I think it’s fair to say that very few of us get excited at the prospect of preparing school lunch boxes. Luckily, at this time of year the internet is packed with ideas on how to provide our children with a variety of nutritious, yet tasty snacks to ensure they eat a good meal in the middle of the day. This hopefully will make them less inclined to fill up on junk food on the way home or descend on the fridge like ravening beasts when they get in. However, don’t forget that food being ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ does not necessarily make it good for our teeth.
According to NHS Choices, a balanced lunch box should contain starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta, protein (meat, fish, eggs or beans), a dairy item (cheese or yoghurt) and some vegetables or salad and a portion of fruit.
Avoid any food that is high in salt and sugar – so crisps, sweet biscuits and chocolate bars need to go. Swap in unsalted nuts, chunks of cheese, natural yoghurt, vegetable sticks, plain crackers, bread sticks, unsweetened popcorn, rice cakes and some fruit. Some yoghurts contain a huge amount of sugar so check the ingredients list. Anything over 10g of sugar per 100g of product should be considered to be quite high in sugar.
Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein. They contain healthy fats, vitamin D, calcium, fibre and folic acid, which is important for gum health. Always remember to check if your school has a nut-free policy first.
Crisp vegetables like celery, lettuce, carrots and cucumbers are good ‘teeth friendly’ snacks. They act a bit like a toothbrush, cleaning away bits of food while we crunch them, while their high water content helps our rehydration. Liven them up with a dip like hummus or cream cheese.
Cheese is a really good snack. Being high in calcium and phosphorus, it helps keep tooth enamel strong, while eating it increases your saliva production, which protects your teeth and gums. Try chopping it into chunks to make it easier to eat or making mini cheese and fruit kebabs on cocktail sticks. Fresh fruit is a better option than dried as dried fruit, like apricots, banana chips and raisins, are much higher in sugar than fresh apricots, bananas and grapes.
Drinks are a common culprit when it comes to consuming hidden sugar. Avoid fizzy drinks, including sparkling water, smoothies, fruit juice, milkshakes and squash. Water is by far the best drink for your child’s lunch and for them to sip during the day too to keep their thirst quenched. One great tip I read online was to freeze an extra bottle of water overnight which will then act as a cooler in the lunch box and provide extra hydration in the afternoon and on the way home. Drinking water keeps them cool, avoids dehydration and wards off hunger pangs too, making children less likely to ‘graze’ on sugary snacks.
Remember, as with just about everything else, children copy behaviour that they see so if you try and choose snacks for yourself that are good for your teeth, it is much more likely they will be happy to follow suit.