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Our kids are finally back to school! And with the new school year comes new routines, hectic schedules, and, of course, making school lunches every day. It’s easy to be tempted by convenient – and ultimately unhealthy – options.
But with a little bit of knowledge and planning, you can make sure to send your kids to school with lunches that not only benefit their overall health but the health of their teeth. Keep reading for our dentist-approved school lunch suggestions to start the school year off with (healthy) smiles.
Avoid the Bad Stuff
The first step to putting together healthy school lunches is more about what you don’t pack than what you do. Try to avoid problem foods that promote cavities, at least on most days.
Sugary treats are the worst offenders when it comes to dental health. When sugar sits on teeth, it promotes the buildup of bacterial byproducts that cause tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. Avoiding sugar, especially frequent sugary treats, is paramount to dental health.
Of course, kids hope for treats in their lunches. Try to save the sugary options for special occasions like birthdays and big-test days. Look for other, healthier favorites your kids still enjoy for an everyday option (think fruit), and ask your kids what they like best.
For the same reason that desserts pose a problem for dental health, sugary drinks aren’t a great idea. Sodas and even juices that seem healthy often contain lots of sugar. This can cause just as many teeth and gum issues as desserts and should be avoided. Water is the best drink option because it cleanses teeth, and milk is a close second because it is packed with great nutrition.
White bread and other starchy foods can be similar to sugar when it comes to the bacteria in the mouth that lead to tooth decay. When possible, use less white bread (think wraps), or better yet, whole wheat or whole grain alternatives.
Load Up on Nutrients
Lunch is a great time to pack in the healthy components your kids need. While we generally worry about getting enough protein and nutrients to build strong bones and muscles, these building blocks are paramount to oral health as well.
Try to get some protein, fiber, and vitamins in each lunch. Healthy meats, nuts, and cheeses are excellent protein options, while veggies offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole wheat bread, wraps, and crackers can be good sources as well. Raw vegetables and fruit not only contain lots of healthy nutrients but stimulate saliva production, cleansing teeth while you eat.
Here are various ways to mix in great ingredients for healthy lunches that are anything but boring:
- A sandwich or wrap (opt for whole wheat or whole grain) is a classic for a reason. Pick healthier protein-rich fillings like meat and cheese over sugary PB&J.
- Making a bento box with a bunch of options such as fresh veggies, nuts, cheese, or any combo your kids enjoy can be a favorite (bonus if you can lay out options the night before and let the kids choose their own mix).
- Pairing whole wheat crackers with sliced meats and cheeses is always fun.
- Soup can travel well in a thermos, and salads with a lot of yummy additions are good to consider.
- Packing a whole wheat pita with some shredded cheese, pepperoni, and sauce can let your kids create a mini pizza.
- Any lunch can be livened up with healthy sides such as fruit or veggies with delicious dip (ranch or hummus work well).
You’re Doing Great, Mom & Dad!
It’s fantastic that you are concerned with your kids’ dental health! Remember, maintaining healthy teeth is a marathon, not a sprint. So the occasional treat on a special day is okay, as long as most decisions are healthy ones.
The other pieces of the puzzle are making sure they practice consistent oral hygiene habits and scheduling their regular twice-a-year checkups. Call us to make those appointments, and feel free to ask us questions about a healthy dental diet any time.