School Lunches: Are Your Kids Eating Well at School?
By the time your children get out of school, they’ve gone through a long day. Between studying and school activities, children have a lot to tell you once they get home. But your child may not have much to say when it comes to the lunch period, an incredibly important time of the day. Not only does lunch provide the nutrition kids need to stay healthy, but it gives them energy and helps keep them focused on learning.
At many of our schools, kids are presented with several food choices. From the cafeteria to bagged lunches to vending machines, your child has a plethora of options for mid-day meals — and they’re not all good for them. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, children aren’t getting the nutrition they need at school to maintain their oral health. Rather than promoting a healthy smile, school lunches may be contributing to dental caries, or cavities, the most common childhood disease.
A Cavity-Packed Lunch
Cavities are caused when the sugar we eat combines with the bacteria found in our mouths to form an acid that attacks teeth. Eventually, these acid attacks can lead to tooth decay, or cavities. Frequently eating a sugar-filled lunch, especially when we’re not able to brush after meals, can wreak havoc on our teeth. Consuming vending machine sweets, packing candy in bagged lunches, and buying sugary desserts from the cafeteria all contribute to the possibility of cavities.
You can’t watch your children while they’re away at school, but you can set them up to make good decisions regarding their oral health. Whether your children are eating a school or bagged lunch, you can help them make healthy choices for a lifetime of dental health.
Types of Lunches:
Many cafeterias and vending machines offer a variety of options, and your child’s choice of food can make or break their oral health. Unfortunately, the sugary snacks and sodas found in many school vending machines can lead to cavities, and kids can often purchase desserts in the cafeteria that aren’t good for their dental — or overall — health. In recent years, there’s been an ongoing debate over school vending machines, but you can start your own campaign towards excellent dental care by investigating your school’s choices in food supplies.
Ask the school for a list of cafeteria and vending machine items. If the items being sold or supplied do not meet your needs for a healthy lifestyle, contact your school administrator to discuss your concerns. You may be able to make a difference in your school district’s food choices!
It’s understandable that children may be tempted by the sweet treats offered in their school’s cafeteria or vending machines, but you have the power to steer them in the right direction! Discuss the importance of oral health with your child, and talk about appropriate food choices for lunch. When your children come home from school, review what they ate that day. Routinely discussing the importance of a good diet can help your children make correct choices in the future.
- Preparing your child’s lunch is a great way to avoid cavity-causing foods. If you do, there are several ways to promote a tooth-healthy meal:
- Pack the right amount of food to meet their nutritional needs. That means including fruit, vegetables, grains and calcium-fortified dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and milk on a daily basis.
- Don’t include sticky foods that can’t easily be washed away, especially if your children aren’t able to brush their teeth after lunch.
- Encourage your children to drink beverages that are low in sugar. Drinking water and other low-sugar liquids can help wash away food particles that might get stuck between teeth.
- You may want to include a travel toothbrush with your child’s lunch. Speak with your dentist about how often your children should be brushing their teeth, and whether lunchtime brushing is appropriate for them. Ask the school administrator about children excusing themselves during lunch to complete their oral hygiene regimen and, if needed, arrange a plan for your child to brush his or her teeth at a certain time.
When you review your child’s day at school, be sure to include what they ate. Ensuring that your child is making the right choices will not only improve his or her dental health but will also help control another childhood epidemic: obesity.
We know you want the best for your children — and oral health is no exception! Lunch is an important subject, and you’re getting an A+ by taking the time to study up on your children’s food choices! If you need more guidance, talk to your child’s dentist or pediatric dentist.