Bringing Kids to Starbucks :: Lessons from a Former Barista


Here’s the skinny on bringing kids to Starbucks . . . Starbucks can be a bit overwhelming, and ordering for your child can be risky business. I had the privilege of working there for four years and have experienced serving the youngest customers of them all! I’ve served them drinks that are horrible for them and the parents will regret within 20 minutes, but I’ve also helped parents make okay-ish choices when it comes to choosing a beverage.

Before we get to the part about what drinks to order for your kids, let me chat with the moms out there with older babies who are fully capable of ordering their own drinks. Make sure they aren’t terrorizing your friendly neighborhood baristas! It might not be all that surprising that as a barista I was treated poorly by customers on multiple occasions. Some of the worst incidents were caused by teenagers being teenagers with their friends. I ask that you talk to your children about treating baristas with respect. And if you really feel empowered to help your teenager get a grasp on life, help them apply for a job at Starbucks. Starbucks taught me so much, including the “proper” way to sweep and mop. (Mom bonus!) It taught me about career ladders and hourly employment in a (mostly) fun environment. You get the privilege of working with a variety of people and an opportunity to make lifelong friends.

On the note of your older babies ordering drinks, LET THEM ORDER FOR THEMSELVES. Maybe it is because I am an extreme extrovert and have been since the moment I was born, but I do not understand parents ordering for children if they are above 10 years old and know what they want. I have asked kids, “And what would you like?” Then I’ve watched them lean over to the parent and whisper the order.

What to order when bringing kids to Starbucks

Here’s the deal: typically, your 12 year old has not provided enough details, so the barista is going to have follow-up questions. Prevent yourself from being the unnecessary translator. Encourage your child to have basic dialogue with the barista. As a mom to a child who is at risk for social-emotional development delays, I acknowledge that this isn’t easy for everyone. But if your child is fully capable of ordering for him or herself, please encourage them to do so.

This simple interaction is such a teaching opportunity for your child. Your child is learning how to communicate with an adult in a customer service interaction. In one Starbucks visit, you can reinforce basic manners such as “please” and “thank you” or more advanced manners such as how to politely request customization of food/beverages or cleaning up after themselves. I have watched kids (teenagers!!!) smash coffee cake into leather seats for fun. I’ve also had a teenager purposely spill a drink and then walk away. Do not raise those children. Teaching your children to have respect for a barista or anyone in a customer service role prevents your children from becoming coffee cake-smashing teenagers.

If you stop yourself from raising coffee-cake smashers, as your children get older, a coffee shop stop might be something special for you to do together. I always enjoyed stopping by the Cahaba Heights store on my way to work in the morning and watching the families go through the line together. They would sit in the café and review homework before starting their days.

What to order when bringing kids to Starbucks

Now, for the moms ordering drinks for the little ones, here’s my drink advice to you! Once you get past the mom-judgement of having a toddler with a Starbucks cup, here’s what to order:

1. Steamed* Milk or Cold Milk with A Flavor

Starbucks has expanded beyond the basic milk types that existed when I was a barista. When I was a barista I left work each day covered in soy, non-fat, 2%, and whole milk. It was a lovely smell . . . Fast forward to 2018, and there are plenty of milk options including coconut and almond milk! So for the kiddos, find your milk of choice and decide if they would like it hot or cold. After that, pick a flavor! Remember that some flavors come in sugar-free options and some do not.

How I would order it: I would like a kid’s-size vanilla crème with sugar-free vanilla at kid temperature.

2. Steamed* or Cold Apple Juice

As a 27-year-old woman, I have an unhealthy obsession with apple juice. When working the late shift at Starbucks, I sometimes enjoyed my giant sized “partner beverage” of apple juice before going home. You can ask for steamed or cold apple juice or purchase a box of good ol’ AJ. Remember to specify if you would like the drink hot or iced. If you order it iced . . . you will get ice in the actual cup. I realize that might be obvious to some of you, but my barista experience would tell you, it is not for some folks.  

How I would order it: I would like a tall cup of apple juice with no ice.

3. Lemonade

Admittedly, I don’t love the Starbucks lemonade. But if your child loves lemonade and is feeling the Starbucks fury while waiting in line . . . you order that lemonade, Girl.

