My parents were Western European immigrants and like everyone in that part of the world, they drank a lot of tea. None of those herbal or homeopathic teas for them, they drank the real stuff, the kind of tea that got thrown overboard at the Boston tea party.
We children were raised on tea and drank several cups a day from the time we were tots. Mom had a lot of faith in the healing powers of good old black & oolong teas, and Lipton tea was a regular staple on our shelves. It was no surprise then that all my children developed the tea drinking habit as well, and still prefer it over any other hot beverage, including coffee and hot cocoa.
Most people think of tea as any hot beverage made from leaves. True teas however come from the camellia sinensis whose leaves and buds are used to make white , oolong, green and black teas. Teas made from camellia sinensis are high in antioxidants, which is helpful in preventing heart disease and certain types of cancer.
While most people can agree on the benefits of tea for adults, what about tea drinking for children?
Most dietitians see nothing wrong with it, although a few suggested that it might not be good for toddlers because of its diuretic qualities. All of them agree that wellness or herbal teas should be avoided in children.
I let my children drink tea for many reasons. Beyond the antioxidants, tea has an incredible therapeutic value as well. That hot soothing liquid is a nice, calm way for children to start a busy school day. A couple of cups of Lipton soothes morning scratchiness, opens up stuffy heads, and infuses bodies with a pint or so of liquids before heading off for the day. In areas of the country with low humidity, keeping hydrated is every bit as important in the winter as it is in the summer.
When my children have a winter flu or cold, hot tea keeps fevers down and helps heads from becoming completely congested. It also seems to deter coughing and eases sore throats. My pediatrician even recommends hot tea when children have intestinal troubles; a cup of hot tea with a little sugar is very easy on the stomach and helps to relax an irritated intestine. Was he concerned about my children drinking tea on a regular basis? Not at all.
And what about the caffeine? The amount of caffeine depends on several factors including the size of the leaf, the processing time, where the tea was grown, and how long it was steeped. Brewing a cup of tea for ten minutes will have much more caffeine than a cup brewed for only a minute or two. A fully steeped cup has about 40 milligrams of caffeine per serving, about the same amount as a mug of hot cocoa but at a fraction of the calories.
Most young children may find the taste of tea somewhat bitter; we used to add a tablespoon of milk to help neutralize that bitter flavor. By the time the children reached the ages of 12 or so however, they were able to drink their teas flavored with either sugar or honey.
Hot tea is really a wonderfully, old fashioned beverage that is low in cost, and low in calories. It keeps the children hydrated during the winter and eases their scratchy throats and congested heads. And, according to my pediatrician, tea is perfectly fine in moderation and is a certainly a much healthier alternative to all those pre-sweetened hot beverage mixes. For child taking medication, or on special diets, check with your pediatrician before making a cuppa tea a part of their morning routine.