It’s back to school and the perfect time to think about the healthy lunches and snacks you pack. As a parent who wants to help your child create a healthy foundation for this school year and the many years to come, I know you are thinking about which nutritious foods your child will willingly eat. I’d like to give you some important information about the best choices (and worst) when it comes to healthy tooth enamel.
Children should eat a lunch that includes fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein and whole grains. To help keep tooth enamel strong and healthy, in general, I recommend foods containing calcium such as milk and cheese, almonds and leafy greens — and foods high in phosphorous such as meat, eggs and fish. An easy approach to lunch is to pack a sandwich built with whole grain bread, nut spread (if not allergic to nuts) or low fat meat or cheese, plus raw carrots, celery and fruit. Add a carton of milk or yogurt (if not allergic to dairy) and you have the recommended balance.
When it comes to snacks, I suggest yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, corn tortilla chips, celery sticks with peanut butter, unsweetened fruit, and milk or water. A low-fat dip and raw veggies appeal to many children.
Children like variety day to day and the fun of helping select their lunch and snack items. Commercial branding and packaging of processed lunch and snack items may motivate your children to plead for unhealthy alternatives, but do your best to dissuade them. Don’t pack and do encourage your children to steer clear of sticky snacks like gummy fruits, candy, and many types of sugary cookies. Don’t give them soda pop and fruit juices sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. If you pack juice boxes, the 100% juice variety is better—but minimize these as well.
The sugar in foods and beverages tends to stick to tooth enamel. Even after brushing and flossing sessions, some sugar may remain. The longer sugar is on tooth surfaces, the more it fosters the growth of bacterial plaque. Plaque is constantly forming on teeth. As bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar, acid is produced that erodes tooth enamel and often results in cavities.
Encourage your child to drink water after eating lunch and snacks at school. Drinking water helps clear away a lot of the sugar and other food debris that would otherwise be left on teeth. If cookies are a motivator for eating nutritious food at school, reserve this snack for after school when your child is home and can effectively brush and be reminded to do so.
A healthy diet and good oral hygiene will help limit plaque. Periodic professional teeth cleaning to remove dental plaque will reduce the risk of decay. Depending on your child’s diet, oral hygiene habits, and other health circumstances, more than twice-a-year cleanings may be needed, as well as dental sealants and topical fluoride treatment. Stay up to date with your child’s regularly scheduled dental appointments, and in between, help your child develop healthy habits and make healthy choices.