Is Tea Safe for Toddlers?

When my older son was just 3-years-old, I used to share warm, unsweetened tea with him — and was met with the strangest looks.

Toddlers can drink tea?!

Turns out, it’s a very common question. But the answer is clear, with some exceptions, yes, little ones can drink tea. In fact, safe teas are an excellent alternative to juice, even sweetened with a bit of honey (for children over 1-year-old).

So what makes a safe tea? Here’s the deal.

What’s the scoop on giving tea to toddlers?

Most experts agree that some teas can be safe starting as young as 6 months when given in the appropriate quantity and for therapeutic purposes. The only specific recommendation that I came across for children this young — and one that was recommended to me by my pediatrician when Isaac was around 8-months-old — is small amounts of unsweetened chamomile to ease the discomfort of a sore throat or cold.

Other than that, it seems advisable to hold off on serving tea regularly until your child is at least 12- to 18-months-old.

Why tea is good for your little one

Because tea is not bad for your little one! Don’t be scared — the right tea selection is a great alternative to juice. With milk and water being the primary healthy drink options available to older babies and toddlers, tea provides flavorful drink variety while avoiding over-sweetened juices and juice drinks. Linda Palmer, a natural infant health and nutrition consultant and the author of Baby Matters, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby points out:

“While tea doesn’t need to be sweetened, it takes only a half teaspoon of honey (not for infants under 1 year), sugar, or agave nectar to pleasantly sweeten 8 ounces of tea. Soda or grape juice deliver 13 times that amount of sugar, and we now know that corn syrup has detriments of its own beyond the sugar content. At the same time, various teas provide wonderful antioxidant, anti-cancer, and antimicrobial benefits. There’s no reason to even start sweeter drinks when tea can be so satisfying, healthy, and prevent the development of sweeter desires.”

Choosing the Right Tea for Toddlers

Let’s start with which teas to avoid:

  • Caffeinated teas
  • Green and black teas, which contain high amounts of fluoride
  • Black teas, which also contain polyphenols that can reduce iron absorption and tannins that can interfere little ones’ digestion
  • Echinacea tea, at least for everyday use (it’s a mild oxidant recommended only for short boosts to the immune system; speak to your pediatrician before serving this)
  • Comfrey tea, which can cause liver damage
  • St. John’s wort, which should only be used under the recommendation of an experienced health practitioner
  • Senna tea, which should also only be given (for constipation) under a doctor’s guidance

The following teas are considered safe for sharing with little ones. And before you tea aficionados get up in arms, yes, I know that some of these aren’t technically tea, but rather herbal infusions. For now, though, I’m using tea as a catch all. Just keep in mind that the more powerful health claims attributed to tea do not apply to the herbal infusions.

  • Lemon balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Ginger
  • Chamomile (note that, though there is disagreement about this, some believe that children with ragweed allergies may have a reaction to chamomile)
  • Mint
  • Red teas with rosehips and hibiscus
  • Honeybush
  • Rooibos and spiced rooibos
  • Fruit teas

No need to get fancy to have a tea party with your toddler; just a small amount of cooled tea lightly sweetened does the trick. Throwing in a piece of ginger, a few cloves cloves, a cinnamon stick, or some fresh mint while the tea bag steeps never hurts either.

If you feel like getting fancy though, while still keeping it super easy, try this granita recipe. Chai spices are a great compliment to blood (or any!) oranges, and orange juice is rich in antioxidants, too, which makes this an immune boost as well as a treat.

Chai-Blood Orange Granita

Ingredients

2 cups blood orange juice, ideally fresh squeezed, you can substitute any kind of orange juice

2 cups decaffeinated chai rooibos tea, cooled

2 to 4 tablespoons honey, to taste, you can substitute maple syrup (honey is not safe for kids under 1 year old)

1

Combine juice and cooled tea. Add 2 tablespoons honey and up to 2 additional tablespoons more, to taste. Stir until dissolved.

2

Pour the tea mixture into a shallow, freezer safe container and place in the freezer. Leave it in there until the juice becomes a firm slushy; depending on  how deep the container is, this could take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. Scrape the granita with a fork and return the container to the freezer for another hour before serving.

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