School is back in session! As we replace the lazy days of summer with routine and activity, once again, we are faced with a choice about what our kids should eat at school.
Lunch at school instead of at home means you lose a little control over what your child eats during the day. School lunches may be convenient but, with an array of vending machine snacks and sugary options available, children aren’t always getting the nutrition they need at school to maintain their oral health. We spend a lot of time thinking about the foods that are good for our kid’s bodies, but when thinking about school lunches and snacks, we also need to be thinking about their teeth.
Packing your child’s lunch is the best way to make sure they have tooth-healthy options. Here are some tips on how to pack tooth-healthy school lunches.
The Right Fruits:
While we often see fruit as a great alternative to candy or sweets, many fruits can be high in sugar. Stick to fruits that are high in fiber as these will actually help scrub your child’s teeth while they are eating.
Apples don’t only help keep the doctor away, but when they replace other sweet snacks, they can help keep cavities away. They also contain a ton of water which, when combined with the fiber, helps slow the body’s absorption of sugar!
Other great fruit options include oranges and bananas. You can also try dried figs for calcium and fiber-packed snacks.
Calcium is a must when it comes to strong bones and teeth. Did you know that calcium is absorbed by tooth enamel and helps block bacteria growth? This super ingredient can be found in dairy foods like milk, yogurt, or cheese. String cheese is a great lunch item as it’s easy to pack and fun for kids to eat.
Hint: Avoid chocolate or strawberry milk. These “yummy” alternatives are high in sugar!
Cheese also helps balance the pH levels in your mouth which in turn creates healthy saliva production and helps rinse teeth. Cutting up fun cheese shapes or simply adding it to sandwiches is a great way to get this tooth-healthy snack into your child’s lunch.
Do you have a kid that can’t do dairy? Check out the next section.
Instead of vegging out on the couch (they got enough of that over the summer) let your kids veg out with their lunches. Veggies like carrots and sliced bell peppers make awesome snacks and are packed with vitamins and minerals.
Vegetables are also a great place to get the calcium your kids might lack if they can’t eat dairy products. Leafy greens like kale and spinach are awesome alternatives and can be added to smoothies or baked into other snacks if your child isn’t a fan of them on their own.
Nuts are a superfood that are super great for your teeth. They include many of the same benefits as dairy but are also great for an energy boost in the afternoon (instead of caffeinated drinks!). They are high in protein so they can also help calm rumbly tummies.
Can’t do nuts because of braces? Try a nut butter that your kids can dip their fruits and veggies in!
Change Up an Old Fave
Do you have a picky eater that will only eat PB&J? While this can be a nutritious choice, jelly and jams can be high in sugar and eating it every day can be hard on the teeth.
If this is your go-to, try a natural jelly or jam. Look for those with 5 grams or less of sugar. You can also make the sandwich on whole wheat or whole grain bread to up the nutritional value. Check the bread and make sure it has under two grams of sugar or less per serving.
Frowny Face Foods
If you want lunches to support your child’s oral health, here are some foods to avoid:
Sugary Drinks – Obviously soda and sugary beverages are a no-no but did you also know that many fruit juices are significantly high in sugar? When considering beverages, water is always the best choice!
Tip: Is water too boring for your little one? Add some fruit to soda water for a bubbly alternative.
Sticky Foods – Sticky foods that can’t be easily rinsed off should be avoided during the day. If they sit on the teeth until your child brushes at night they can eat away at the enamel and do more harm than good.
Sugary Snacks – While this might seems like a given, sugar can hide in even the seemingly healthiest foods. Check nutrition labels on some of your favorite snacks including many granola bars and flavored yogurts. Many of these snacks have almost half of the sugar your child should have in one day!
Just Add Brushing
Eating sugar-filled snacks during the day, especially when you can’t brush your teeth, can do significant damage to teeth. If you’re worried about your child’s oral health, ask your school if they can take a moment after lunch to brush their teeth. Send them a fun, travel toothbrush to keep in their backpack and encourage them to brush after lunch. If brushing isn’t possible, rinsing the mouth with water can help wash off some gunk!
Talk to your kids about the best and worst foods for their teeth and encourage them to make smart snack choices when at school. If you can’t be there to make sure they’re eating right, packing a tooth-healthy lunch is the next best thing!