How I would order it: I would like a tall cup of lemonade with ice.

4. Blended Strawberry Lemonade

There are 51 grams of sugar in a tall-sized blended strawberry lemonade, so I would not order this ever. However, if you are a bold and daring parent and are brave enough to fight the sugar high, you do you.

How I would order it: I’ll take a glass of water instead.

5. Steamed* Or Cold Milk or Chocolate Milk

This is basically the same as #1; however, it is worth saying that there is a difference between syrups and sauces at Starbucks. Syrups include things like vanilla, hazelnut, or raspberry. Sauces include mocha, white mocha, and the beloved pumpkin spice. In Starbucks lingo mocha = chocolate. Milk + mocha = chocolate milk. Make sense?

How I would order it: I would like a tall coconut milk with one pump of mocha added.

6. Smoothies

I realize I beat up the blended strawberry lemonade over sugar, but I’m not going to beat up the smoothies over it. One, the strawberry smoothie is a tad bit better, and the chocolate smoothie is better regarding grams of sugar per ounce. Secondly, the smoothies have a whole banana in them that has approximately 14 grams of sugar by itself. Overall, I don’t dislike the smoothies. Be aware that there is whey protein and fiber in the smoothies. One time a momma-to-be called my store and yelled at me for letting her drink whey protein. I took the verbal beating and gently reminded myself that telling a pregnant woman what to eat has never gone over well and now was not the time to start. Also, it is important to know that this only come in a grande size.

How I would order it: I would like a strawberry smoothie with coconut milk.

7. Iced Passion Tea / Herbal Tea+

Starbucks herbal teas do not have caffeine. Let me share with you what isn’t an herbal tea: chai tea, black tea, green tea, and matcha. I know matcha is all the rage these days, but beware the beautiful green substance if you are limiting your child’s caffeine intake. Instead, try the passion iced tea or one of the hot herbal teas.

How I would order it: I would like a grande iced passion tea lemonade unsweetened. 

8. Hot Chocolate*

Is this the same as #5 and #1? Basically. But it is worth noting that Starbucks hot chocolates have both syrup and sauce. This is something to consider if you’re trying to provide a sweet treat without sending your sweet babe into a sugar daze. These chocolatey delights have vanilla and mocha in them. And when the fall rolls around and you want to enjoy a salted caramel hot chocolate . . . you guessed it, there is even more syrup. These fall time drinks have vanilla, mocha, AND toffee nut included. Don’t forget that all hot chocolates come with whipped cream and a mocha drizzle. Admittedly, I left off the drizzle most days. It was a bad barista habit I failed to break.

How I would order it: Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t. But if I had to . . . I would like a kid’s hot chocolate with one pump of mocha instead of two and no whipped cream.

9. Caramel Apple Spice*

THESE ARE SO GOOD BUT ARE ALSO FULL OF SUGAR. I’ve already expressed my love for apple juice. This drink is apple juice, cinnamon dolce syrup, whipped cream, and caramel drizzle. For the kiddos, I’d avoid this one. But if you’re going to enjoy a warm drink of #treatyoself, enjoy this!

How I would order it: I would like a tall caramel apple spice with half the pumps of cinnamon dolce.

10. Evolution Fresh Juice

I’m a big fan of the evolution fresh juices. I like cold pressed juice in general, and I really love their orange juice. These juices only come in a bottle and I have watched a six year old have a breakdown because he didn’t have a Starbucks cup. Simple solution: ask your friendly barista for a cup and a straw! Healthy juice + cup/straw = happy kid.

How I would order it: You won’t really order this. But if you don’t see many flavors available in the front case, ask the barista if there are other options in the back.

In case you can’t tell, most of these drinks are full of sugar. It really is a “picking your poison” type of situation. Always remember if your baby just wants the cup, ask for an extra cup or order a glass of water.

One last recommendation . . . take a look at the Starbucks app! If you create a beverage to order, you can check calorie, sugar, and caffeine content there.

*Be sure to ask for this drink to be at kid temperature!

+ For hot teas it is tough to control the temperature of the hot water, so be careful!

Enjoy your next Starbucks run! Any questions, Mom?