Tooth friendly snacks for toddlers – questions asked and answered

Does my toddler really need to snack?

All children need to snack. Their tummies aren’t big enough to take on board enough energy and nutrients from three meals a day. Choosing the right nibbles to give your child is very important. 

Which foods should I avoid giving my toddler as snacks?

It is particularly important to avoid sugary foods as snacks. When your child eats or drinks sugar, the bacteria in his mouth mix with the sugars to make a mild acid. This acid attacks the teeth’s hard outer layer. Over time this can cause cavities. By giving your child sugary snacks, you are continually topping up the levels of acid in his mouth, and the more often your child eats a sugary snack the worse it is.

Should I avoid sweets and other sugary snacks altogether?

If you can, then do. Cheese, fresh fruit and chopped raw vegetables are ideal tooth-friendly snacks. Rice cakes and mini sandwiches would also be better alternatives. 

As your toddler gets older, it can become harder to resist the lure of the sweetie counter or the demand for a biscuit. But if you are going to give your child sweets and sugary snacks, there are a number of ways you can reduce the damage they will do to his teeth.

• Make sure your child eats sweets in a place where you can brush his/her teeth afterwards.

• Allocate one day a week as sweetie day. This will help you resist any day-to-day pestering for sweets.

• Sweets should be eaten in one go, rather than spread throughout the day.

• Sweets are best eaten after a meal. When you eat a meal, the amount of saliva in the mouth increases, and that helps to neutralise the effects of the tooth-attacking acid.

• Avoid sugar-rich foods that stay in the mouth for a long time and prolong the acid attack, such as lollipops. Also, steer clear of soft sticky sweets which cling to the teeth, such as toffee. Natural sugars found in fruit have the same effect as refined ones which are found in sweets, biscuits and cakes so even healthy snacks like raisins or fruit bars are dangerous for teeth as they can get stuck on and between teeth, giving the mouth a long, slow acid bath.

• Give your child something alkaline to eat or drink, such as a piece of cheese or a glass of milk, after something sweet. This will help to neutralise the acid in your child’s mouth.

What about drinks?

Avoid acidic, sugary or fizzy drinks especially between meals. Never give your child fizzy drinks in a bottle, which he might suck on for hours and prolong exposure to harmful sugars. 

Fruit juice is fine with a meal but it should always be diluted. Check the packaging of ‘baby’ or herbal drinks for other sugars, such as lactose, fructose and glucose, which are just as harmful to your child’s teeth as sucrose.

At other times, water or milk is the best choice. If he is used to sweet drinks, he may object at first if you only offer him water between meals but it is worth persevering – most children come to accept it surprisingly quickly. It will help if he sees you drinking water during the day too.

How can I get my child interested in healthier snacks?

It’s not always easy to find the time and energy to be creative when your little one says he is hungry and you are trying to do five other things at the same time. The temptation to give him a biscuit or something sweet that is easy and that you know is going to keep him quiet is often overwhelming.

For these moments, it is useful to always have something ready, for example:

• Carrot sticks or a bowl of washed grapes, which you can grab from the fridge and present at a moments notice. Grapes should always be chopped in half for younger children to avoid the risk of choking.

• Little bowls with lids and sealable sandwich bags can be used to make a selection of healthy snacks to keep in the fridge or on the kitchen counter so you can grab one or two when you leave the house.

• Consider taking a snack with you when you’re shopping to avoid being pestered for sweeties in the supermarket. If you forget to take something, offer your little one the end of a French stick to gnaw on; it often works as a distraction.

If he is very resistant to healthy snacks then it may be time to apply some inspiration. Take him shopping and let him help pick out fruits, vegetables and cheese. He will be more interested in eating them if he has chosen them himself.

Offering a variety of textures and tastes is a good way to get your child’s attention – crunchy, soft, smooth, hot, cold, sweet, sour, bland and spicy. Choose colourful foods and get creative with your presentation:

• Faces, traffic lights, even houses and cars can be produced on a plate with pieces of fruit or vegetables without too much effort and letting your child help will make it even more fun.

• Use biscuit cutters to create cute mini-sandwiches is another way to make healthier foods more appealing.

• Count out grapes, berries, raw peas or cherry tomatoes into a bowl. Sort them by size and eat them in order.

More ideas for tooth-friendly snacks:
• plain popcorn
• plain yoghurt
• hard boiled egg
• cubes of cheese
• banana milkshake
• sandwiches with savoury fillings
• fresh fruit
• raw or cooked vegetables
• corn on the cob
• plain or Marmite rice cakes

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