Over the last decade, Americans have had an ongoing national conversation about childhood nutrition. Lawmakers, public health officials, educators, and parents have all spoken up about wanting to teach kids how to eat healthy and set them up for a healthy future.
One aspect of this conversation that sometimes gets lost is how foods affect children’s teeth. In general, foods that have a reputation for being healthy qualify as good for teeth. Still, it can be difficult to judge how some kid favorites affect developing smiles. This blog takes a look at how teeth interact with a few foods that commonly appear on the cafeteria tray and in the lunchbox.
School lunches are convenient for families with busy schedules, and recent legislation has improved the healthiness of cafeteria offerings. Let’s look at a few of the staples of public school lunch lines and how they affect dental health.
This beverage remains one of the most popular and most consumed items commonly available in public school cafeterias. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act dictates that schools can now offer only nonfat flavored milk, but kids don’t seem to mind. An LA Times article from 2014 reported that students guzzled down 99.1% of chocolate milk given out at schools.
Is chocolate milk healthy for children’s teeth? This treat earns a passing grade. Both chocolate and plain milks have the same basic nutrients. Your kids get servings of calcium and vitamin D, which contribute to strong teeth.
What about added sugar? All milk has some natural sugar in the form of lactose, but chocolate milk does have some added sugar. That added sugar usually makes up about half the total sugars in a serving. Ultimately, kids should limit added sugars, so if they drink chocolate milk every day, encourage them to indulge in other sweets less often.
This item has the word fruit in it, so can it really be a poor choice for dental and general health? In some cases, yes-for several reasons. First, all fruits contain natural sugars, and even natural sugars can get stuck on teeth and create a potential for tooth decay. Second, many fruits are also acidic, and those acids can weaken tooth enamel.
Lastly, the worst part about many canned fruits is the added sugar. Rather than resting in water that preserves their natural flavors, many packaged fruits float in natural juices or thick syrup. Those liquids act like salad dressing-adding calories and flavor but not much nutritional value. They also make canned fruits less healthy for teeth.
What should you tell your kids about eating fruit from their cafeteria? First, tell them to pick fresh fruit over canned fruit whenever possible. Second, teach them to judge whether fruit comes packed in thick syrup, natural juice, or, best of all, water. Encourage them to limit their portions based on the material around the fruit.
Sack Lunches From Home
Of course, some kids prefer to bring a homemade lunch with them on a regular basis. This option gives you as a parent more control over your child’s diet, but some popular foods in these lunches are not too beneficial to your child’s smile. Here’s a look at a few to reconsider.
Juice Boxes and Pouches
You can probably guess that sugar is a major reason these drinks don’t qualify as teeth friendly. However, sugar is only part of the issue. Because juice is a liquid, it can also easily reach into spaces between teeth and small grooves and indentations on teeth. Once there, the sugar may cling to the teeth for hours while your child plays at recess or performs science experiments.
To be fair, a juice box may contain roughly as much sugar as a carton of chocolate milk. However, the juice usually doesn’t contain the same teeth-strengthening nutrients as milk. Plus, even 100% juice is often mainly apple or grape juice, both of which are high in sugar but low in nutritional value.
As much as possible, send your kids with water in their lunch. Try sending juice as a special treat only occasionally.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
You might consider this food as a staple of childhood, and you shouldn’t feel like your kids can never pack PB and J for lunch. Even so, you should be careful about exactly what bread, jam, and nut butter you use to create this classic sandwich.
At their core, all three components of this meal are sticky and sugary. The sugar-loaded sandwich feeds the bacteria inside your child’s mouth, creating an environment that encourages tooth decay. Plus, the sticky mixture can cling to back areas of the mouth, and kids may struggle to remove those clumps completely.
You can make PB and J sandwiches a little healthier. Try whole-grain bread, spread on all-natural peanut butter with no added sugar, and swap out the jelly for apple or banana slices.
Use the information here to help your kids consume teeth-friendly foods during their school lunch break. Remember that most foods are okay in moderation, particularly for kids who take care to practice good dental health at home. With these rules, regular brushing and flossing, and twice-yearly visits to a pediatric dentist, your children can enjoy strong, bright smiles for many years.