March 9th, 2009

Dig In: Tea Time for Toddler (Chai Spiced Blood Orange Granita)

Photo: Naama

I’ve been met with one too many surprised looks when offering Isaac a cup of tea to not look into this. Should he not be drinking tea? Seems like a perfect warm toddler treat. And, frankly, a way better alternative than juice, even sweetened with a bit of honey (for children over 1-year-old). Of course it’s always decaf. (Forget health–I have NO desire to see how caffeine will work his system!) And I tend to stick to simple teas, without herbs I haven’t heard of or don’t know about. I even skip decaf black tea, though I have no real reason why (turns out my instinct was right… more on that in a little bit).

But constantly amazed at how many parents have concerns about serving tea, the most widely consumed drink in the world other than water, I decided to look into it. So, what’s the scoop on giving toddlers tea?

What’s the scoop on giving toddlers tea?
Most experts I found who comment on tea (nutritionists, pediatrician, holistic health counselors) say 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’s good for your toddler
Because tea is not bad for your toddler! 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 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.

As with adults, tea can have soothing effects, help digestion, aid sleep, and calm cold symptoms. Many more serious health benefits have been attributed to tea–Linda Palmer mentions a few–but researchers can’t quite agree on every aspect. That said, there is agreement that tea contains high levels of antioxidants, which take on free radicals and keep them from harming healthy cells. So, whether you believe that tea can help fight cancer, reduce cholesterol, protect against heart disease, or any of the other common studied claims, it’s clear that tea is a healthy option for all of us.

Choosing teas for toddlers
Teas to avoid:

  • Joking about hyperactivity aside, toddlers should only drink decaffeinated teas (plain green tea contains caffeine)
  • Be aware that green and black tea contain high amounts of fluoride
  • Black teas also contain polyphenols, which can reduce iron absorption, and tannins that can interfere little ones’ digestion
  • Echinacea is a mild oxidant not recommended for every day use, but rather for short boosts to the immune system
  • Comfrey tea can cause liver damage
  • St. John’s wort should not be used unless under recommendation of an experienced health practitioner
  • Senna tea might be recommended  for constipation in children, but should only be given with a doctor’s guidance

Teas* that are safe toddlers:

  • lemon balm
  • lemongrass
  • ginger
  • chamomile (there is disagreement, but 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 (like chai)
  • fruit teas

*Okay tea aficionados, I know that some of these options aren’t technically tea, rather herbs and herbal infusions. For now, I’m using “tea” as a catch all. But keep in mind that the more serious health claims attributed to tea do not also apply to herbs.

No need to get fancy to have a tea party with your toddler (and his imaginary friends!). Just a small amount, cooled down, with your natural sweetener of choice does the trick. Throwing a piece of ginger, cloves, a cinnamon stick, or some fresh mint while the tea bag steeps never hurts. But if you feel like getting fancy, while still keeping it super easy, try this granita. Chai spices are a great compliment to blood oranges (which are in season). And orange juice is rich in antioxidants too, making this an immune boost!

Chai Spiced Blood Orange Granita
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)

2 cups organic blood orange juice, ideally fresh squeezed (for flavor and the added texture from pulp)
2 cups organic chai spiced rooibos (we got ours at Trader Joes)
1/4 cup organic agave syrup

1. Mix juice and cooled tea. Start by adding 1/2 of the agave syrup. Add more to taste. (Depending on how sweet your juice is, you may not want or need the full amount of agave.)

2. Pour juice-tea mixture into a shallow, freezer safe container and leave until the juice becomes a firm slushy. Depending on just how deep the container is, this could take anywhere from 1-2 hours.

3. Scrape with a fork and put back in the freezer. Your granita will be ready in about an hour. SO tasty!!

16 Responses

  1. Christina says:

    i grew up on Tea Bottles. Black tea (full caf-LOL) with milk and sugar and still drink tea over coffee to this day. never thought about it being safe or not. LOL. Ive also been giving griffin Camomile Tea with a tiny tiny bit of brown sugar in it since he was 2 weeks old (suggested by my pediatrician for tummy troubles). Its wonderful!

    YAY TEA!

  2. stacie says:

    ha–i love it! it’s so funny to talk to our moms about how they ate when they were pregnant or fed us when we were kids. so different! (and yet we’re fine.) i also hadn’t thought about tea being safe or not safe until i had the idea to research this post. it came up because isaac and i attend a parent-child program at our local waldorf school. we always have snack time and the parents are served tea. a lot of questions came up when the other parents saw me sharing sips with isaac. i had gotten looks before, but had no idea there was so much concern. i hope this clears it up!! And, cee, make this granita–i was even impressed with myself on this one! ;-)

  3. stacie says:

    ha–i love it! it’s so funny to talk to our moms about how they ate when they were pregnant or fed us when we were kids. so different! (and yet we’re fine.) i also hadn’t thought about tea being safe or not safe until i had the idea to research this post. it came up because isaac and i attend a parent-child program at our local waldorf school. we always have snack time and the parents are served tea. a lot of questions came up when the other parents saw me sharing sips with isaac. i had gotten looks before, but had no idea there was so much concern. i hope this clears it up!! And, cee, make this granita–i was even impressed with myself on this one! ;-)
    BTW I love your blog!

  4. Jessica says:

    I give the boys tea all the time. I still get dirty looks about it, and I have never understood why. Why wouldn’t you? So weird.

  5. Sophia says:

    How about the Greek mountain tea another very theraputic tea Isaac should try it

  6. Jeanne says:

    Toddler tea? Excuse me while I barge the toddlers out of the way to get the front of the queue to claim my cup!! This looks unbelievably good. Rooibos chai is one of my all-time favourites :)

  7. stacie says:

    Just found this–green tea risotto with peas and mint. Sounds YUM!
    http://www.tastespotting.com/detail/38586/Green-Tea-Risotto-with-Peas-and-Mint

  8. lisa says:

    My baby girl 2 year old loves tea time. Not only does she build her skills pouring tea from her porcelain tea set, she gets to partake in yummy licorice or rosehip or lemonginger tea with mama on a cold winter or spring day. And she loves to sip on it all day long, warm or cool.

  9. stacie says:

    your little girl has good taste in tea! sounds like you guys know how to throw a tea party!

  10. [...] dessert is that good. (okay, fruit-smothered-in-a-ridonculously-tasty-sweet-coconut-sauce dessert!) Chai Spiced Blood Orange Granita (& all about tea for tots) (12+ mos) *i remember people looking at me crazy when i mentioned that i gave my then-wee ChowBaby [...]

  11. Autumn says:

    And don’t you know most of the people giving you weird looks about tea have no problem serving their kids Coke or Pepsi!
    Can’t wait to try this recipe!!

  12. [...] old, you should use decaffeinated tea. Plain black decaf tea is fine, or check out my list of toddler-friendly teas for other [...]

  13. [...] *Note: Do not share caffeinated tea with kids of any age. If you’d like to share this with your little one (12-months and up), use a decaf iced tea. Check out my guide to safe teas for toddlers. [...]

  14. Lauren says:

    This is an awesome site! I have given mint tea which both my boys love
    With a bit of honey for when they have colds. My youngest (16 months) asks for
    Tea on a daily basis. I get the idea that things are bad for little guys but when they
    Change the rules every week as to what is safe and what is not, it makes me crazy!
    Lots of moms on here state that our parents gave us things they’ve now deemed unhealthy
    Or bad, whatever, we all turned out fine!

  15. Thanks, Lauren. My kids are currently into ginger tea!

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