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Lunch Box Pitfalls: What to pack for healthy teeth and gums?

It’s that time again – back to school!!

The dread of the early mornings, the uniform battles and also – making the school lunches…..

Here are a few tips to make sure that those lunch boxes are tooth friendly as well as healthy with a few of the common pitfalls that well-meaning parents fall in to:

Drinks:

I’m so sorry to say but the only really tooth friendly drinks for lunches are milk and water.  Kids tend to sip on their drinks meaning that whatever you give is spread out over break & lunch, so if this is juice (even no-added sugar dilutes or fresh juices) it is a long sugar & acid attack for the teeth.  Be careful also with the sparkly water with ‘a twist of…’ these have been shown to be just as damaging to teeth as Fanta!!  The cartons of smoothies, while nutritious & very handy are unfortunately not a good idea from a tooth friendly point of view.  If you are worried about your child’s hydration or fruit intake, the best time to have a good pure fresh juice or smoothie is with breakfast, before cereal and milk and then brush teeth afterwards.  This hides the sugar & acid within a meal.

Yoghurts:

Be careful: some yoghurts are absolutely crammed with sugar which can be harmful to your child’s dental health.  Be careful to check the ingredients for ‘added sugar’ and also look at the sugar content in 100g of product on the nutritional advice label.  Anything over 10g/100g is quite high in sugar. For parents with lots of energy, another option is to add some pure fruit puree to natural yoghurt to make your own creation!

Yoghurt drinks e.g. Actimel, Yop, Yakult are very high in added sugar – check the ingredients!

Snacks:

Be careful of dried fruits – raisins are >70% sugar & catch out so many conscientious parents.  Same goes for dried apricots & prunes, the fresh fruit alternatives are much better for maintaining healthy teeth – lower in sugar and less sticky.

Cereal bars such as Rice Krispies or Frosties etc can contain up to 30% sugar so again be wary.  The seemingly more healthy alternatives such as Nutri-Grain, Tracker, Nature Valley or the health food shop type fruit bars can be up to 50% sugar due to the high content of honey & dried fruits.

It goes with out saying that sweets are not good lunch box fillers! In particular stay away from jellies, even the well-marketed natural jellies are packed full of sugar, all be it organic! The texture of jellies also leads to them sticking to the back teeth and potentially causing cavities.  If kids are going to have a treat, chocolate, baked goods or ice cream after the evening meal are much better alternatives than long-lasting sticky jellies during the day.  The stickier the jelly – the longer the teeth are exposed to sugar and acid!

There are some products very cleverly marketed directly at your child – and although sold as ‘healthy’ – there could be some interesting surprises so beware and always read the food label!

Great tooth friendly snacks would include:

  • Fresh fruit (just not too frequently per day 1-2 max)
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Popcorn(unsweetened)
  • Rice cakes
  • Nuts,
  • Vegetables & dips (hummus/cream cheese) or breadsticks

Nowadays, it’s law for food products to have proper ingredient labelling.

It can be a bit tricky to understand exactly and decipher what these labels mean to us, the consumer.   We’ve found some interesting and helpful sites online on reading food labels:  http://www.health.sa.gov.au/pehs/srer-award/srer-labelreading-sahs-100419.pdf.  This urges us all to ‘Be a Label Reader’!

Another lovely article makes nutritional guides on labels a bit less scientific and well worth a read to help figure out those food labels:  http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/food/labels.html

Finally, we’d like to bring your attention to the Nutrition and Health Foundation of Ireland (http://www.nutritionandhealth.ie/) with their interactive piece on understanding food labels.

Happy snacking!

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