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: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/facts-faits/caffeine-eng.php 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!
  • In lieu of brownies, try baking these blondies for treats.  No, they are not health food but, hey, you gotta have a little fun, sometimes, right?  At least they are homemade; contain real, recognizable ingredients, no food coloring or preservatives and no caffeine.


Blondies

  • 1 cup (5oz/155g) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2cup (4 oz/125g) unsalted butter
  • 11/2 cups (10 oz/330g) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup    chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 (100C).

Grease the 8-inch (20 cm) square baking pan, line the bottom with parchment (baking) paper, and grease the parchment.

Sift the flour and salt together onto a sheet of waxed paper, and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook about 1 minute longer; the mixture will bubble but not boil. Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla to the cooled mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Stir in walnuts. Sprinkle the sifted flour and salt over the sugar mixture and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a spatula and smoothing the top. Bake until the centre is springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, 25-35 minutes. Do not overbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack until cool enough to handle.

Run a small knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cookie. Invert onto the rack, lift off the pan, and then carefully peel off the parchment paper. Let cool completely on the rack before cutting into 2-inch (5cm) squares.

MAKES ABOUT 16 BARS