With so much to do before kids head back to school, one of the most common details parents forget is packing a healthy lunch. A nutritious meal at lunchtime plays an important role in your child’s energy and focus at school, and could make a big difference on their report card.
Packing a teeth-friendly school lunchbox doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming as long as you plan ahead, get used to a little nightly chopping action, and try to make it fun. We’ve assembled the 5 friendliest food groups for your kids’ teeth and lots of tips for packing fun and teeth-friendly ideas into their school lunchbox.
Crunchy vegetables—like carrots, cucumbers, celery, green peppers, lettuce and broccoli—are probably the best snack for your teeth, period. The high water content of vegetables not only rehydrates our bodies, but also dilutes natural sugars and washes away food particles while we eat.
The easiest way to liven up raw veggies is to include a dip like hummus, cream cheese or fresh salsa. But if you want to get a little fancier, try a dill cucumber dip or a delicious summer slaw salad.
If your children aren’t very fond of vegetables in the first place, getting them to eat healthier can be a challenge. Just remember to set a good example for them with your own eating habits, introduce new foods slowly, invite your kids to cook with you, and allow them to have “sometimes” foods like sugary cereals or the occasional Happy Meal as a reward.
Cheese is high in calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that help keep tooth enamel strong. Cheese increases saliva in your mouth, which acts as a natural defense against cavities and gum disease.
Cutting cheese into bite-sized cubes or squares is recommended to help your kids digest better. If you’d like to make a tasty cheese sandwich for your kids, try this cucumber, tomato and cheddar sandwich recipe we found.
Just remember if you’re packing a sandwich to use “whole grain” or “whole wheat” bread instead of white, because these contain more natural vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are arguably the healthiest protein source. They’re an excellent source of healthy fats, vitamin D, calcium, fiber and folic acid. Folic acid plays a major role in preserving gum tissues and preventing periodontal disease.
Despite being rich in Vitamin E, the shape and texture of almonds put damaging stress on teeth when kids bite down. So if your kids love almonds, try to find almond slivers next time you’re at the grocery.
Fibrous fruits—or fruits high in fiber—act almost like a natural toothbrush while you bite and chew. Apples, bananas and strawberries are all a healthy substitution for dessert in addition to being relatively cheap, easy to prepare, and very fulfilling.
If your kids aren’t too keen on fruits yet, make fruits more enjoyable with a healthy yogurt fruit dip or try cutting apples into fun shapes.
However, be careful your children aren’t eating too many fruits – especially dried fruit or fruit juice, which contain lots of artificial sugars. And try to stay away from most “fruit-flavored” beverages and snacks.
Growing up, we all probably drank way more juice than we should have because our parents thought it was a healthy alternative to soda. But the science is out – fruit juice is just as bad for you as soda.
Encourage your children to drink the recommended amount of water daily. Depending on their age, they should be having 5-10 glasses of water each day.
Water not only energizes rehydrates your organs and muscles, it also helps create more saliva in your mouth. More saliva means less tooth decay and stronger tooth enamel.
Putting it all together
We know every parent would love to feed their children healthy foods for every meal, but we also know that budgeting is a very real concern. So even if you can only afford apple slices, cherry tomatoes, a handful of nuts, cheese sandwich and tap water, you’re really helping your kids build a foundation for healthier futures.
A school-provided lunch of mystery meat, instant mashed potatoes, applesauce and chocolate milk is unfortunately just not a healthy alternative to homemade lunch. And though school lunches are often provided at a discount, packing your own is possible for only $2-$3/day.
Good luck! And if you ever have more questions about teeth-healthy foods or lunchbox ideas, let us know when you’re back for your child’s 6-month checkup. Happy eating!