12 Starbucks Drinks for Kids, Approved by a Nutritionist and a Former Starbucks Barista

Skim milk is your friend

starbucks drinks for kids: young girl drinking an iced starbucks drink at a cafe
Zhang Peng/Contributor/Getty Images

When I was a Starbucks barista, I made countless hot chocolates, vanilla steamers and cotton candy Frappuccinos for kids and teens alike. But knowing firsthand how much sugar goes into those drinks, I figure parents may want to know some healthier options before buying them a bev on their next coffee run. To find the best Starbucks drinks for kids, I spoke to Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, a registered dietician, nutritionist and exercise physiologist, and we vetted the chain’s menu to bring you this list.

I’m a Former Starbucks Barista, and Here Are the 21 Best Sugar-Free Drinks at Starbucks

Meet the Expert

Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist. She’s the author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great and the former host of TLC’s Honey, We’re Killing the Kids.

A Note on Kids, Coffee & Caffeinated Beverages

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no caffeinated coffee, tea, soda, sports drinks or other products for children under 12, while adolescents between 12 and 18 should limit their intake to less than 100 milligrams per day, about the size of an old-fashioned cup of coffee,” Stoler explains. “Caffeine is a cardiac stimulant, which is why kids do not need it.”

Regular coffee and espresso drinks, black and green teas, regular coffee-based Frappuccinos, Refreshers and Iced Energy drinks all contain caffeine. However, Starbucks also offers decaf coffee, decaf espresso, herbal tea and decaf Frappuccinos. That said, many of the decaf options still include a lot of sugar, another concern for Stoler.

“There has been an abundance of messaging around the harmful effects of processed foods,” she explains. “Diet and sugar-sweetened beverages are at the top of the list of the most over-consumed products. Sticking to water is significantly better than sweetened beverages. The best way to think about sweetened drinks is to equate them to ice cream or a sugary donut.”

8 Tips for Ordering Starbucks Drinks for Kid

  • PSA: Refreshers are *not* decaf. They contain 45 milligrams caffeine in every Grande. While that’s not as much as a cup of joe, you should know it’s there before ordering one for your kid, especially if they’re under 12 years old.
  • Did you know the Tall isn’t the smallest size? You can order hot drinks in an eight-ounce Short cup instead. If you want to reduce calories and sugar intake but still give your kid a treat, this is a smarter way to do it.
  • Iced coffees and teas sometimes come sweetened by default. Always order them unsweetened to ensure the barista doesn’t add Classic syrup without your knowing. “All flavoring that is added can also be reduced, as in fewer pumps of flavor or scoops of pearls,” adds Stoler.
  • Some nutritionists aren’t in favor of sugar-free syrups or non-nutritive sweeteners. But you can always ask your barista what sugar-free flavorings they have on hand. (There’s typically always sugar-free vanilla and a lower-calorie mocha on hand, in case your kid is craving hot chocolate.)
  • If your teen is always eyeing your cappuccino or latte, order them a short Caffè Misto (aka a drip coffee topped with steamed milk) to save a few bucks. It’s cheaper than a latte but similar enough that they’ll be satisfied.
  • Ordering skim milk whenever possible reduces the calories and fat of a drink without sacrificing protein.
  • Additionally, ordering nondairy milk in regular milk’s place may be less healthy, since these products usually contain additives and refined sugar.
  • If your kid can’t consume dairy and they’re having a drink that calls for milk, almond milk is the lowest-calorie and lowest-sugar choice at Starbucks.

12 Starbucks Drinks for Kids

1. Low-Fat Milk (Hot or Cold)

  • Ingredients: milk
  • Modifications: none

Stoler recommends steering clear of whole milk whenever possible and substituting skim. Let your kid sip it cold or order a short steamer to keep the calories and fat to a minimum. To make it more of a treat, ask for a single or half pump of vanilla syrup.

2. Apple Juice (Hot or Cold)

  • Ingredients: apple juice
  • Modifications: none

Apple juice is Stoler’s second choice. It’s high in sugar (50 grams for a Grande), but it’s natural sugar instead of added refined. It’s tasty cold or steamed, so just ask for a short size to keep the sugar as low as possible.

3. Iced Passion Tango Tea

  • Ingredients: Passion Tango tea, ice
  • Modifications: ask for it unsweetened

The Passion tea is the only decaf iced tea option, but it’s naturally sugar- and calorie-free and downright delicious. It’s a tart infusion of hibiscus flowers, apple, licorice root, lemongrass, cinnamon and fruit juice extract. Just be sure to ask for it unsweetened so the barista doesn’t add classic syrup to it.

