The Mac & Cheese Conundrum

Like adults, kids need a diet jam-packed with healthy choices in order to get through their day. In fact, with all that brain power and motion your children use up, some may need as many calories as a sedentary adult. So, when preparing their meals, if we focus on offering healthy choices, we'll provide them with the fuel they need to function at their best, and keep their teeth healthy at the same time. So, what should we toss in that lunch box?

The building blocks of a good meal are essentially the same as they are for adults: a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat. The biggest challenge in preparing for your children, though, is injecting variety into the mix - after all, you're essentially playing chef to a diner with just a few select choices in mind. It's your job to get them to consider new ones. On that note, some of the best advice that can be offered in this area is to be a fan of variety yourself. Children are the best modelers there are in the world, and parents with an affinity for healthy foods and snacks will find their children gravitate toward those same foods as well. Tired of your kids asking for only mac and cheese? This is the only way to turn that hassle around.

Packing Healthy Is Easy

The first tool in your lunch box arsenal is the snack. And, even though you generally want to keep snacking to a minimum, younger children in school often have assigned snack times. Good choices when it comes to snacks are fresh fruit with some sort of nut butter, cottage cheese or a cheese stick, yogurt, and vegetables like carrots and celery with a hummus dip. Cheese helps your child's teeth remineralize to prevent tooth decay, and water-dense fruit help keep their mouths and bodies hydrated. In general, try to provide a snack that combines protein and carbohydrate to keep your kids alert until lunch time, or, until the end of the day if they have two snack periods.

A Few Teeth-Healthy Suggestions

  • Salads with fruit
  • Lean meats in any sort of wrapper you can think of such as a pita, tortilla, flat bread or larger pieces of lettuce like Romaine
  • Rice and beans, chili, or soups
  • Water, milk, or 100% juice
Also, look for ways to avoid mayo on your children's sandwiches by trying spreads of avocado, hummus, baba ganoush, or salsa. Each creates that great mouth-feel we all love on a sandwich without the saturated fat and hidden sugars within some mayonnaise. And don't forget the multitude of ethnic food varieties available to you, many of which are so healthy you should start to adopt them yourself. Pay particular attention to choices from Asia and South America for an inordinate amount of healthy options.

Strong, healthy teeth start and end with a good meal, and good habits begin early, so good luck, keep it fun, and be sure to pack that lunch safely with an ice pack to keep it fresh for meal time.