In-person school is officially back! While the school year can be a hectic time for parents, there is one way to make the week go a little easier, and that’s having plenty of ideas for simple lunches on hand. Stock up on supplies and either meal prep or throw lunch together the night before school for your kiddo to take with them.
While I rounded up school lunch ideas for kids with braces (I am an El Dorado Hills orthodontist after all), they’ll work for any child, braces or not.
In this post, I’ll cover:
- What are the best foods to eat with braces?
- What can’t you eat with braces?
- What to eat for lunch with braces from the cafeteria
- Easy school lunch ideas for kids with braces
- Braces-friendly, make-ahead school lunch meal prep ideas
What are the Best Foods to Eat With Braces?
Before we get to the braces-friendly school lunch ideas, let’s have a refresher on what you can eat with braces. When kids or teens first get their braces put on and, sometimes, following adjustments, their teeth can be a little sensitive. Sticking with soft foods for the first few days will be helpful. The ideal soft foods for braces include things like protein shakes, smoothies, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, soup, yogurt, and anything else that doesn’t require much chewing.
Once your child feels ready to get back to their usual diet, they can still eat most of the foods they love. To keep their braces safe, have them cut or break food into small, bitesize pieces, chew with their back teeth, and refrain from biting directly into anything with their front teeth.
Foods like whole raw apples and carrots, corn on the cob, or meat on the bone are a no-go in their natural state, but you can thinly slice the fruits and veggies, take corn off the cob, and remove meat from the bone, and, voila, it’s braces-friendly.
What Can’t You Eat With Braces?
There are some foods to avoid with braces. Believe me, the small sacrifice will be well worth the awesome smile your child gets at the end of treatment! If it makes a crunch noise, it’s a sign that it’s probably too hard for braces. First, let’s cover some lunchbox and cafeteria favorites:
Can You Eat Chips With Braces?
Kids should avoid eating most chips with braces. Things like Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, kettle-cooked potato chips, and tortilla chips can bend their braces wires. Any chips that sort of melt in the mouth or aren’t hard enough to damage their braces are okay, such as certain baked chips or cheese puffs. Just be sure they take small bites, only eat one chip at a time, and brush their teeth afterwards.
Can You Eat French Fries With Braces?
Absolutely. If your child or teen is craving a salty potato snack, fries are better than chips for braces patients. They’re soft and won’t cause an issue. They are starchy, however, and eating a ton of starchy or sugary foods increases the risk of tooth decay. So, encourage kids to enjoy them in moderation and, again, brush those teeth.
Can You Eat Pizza With Braces?
Yup, you can eat pizza with braces, but forgo the crust since it’s rough on appliances.
Can You Eat Popcorn With Braces?
No, kids shouldn’t eat popcorn with braces. Unpopped popcorn kernels can wreak havoc on your child’s brackets and wires. Popcorn hulls can also get stuck in their gums, between their teeth, or around their brackets, leading to inflammation and gum abscesses.
Can You Eat Salad With Braces?
Patients can definitely eat salad with braces on; no excuses to skip their greens and veggies. Cut up lettuce into small pieces, skip the croutons, and avoid large hunks of crunchy, raw veggies. Top salads with bitesize pieces of cucumber, tomatoes, finely diced bell peppers, shredded carrots, beans, avocado, shredded chicken or turkey, and/or cheese instead.
As for the other items to steer clear of when packing lunch, avoid:
- Really crunchy or hard foods – hard rolls (unless torn into small pieces), nuts (especially almonds), hard candy, hard taco shells, croutons, and the aforementioned chips and popcorn
- Sticky foods – gum (see my last post on chewing gum with braces for why), caramel, Starburst, taffy
- Chewy foods – protein bars, licorice, bagels, beef jerky
- Foods you bite into – whole raw apples and carrots, corn on the cob, meat on the bone
A Note on Foods to Avoid With a Palatal Expander
Some of our patients have palate expanders, which are orthodontic appliances that gradually widen the upper jaw. If your child wears one, in addition to staying away from hard, sticky, and chewy foods, they’ll also want to be careful with stringy foods. Beef or meat with lots of sinew and oranges with fibers can get caught in their appliance, so it’s best to wait until after they’re finished with their expander before enjoying these. Cut up food like long, chewy noodles to make them easier to eat.
What to Eat for Lunch With Braces From the Cafeteria?
