How Changes in School Lunch Diet Can Affect Your Kids’ Oral Health
During summer vacation, you probably eat most of your meals together with your kids. Sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner makes it easy for you to monitor what they eat, and allows you to make sure that their nutrition is healthy and wholesome. You not only control what they eat but when they eat it, which is another relevant parameter of your kids’ health.
When the school year starts, you struggle to maintain your children’s diet habits, as apples, pears and carrots are replaced by hard candy, potato chips and high-fructose drinks. School cafeterias have made every effort to offer healthy lunches, but are still the breeding ground of pizza, burgers, chocolate milk and lunch-bag swaps between children. When your kids are on lunch break, and their friends offer sugar-saturated bubble gums or treats, you lose the control over their oral health that you had in the summer. After-school and weekend visits to friends’ houses further remove you from that position of control over what your children eat.
Breakfast, the most important class of the day
Picture the scene: the morning rush of everyone getting ready in your home. The kids sleep over the alarm, skip brushing their teeth, then eat a bowl of sugary cereal before running to class. Is the scramble of the morning grind affecting your kids’ teeth? Here are a few tips to start oral health off right from the start:
- Replace sugary cereals with eggs. Sugar is already a threat when your kids are at school, so no need to start the day off with it. Eggs are full of vitamin D, which is good for your child’s bones and teeth. If you don’t even have time to scramble an egg in the morning, hard boil a few of them the night before.
- Avoid extra-sugary oatmeal, artificially sweetened jams or peanut butter. Focus on dairy products for breakfast with your kids, including fresh milk, cheese or yogurt. Consuming dairy products in the morning can make your kids’ teeth resistant to bacteria throughout the day at school. Yogurt is bursting with phosphates, and cheese increases pH levels and keeps a lower level of acidity in your child’s mouth.
- Leave some fresh apples, bananas or baby carrots on the table for your children to grab on their way to school. Apples and pears increase saliva production, the mouth’s natural mouthwash. Bananas are great for teeth whitening, while carrots have a natural “brushing” effect that help serve as cavity-protection for your teeth.
Tooth-healthy sack lunches
The biggest shift in diet for your children during the school year is lunch. Even if you pack your kids lunches, these will probably differ from what they were eating at home. You can have a huge impact on how much this change affects your kids’ oral health over the school year.
Talk to your children openly about tooth health, including the negative effects of gummy candy, soda drinks and sugary bubble gum. That said, knowing that it will be next to impossible for most children to resist when presented with these treats, pack their school lunches accordingly. Some tooth-healthy sack lunches include:
- Sandwiches with low-fat cheese: the calcium and vitamin D will be good for your kids’ teeth, and choosing low-fat helps avoid excess calories as a trade-off for the calcium
- Crunchy vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, celery): these act as natural tooth-brushing snacks
- String cheese: a class-time favorite, you can be sure this low-calorie, high-calcium treat will be eaten
- Almonds: all nuts are high in calcium and protein without being high in sugar, and almonds are a crunchy favorite that come in a variety of tasty variations
- Whatever sandwich you make, make it with whole grain bread: whole grains help fight gum disease—and these breads are lower in sugar
The biggest challenge might be packing the tooth-healthy lunch that will definitely be eaten. Keep an open dialogue with your children about healthy teeth, and model the same behaviors at home that you want to see them develop. Especially during the school year, what impressions your kids have of good and bad habits, right and wrong will be compared between what they see at home and at school.