It’s summertime, and kids are thirsty!  Persistent, nagging reports of the detrimental health effects of BPA in containers, artificial food coloring, and sweeteners have left me wondering how to train my kids’ palates to enjoy healthier, more natural beverages such as tea and botanical infusions.  Kids run the unhealthy drink gauntlet daily, bombarded by offers of soda, “juice” in boxes, bags, and bottles, energy drinks, slushies, and other corn syrup-, sugar-, and artificial color/flavor-laden drinks.  How I can get my kids to appreciate the subtle flavors and nuances of simple, natural flavors while slaking their thirst?

For the past few years, I’ve been exploring the possibility of offering relatively caffeine-free iced teas, not the kind of “real” iced tea I drink.  Mugicha, fruit infusions, thin houjicha and kukicha, mint tea, and rooibos blends are all things I’m trying, and some have been real hits, some misses.

I’m considering buying a SodaStream (about $80-150 from various websites) to make our own carbonated waters in recyclable bottles.  Weary of picking up plastic straw wrappers seemingly everywhere, tossing plastic bottles into the recycle bin, and finding empty juice bags in kids’ backpacks and on coffee tables, I’m increasingly disturbed by how much unnecessary packaging there is for these small portions of sugar water!  Making your own carbonated water creates endless possibilities: you could add aromatics like lemon/lime/orange peel, ginger, lavender flowers, or a few cucumber slices or berries.  You could also make a favorite tea concentrate, adding carbonated water and perhaps a touch of agave to taste.

Our most popular tea flavors for icing at the teahouse are Strawberry Kiwi Fruit Melange (basically just dried fruit and flower petals), Sunburst (green tea with mango and apricot flavors), and Vanilla Lemongrass (green rooibos, lemongrass, apples, and citrus).  If you use a “real” tea, you can limit the amount of caffeine you extract into the infusion by limiting the infusion time and temperature of the water.  Remember, you’re going for a very subtle, quiet flavor here, maybe just a few steps above water.  If the flavor is too subtle for your kids, you could try making more intensely flavored infusions at first, stepping down from the intensity slowly.  Sometimes my kids are game, sometimes not, but I keep offering new things.  My 9-year-old actually likes iced, diluted kukicha (twig tea) with a twist of lime, and I’ll catch my 14-year-old mixing up a matcha-mint iced tea before her sports practice at night, despite the fact that she claims to “prefer coffee” (maybe because that’s what the cool kids are drinking?).

It can be a tough sell, especially when everyone else is drinking garbage around you.  It’s my hope that I’m training my kids’ palates to be more open to a healthier range of drinks and foods free from artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, nitrates, sweeteners, and added “bad” fats so that they can make better choices when navigating this gauntlet.  We’ll see.