For days your child or teen will buying lunch from the cafeteria, have them stick with choices like:
- Egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad
- Sandwiches on soft sandwich bread
- Pizza (skip the crust)
- Macaroni and cheese
- Mashed potatoes
- Fruit cups
- French toast sticks or pancakes
- Steamed veggies
- Sloppy joes
- Fish sticks
- Salad (leave out the croutons and big pieces of crunchy veggies)
Easy School Lunch Ideas for Kids With Braces
As promised, on to the easy school lunch ideas for braces wearers:
- Soft pita bread with hummus for dipping, edamame, and diced peaches
- Creamy peanut butter (or Sunbutter) and jelly on soft whole wheat bread, sliced strawberries, and a pudding cup
- Turkey and cheese pinwheels (turkey and cheese on a soft tortilla shell, rolled up, and cut into rounds), cherry tomatoes, and snap pea crisps
- Hard boiled eggs, easy to eat veggies like cherry tomatoes or thinly-sliced cucumbers with dressing to dip in, and a muffin that doesn’t contain nuts
- Strips of marinated and baked tofu, soft-baked potato or sweet potato wedges, and blueberries
- Burrito bowl (beans, rice, shredded meat or tofu, salsa, and avocado)
- Egg or chicken salad on soft sandwich bread and a clementine
- Pancakes with almond butter, fresh berries, and a container of Greek yogurt
- Quinoa or couscous mixed with leftover roasted veggies and topped with balsamic dressing, string cheese, and a Jell-O cup
- Veggie burger on a soft roll and sweet potato fries
- Cheese quesadilla with guacamole and salsa for dipping and a banana
- Whole wheat crackers (Ritz crackers will melt in your kiddo’s mouth), cottage cheese, and a fruit cup
- Overnight oats (this recipe is braces-friendly and delicious) and cubes of watermelon
- Pasta salad, grapes, and a soft-baked cookie
- Pasta with meatballs or veggie meatballs and snap peas
- Greek yogurt, berries, and cheerios or other easy-to-eat cereal
- A salad of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, a soft roll, and applesauce
- Bean and cheese burrito with a side of leftover roasted veggies
- Mashed chickpea salad (chickpeas mashed with a fork and mixed with mayo or vegenaise, sliced grapes, and thinly shredded carrots), soft pita slices, and a fruit cup
- Peanut butter (or Sunbutter) and banana pinwheels (peanut butter and banana slices on a soft tortilla shell, rolled up, and sliced into rounds), steamed peas and carrots, and a container of yogurt
Make-Ahead, Braces-Friendly, School Lunch Meal Prep Ideas
If you have time over the weekend to make a big batch of something, you can portion it out into containers to get a few lunches or to feed multiple kids. Here are 5 delicious recipes that are great for school lunch meal prep:
- Healthy Mac and Cheese from Pinch of Yum
Mac and cheese is one of the ultimate soft foods for braces patients. It’s easy on the mouth, but it will still fill kids up. This recipe is a little healthier than your run-of-the-mill mac and cheese. The secret? Pureed butternut squash adds creaminess along with a dose of veggies.
- 15-Minute Korean Beef Bowl from Drive Me Hungry
This bulgogi-inspired recipe uses ground beef instead of thinly sliced ribeye, allowing you to pull it all together in just 15 minutes. Be sure to cut the broccoli into small florets and steam it really well to make it braces-friendly. Adjust the spice level to suit your kiddo. You can make it vegetarian or vegan by subbing out the ground beef for meatless crumbles.
- Vegan Sloppy Joes from Minimalist Baker
These sloppy joes are peak braces food because they’re soft, packed with nutrients, and won’t leave kids feeling hungry. Lentils replace the usual ground beef and the recipe includes instructions for making the sloppy joes gluten-free. When doing school lunch meal prep, store the bread and the lentil filling separately to keep the sandwich from getting soggy.
- Greek Couscous Salad from Chelsea’s Messy Apron
Greek couscous salad keeps well in the fridge, and the recipe makes six meal prep servings. Dice the peppers and onions nice and small so they don’t get stuck in your child’s braces.
- Meal Prep – Healthy Roasted Chicken and Veggies from Gimme Delicious
Last, but not least, in our compilation of what to eat for lunch with braces, try this healthy roasted chicken and veggies. Again, dice the veggies on the smaller side and roast them until soft.
I hope these easy school lunch ideas for kids with braces help to ease you and your child into the school year! If your child hasn’t been evaluated by an orthodontist yet or you’re ready to kick off their smile journey, schedule a complimentary consultation at Jeffrey Kwong Orthodontics in El Dorado Hills, CA today!