Pack a lunch that will get your child through their school day.

Your child spends a significant portion of each day at school. It’s where they make friends and learn essential skills that will help them navigate everyday life. It may sound simple, but packing your child a healthy, nutrient-dense lunch is one of the best ways you can ensure that your child is ready to listen and learn in school. Your child’s nutritious lunch will fill them up for longer, provide an energy boost without making them hyperactive, and prevent sugar crashes, enabling them to focus better in the classroom. Plus, kids grow at a remarkable rate, so they simply need to eat foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals.

Many foods that are marketed to kids, even those that seem like they should be low in sugar or that are presented as healthy options, are packed with sugar. When your child’s meal contains a lot of sugar, it can make them incredibly hyper before leading to an energy crash — both of which can make it hard to pay attention in class! Packing a healthy but appetizing lunch for your kids isn’t easy; it takes research, planning, and a little experimentation around your child’s taste buds. To help you plan a healthier meal for your child, we’ve put together a list of foods that contain hidden sugars and have suggested a few healthier alternatives.

1. Fruit Juice or Punch

When you’re packing your child’s lunch, fruit juice might sound like a healthy alternative to soda. After all, it contains vitamins that are good for your little one, right? Fruit juice certainly contains a lot of vitamin C, but it’s also loaded with a surprising amount of sugar. A 12-ounce box of apple juice contains 37 grams of sugar, while 12 ounces of fruit punch, which lacks the vitamins found in juice, has 45 grams of sugar. In comparison, a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 27 grams of sugar and a 12-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola contains 65 grams of sugar. So your average fruit juice contains far too much sugar to be healthy for your child.

Instead of packing fruit juice or punch in your child’s lunch, try packing water. It’s naturally sugar-free and it actively helps prevent cavities by flushing food debris from your child’s mouth and restoring the pH of their mouth. If you’re worried that your child won’t drink water, you can flavor it using fresh fruits and herbs. Unsweetened coconut water or milk are both healthy, tasty alternatives as well.

2. Yogurt

Yogurt is a great source of calcium, protein, and healthy gut bacteria, making it a popular choice for children’s lunches. To make yogurt taste better, however, most yogurt that is marketed for kids contains a lot of sugar. Just two ounces often contains eight or nine grams of sugar. You can make yogurt healthier by buying plain yogurt, which contains just a fraction of the sugar found in children’s yogurt. Six ounces of plain yogurt only has seven grams of sugar in it. That’s three times more plain yogurt than flavored yogurt, and it still contains less sugar! You can add flavor and more nutrients to plain yogurt yourself by tossing in fresh fruit like blackberries or peach slices.

3. Lunchables

While Lunchables are a quick, easy lunch to pack for your child, many of these prepackaged lunches contain a surprising amount of sugar. Just how much sugar a Lunchables meal contains depends on which meal it is. The Ham and Cheddar with Cracker Stackers, for example, contains 13 grams of sugar, while the Turkey and American with Cracker Stackers meal contains 17 grams of sugar. Each of these meals is only 3.4 ounces. That’s a staggering amount of sugar for such a small meal!

A good alternative is to simply make your child a sandwich. This is a low-effort meal, but the average sandwich still contains less than half the sugar of a Lunchables meal. According to the USDA, a 208-gram ham and cheese sandwich only contains four grams of sugar. Plus, when you make your child’s sandwich yourself, you can control what ingredients are in it. This means you can add vegetables to make it healthier or include other ingredients your child really loves.

4. Ketchup

Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments out there, so it’s often considered a good way to add a little flavor to your child’s lunch. When we think of ketchup, we often think of its tangy flavor first, but it’s also surprisingly sweet. Just a single tablespoon, or about 0.6 ounces, of ketchup has four grams of sugar in it. As a result, it’s best to limit how much ketchup you put in your child’s lunch so they don’t consume too much sugar in one sitting. You can also buy all-natural or low-sugar ketchup that only has around one gram of sugar in each tablespoon.

5. Carbohydrates

When you think of sugary foods, carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and chips probably aren’t what come to mind, but they’re actually a major source of hidden sugars. This is because once they make it into your mouth, your saliva quickly breaks it down into simple sugars. Since carbohydrates tend to stick to your child’s teeth as they chew, they can be a major contributor to cavities. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate carbohydrates from your child’s lunch entirely, but you should pay attention to the proportion of carbs present in it. Instead of pairing a sandwich with potato chips, try pairing it with fresh slices of apple or plain yogurt with fruit. This adds more diversity to your child’s diet and cuts down on the sugar that comes in contact with their teeth and enters their system.

Find out where else sugar may be hiding in your child’s lunch.

The food you pack into your child’s lunch fuels them throughout the day. Making sure their lunch is packed with nutrient-dense foods will give them the vitamins and minerals they need to grow and keep their teeth healthy. Cutting down on the sugar in their lunch may even help them focus on their lessons better by preventing them from getting a sugar high and the accompanying energy crash after lunch.

If you’re looking for a “family dentist near me” in the Bee Cave or Lakeway area who can answer your questions about how your child’s diet impacts their oral and overall health, you can call and schedule a consultation with Dr. Tomasik at any time.

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