You don't need another reason to feed your child nutritious snacks. Though, you might be interested in knowing those wholesome foods that fuel your child's growing body also impact the health and development of their teeth. Understand how your child's foods affect oral health and find out which teeth-healthy snacks to keep stocked in your pantry or fridge.
The eating habits your kids learn today will impact them for the rest of their lives. Teach them the "what,""when," and "how" of teeth-healthy snacking to set them up for years of nutritious choices.
With more options than ever before, it can be challenging to determine which kid-friendly snacks are the healthiest choices. When it comes to your child's teeth, foods high in vitamins and minerals, and low in sugar make the best snacks. Sugar feeds the bacteria in plaque and causes it to release an acid that attacks the enamel on your teeth. If left unchecked, these attacks can lead to tooth decay. Choosing naturally sugar-free snacks is an excellent starting point for teeth-healthy eating.
Kids need regular snacks to fuel their growing bodies throughout the day. However, it's important to implement a schedule for meal and snack times, so they don't constantly graze. Acid attacks can occur up to 20 minutes after you finish eating before they are neutralized, so your kids' teeth need a break between meals. If you feed them a sugary snack, serve it alongside other teeth-friendly foods. This will reduce the effects of acid production and help clear the mouth of sugary food debris.
It's not practical (or fun) to eliminate sugar from your child's diet. Enjoying a slice of birthday cake or a bowl of ice cream is an integral part of growing up. But you can limit the effects of these sugary snacks on your kids' teeth. Start with making sweets a special occasion instead of a daily event. Your kids will be more excited to partake in the occasional treat, and their teeth will appreciate the break from regular sugar baths. Also, be picky about the types of sugar. Avoid hard and sticky foods like lollipops or fruit gummies that stay longer in the mouth and prolong acid attacks. Finally, follow up sugary snacks by brushing teeth twice a day and flossing daily to remove plaque and food debris.
Now that you understand how to build a teeth-healthy snack plan for your kids, here are some ideas for snacks your kids will love.
Vegetables and fruits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends filling at least half your child's plate with vegetables and fruits. These foods are high in water and fiber, which helps balance out any sugars they might contain. Plus, chewing on a crunchy apple or carrot helps stimulate saliva production and clear away food particles from your teeth. Some fruit and veggie snack ideas include:
- Raw carrots and celery sticks dipped in hummus or ranch dressing
- Sliced apples with sugar-free peanut butter
- Spinach, frozen berries, and plain yogurt blended into a smoothie
Dairy. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt can be low in sugar and rich in calcium, which is excellent for strengthening your child's teeth. Plus, cheese is a naturally chewy food that helps stimulate saliva production. Meanwhile, yogurt can be easily rinsed from teeth after eating. Some dairy snack ideas include:
- String cheese
- Plain yogurt with berries
- Glass of milk
Lean Proteins. Meat, poultry, fish, milk, and eggs not only contain valuable protein, but they are also rich in phosphorous, which can help strengthen teeth. Some lean protein snack ideas include:
- Boiled eggs
- Roasted chicken and veggie kabobs
- Sugar-free beef jerky
Seeds and nuts. High in protein and minerals and low in sugar and carbohydrates, nuts and seeds can be a delicious teeth-healthy option. Plus, some seeds and nuts — like chia seeds or almonds — are high in calcium, strengthening teeth.
- Dry-roasted almonds with sea salt
- Chia seeds, unsweetened almond milk, and fruit mixed and set overnight into pudding
- Trail mix with favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruit with no sugar added
Water. Fluoridated water is arguably one of the most essential components of snack time. Fluoride helps teeth become more resistant to acid attacks, and water helps rinse away any leftover food debris. Plus, it replaces other kid drinks — like fruit juices, sodas, and sports drinks — all of which are high in sugar. Make water more appealing by infusing it with fruit or adding carbonation.
If your kids are used to sugary and starchy snacks, it might be difficult to trade in cookies for carrots. Make healthy eating fun with some of these tips:
Cook meals together. Give your child ownership of the healthy eating process by including them in the prep work. Find a cookbook full of recipes that appeal to kids and let them choose one or two to make throughout the week. Older children can learn the basics of chopping and roasting vegetables. Younger kids can help you thread pre-chopped veggies onto skewers or layer fruit and plain yogurt for a parfait. Mixing up a veggie dip, wrapping up a turkey roll-up, or placing toothpicks into cheese cubes are all great activities for little hands.
Plant a garden. Start healthy eating habits right at the source: homegrown vegetables. Stick to a few vegetables that are relatively easy to grow, such as lettuce or peppers. Or even begin with a window-sill herb like basil or cilantro. When it's time to harvest the fruits — or veggies — of your labor, pick a delicious recipe together to make a snack the kids can be proud of.
Make healthy snacking convenient. Part of making healthy snacking fun is making it easy. A kid will rarely choose celery sticks when potato chips are available. So swap out that candy for fruit and those crackers for almonds. Then, make your healthy choices extra convenient by putting containers of pre-cut veggies and fruits in the fridge where your child can see them. If you have a pantry snack drawer, fill it with single servings of nuts, sugar-free beef jerky, and nut butters.
Keep going. Healthy changes won't happen overnight. Kids may need up to 12 exposures of a particular food before they decide they "like" it. So keep serving those carrots alongside other healthy options you know they'll eat. Additionally, try preparing foods in different ways — such as roasted broccoli instead of raw florets or plain chicken instead of chicken with taco seasoning. Some quick adjustments might help overcome any texture or flavor preferences.
Keeping children nourished and well-fed is no easy task, so great job pursuing teeth-healthy snack options for your little ones. By encouraging your child to eat healthy now, you are instilling lifelong habits. Simply stay patient and remember the goal: Children who learn to love foods that protect their teeth and help them grow.