which airs internationally.

Named one of Canada’s Top 25 Tweeters by Today’s Parent Magazine and one of’s 35 Favorite Bloggers, she is called for comment from every major magazine, newspaper and television outlet in Canada. She has a weekly column in the Metro Newspaper and regularly writes features for Today’s Parent, Canadian Family Magazine and blogs at Huffington Post.

Picture of Theresa Albert

Author: Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert is an on-camera food and health expert, nutritionist and writer who loves to spread the word on food. She is a Food Communications Specialist and Toronto Personal Nutritionist. Tweet with her at @theresaalbert & find her daily at

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