University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Caffeine in teens: What does it mean for school nutrition programs?

Close up of person doing homework with coffee cup in background

It’s the beginning of a new year – let’s jumpstart 2024 with some caffeine. How does it relate to school nutrition programs?

Under Smart Snacks, caffeinated beverages can be sold at the high school level. These can include coffee, tea, or other drinks that fit within the low- and no-calorie standards. (Note: Beverages of any kind with more than trace amounts of caffeine cannot be sold at the elementary- and middle-school level.)

There are currently no formal restrictions on the amount of caffeine that can be in drinks sold at the high school level. However, you may want to set your own limits as part of your student wellness policy.

Teens’ developing bodies and brains are more sensitive to the negative side effects of caffeine.

These include anxiety, dehydration, and sleep issues. At higher levels, caffeine can even cause heart problems and seizures.

Adolescents 12-18 years old should take in no more than 100 mg of caffeine daily. This is about equal to:

  • 1 cup of coffee
  • 1-2 cups of tea
  • 2-3 cans of soda

Energy drinks pose a particularly high risk. Companies are not required to list caffeine amounts, and even if they do, nutrition labels can be confusing. It is often unclear just how much caffeine is in the drink. This makes it even more likely that a teen may take in too much caffeine and suffer negative side effects.

That being said, similar drinks can be sold to appeal to student interests. For example, decaffeinated coffees and teas could still be offered as a way to drive a la carte sales. Coffee shop-style drinks such as hot chocolate and “steamers” made with milk and lower sugar flavored syrups can also be offered in accordance with Smart Snacks guidelines.

If you have further questions about caffeine in school nutrition programs, please contact ISBE at

Source: Temple, J. in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.