Let’s face it: life is busy. Between work, home, school, sports practices and music lessons, meals can often get rushed or missed altogether. Intentional meal and snack planning is essential for healthy eating and healthy teeth.
Diet has a huge impact on a person’s risk for decay. This is especially true for children as they may need to snack to meet their energy requirements for growing, active bodies. However, constant snacking, or what we call a ‘grazing’ pattern of eating, is often harmful for their teeth. Sugars and simple carbohydrates, like those found in snacking crackers and baked goods, create an acid attack in the mouth. The longer or more frequent the acid attack, the greater the risk for tooth damage. So what is the answer?
Three meals and two snacks per day are recommended. Snacks should be nutritious with a combination of protein, complex carbs, and dietary fibre to keep kids going until the next meal. Try to choose a variety of foods from all the food groups to optimize the nutrient intake. Don’t forget dairy! Good sources of calcium, dairy products also have protein and are therefore great when included in snacks. Try as much as possible to limit processed foods in the shopping cart as they often have higher levels of sugar, simple carbs, fat, and salt. Stock the ‘fridge on the weekend with foods that can be grabbed in the busy week schedule. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
Here is a list of suggestions for snacks. Make a list of your own that your family preferences and have fun with it. Remember: teeth are for a lifetime.
If you have comments or further suggestions please let me know so that we can share them with other families.
- Breakfast cereals: Read the labels and choose ones with lower sugar levels. Some cereals have as much sugar as a candy bar! Add fresh or frozen fruit, nuts and milk or yogurt. Dry cereal is not a good idea for a snack as it sticks to the teeth . Cereal bars are not good substitutes as they are much higher in fats, including saturated and trans fats, and sugars, and not that high in fibre.
- Trail mix: Make your own from sunflower seeds, nuts and dried fruit.
- Fruits: All sorts: melons, grapes, bananas, apples, oranges, pears, nectarines, peaches, strawberries. Makes your own fruit salad and add frozen berries for interest and disease fighting antioxidants. Add flavoured cream cheese or yogurt as dips for protein and calcium. Frequent consumption of fruit, however, can lead to an increased risk of decay in susceptible people.
- Sandwiches: A great snack. Try pitas and tortillas as an alternative to bread. There are so many fillings: left over meat, cold cuts, cheese, egg, tuna, hot dogs, veggie dogs. Add lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radishes for fibre.
- Raw or cooked veggies: Light salad dressings, or Mediterranean spread like hummus and baba gannouj can be used as dips. This as a good way to add vitamins and fibre and try new foods. Try cucumbers, carrots, celery, blanched green beans, baby corn, fennel, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower.
- Cheese: In sandwiches, with fruit, in a veggie salad, there are so many to try: cubed traditionals like cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, feta; spreadables like cream cheese, goats cheese.
- Popcorn: As long as you are careful with the half-popped kernels, this is a great, fun snack for kids and adults which is cavity neutral and good for fibre. Add your own toppings of parmesan cheese, salt and spices. Watch the bagged kinds which can be high in fats.
- Soups: This makes a great after school snack, inexpensive and convenient. You can use a broth and add your own leftover meat and vegetables.
- Leftovers: Make extra and either freeze it or bring it out as a great, balanced after school snack.
- Foods sold as snack food are often junk foods. Don’t be fooled by labels that suggest otherwise. If it tastes like candy, is sweet and sticks to your teeth, it is not a suitable snack.
- Limit the amount of fruit juices. Although nutritious, they have high concentrations of acid and sugar and are perhaps better for meal times when there is more saliva to neutralize it. Also watch flavoured soy beverages which have added sugar.
- Peanut butter and other nut based spreads: Although a good source of protein, they have loads of hidden sugars and stick to teeth, especially when spread on crackers.
- Puddings: although a good source of calcium, have lots of sugar are a best left for dessert.
- Granola bars generally have loads of sugar that is why they provide a quick source of energy. Sugar can come in the form of honey, molasses as well as sucrose, fructose, etc. Although convenient to pack, they are not appropriate snacks on a regular basis.