4. Decaf Coffee or Tea (Hot or Cold)

  • Ingredients: decaf coffee or tea
  • Modifications: none

There’s always a pot of drip coffee on deck that’s caffeine-free, so your kid can savor the flavor without the buzz. As for teas, there are a few hot herbal options, like Mint Majesty and Peach Tranquility. Top them with milk for a creamier mouthfeel.

5. Decaf Nonfat Latte (Hot or Cold)

  • Ingredients: decaf espresso, milk
  • Modifications: ask for skim milk

If they want to enjoy a coffee but prefer it creamy and milky, a latte is the way to go. Ask for a short hot or cold tall latte, along with skim milk, to make it as lean as possible.

6. Evolution Fresh Orange Juice

  • Ingredients: orange juice
  • Modifications: none

Cold-pressed and teeming with vitamin C, this natural OJ contains 35 grams of sugar per serving. That said, it’s natural sugar from fruit, not refined. So, it’s still one of Stoler’s recommendations.

7. Iced Passion Tango Tea Lemonade

  • Ingredients: Passion Tango tea, lemonade, ice
  • Modifications: ask for it unsweetened

If it’s free of Classic syrup, this refreshing sipper contains 50 calories and 11 grams of sugar per Grande. The sugar comes from the lemonade. (Pro tip: You can substitute apple juice for lemonade if your kid would prefer it less tart.)

8. Nonfat Hot Chocolate

  • Ingredients: milk, mocha sauce, vanilla syrup
  • Modifications: ask for low-sugar mocha and sugar-free vanilla, no whipped cream

Nix the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top and use lower sugar syrups to flavor this cozy drink. Alternatively, you can reduce the number of pumps of the full-sugar flavorings, if you want to steer clear of sugar alcohols.

9. Decaf Caffè Misto

  • Ingredients: decafcoffee, milk
  • Modifications: ask for skim milk, order a short

Think of this underrated drink—drip coffee topped with steamed milk—as a cheap latte. Be sure to ask for decaf joe and skim milk to keep the calories to a minimum.

10. Decaf Cappuccino

  • Ingredients: decaf espresso, milk
  • Modifications: ask for skim milk, order a short

This is essentially the same as a latte, only the milk is steamed longer, so the drink is lighter and airier (as well as slightly lower in calories, because it takes less milk to fill the cup when it’s heavily steamed).

11. Evolution Fresh Organic Super Fruit Greens

  • Ingredients: organic orange juice, organic mango purée, organic apple juice, organic pineapple juice, organic cucumber juice, organic spinach juice, organic romaine lettuce juice, organic kale juice, organic spirulina, organic chlorella
  • Modifications: none

Sure, this pick contains 36 grams of sugar, but it’s natural sugar from organic produce—not added refined sugar. This bev is also fat free and contains 180 calories, 3 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

12. Blended Strawberry Lemonade

  • Ingredients: lemonade, strawberry purée, ice
  • Modifications: ask for no Crème Frappuccino syrup

The lemonade contains added sugar, and the strawberry sauce contains natural sugar from the fruit it’s made with, but the bulk of the drink’s 45 grams of sugar comes from the Crème Frappuccino base. Ask for fewer or no pumps of that and this summer stunner will be dramatically healthier.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Starbucks drinks for kids are the healthiest?

“Water, cold or steamed low-fat milk (plain or chocolate), steamed apple juice, OJ, [Super] Fruit Greens, Passion tea and hot or cold decaf coffee or tea with no more than two sugar packets (16 to 20 calories each),” says Stoler. The TLDR? Avoid caffeine and added sugar, and opt for skim milk when possible.

What is the most popular Starbucks drink for kids?

Speaking as a former barista, hot chocolate and milk steamers were the most popular drinks for kids back in my day. Parents of particularly young kids would sometimes just ask for a short cup of whipped cream for them to snack on (which contains vanilla syrup, BTW). Preteens and teens were partial to coffee-free Frappuccinos, like the Double Chocolaty Chip and Vanilla Bean Crème varieties.

Which Starbucks drinks should kids avoid?

“Kids should not be consuming beverages that are high in calories; neither should adults for that matter,” Stoler asserts. “Avoid high-calorie drinks, sweetened drinks and drinks loaded with cream or whole milk. Once in a while, a hot chocolate is a nice treat, but not regularly. It’s not a habit or behavior that parents or caregivers should encourage.”

All drinks that contain regular espresso and coffee should be avoided, especially by kids under 12 years old. Caffeinated teas (like black and green, hot or cold) contain caffeine as well. Iced Energy and Refreshers drinks are also caffeinated, so kids should avoid those too.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...