(Updated August 28, 2017)
New backpack? Check.
Pencils, erasers and markers? Check.
Tender treats for sore teeth? Oh.
If your child started orthodontic treatment over the summer and will be returning to school with a sparkling new set of braces this fall, packing lunches that won’t damage brackets or be difficult to chew may be your biggest back-to-school challenge.
To help with that, today we’re sharing a comprehensive list of foods that are easy on the braces, and suitable for a packed lunch. To make things even more convenient for busy parents, we’ve grouped the food items into “main dishes” (read: sandwiches, mostly), sides, and desserts so you can quickly pick one or more items from each category and effortlessly put together a tasty and satisfying school lunch for your student.
And if you’re really pressed for time (or just want a visual reference to save for future use), check out the handy infographic we’ve provided at the end of this post.
Braces Friendly “Main Dishes” for School Lunches
When we put together a meal, we generally think in terms of a main dish, side(s), and dessert. Of course, when we’re talking packed lunch, we use the term “main dish” liberally and won’t be including items in our list that require exotic ingredients or elaborate preparation. We are simply referring to the staple item around which you can build a complete meal for your braces wearing students to bring to school with them for lunch.
Be sure to avoid hard, crusty, or chewy breads when preparing sandwiches for kids with braces. For something different you could make a wrap for your student instead of a traditional sandwich. If you go this route, opt for an actual wrap over a tortilla, as the latter can become hard or chewy when cold, and therefore more challenging for braces wearers to eat. For either option, cutting the wrap or sandwich into smaller pieces will make life (and lunch) a lot easier on your child.
- The Salads (Egg, Tuna, Salmon, Chicken, Turkey, etc.)—If you’re adding hard, crunchy veggies like onions, celery, or pickles to the salad, be sure to dice them into very small pieces to ensure they won’t cause damage or be painful to chew.
- Deli/Lunch Meats—Chicken or turkey are the best choices. Avoid roast beef, thick-cut or boiled ham, and any other meats that are tough or rubbery.
- Good ‘ol PB and J—Use creamy peanut butter instead of chunky and remind your student to rinse after eating as peanut butter can stick to teeth and braces (some patients report bread and other foods sticking as well, so rinsing after eating is going to be helpful with most food choices).
- Avocado—Add a teaspoon of lemon and a dash of salt to mashed avocado, which can then be spread on the bread or wrap. For more flavor and substance, add diced tomato and cheese.
- Cheese—A classic cheese sandwich couldn’t be simpler to make and should pose no problems for braces wearers.
Macaroni-and-cheese is a typical kid pleaser, but any well-cooked variety of pasta will make a great school lunch robust enough even for a hungry teen. Prepared the night before, all of these lunches can be kept warm in a thermos, but are surprisingly good served cold as well.
- Spaghetti—A smooth sauce with no meat or finely ground meat is best. Consider cutting the spaghetti down into bite-sized pieces (or breaking before cooking) to make it easier to eat.
- Ramen—Again, bite-sized pieces are the friendliest to braces.
- Cold Pasta Salads—As mentioned with the salad sandwiches, avoid adding large pieces of hard, crunchy ingredients to your salads.
- Macaroni and Cheese
Soup offers endless variety and is generally a great choice for kids with new braces. Smooth soups will be the best way to go when mouths are at their sorest. Otherwise, stick to soups that have small, tender pieces that require minimal chewing (or could even be swallowed whole).
- Smooth/Cream Soups (Tomato, Broccoli, Mushroom, Asparagus, Chicken, Potato, etc.)
- Pasta Soups (Alphabet Soup, Chicken and Stars, etc.)
- Rice Soups (Chicken and Rice, Broccoli and Rice, etc.)
- Chili (with finely ground meat or no meat all)
Breakfast for (Braces Friendly) Lunch
If your student is a big fan of breakfast you can always pack it for lunch. With the exception of scrambled eggs, most of the options on our list will taste great hot or cold.
- Scrambled Eggs
- Smoothies—On days when mouths are particularly sensitive, smoothies may be the best option. You can sneak in some veggies for added nutrition, and add protein powder to keep your student at maximum learning power the rest of the school day.
- Hormel Vienna sausages—They can go to school in their original package, or you can just send them along in a resealable container.
- Meat and Cheese Roll-Ups—Skip the bread or wrap and serve the meat and cheese rolled-up or cut into squares.
- Soft Cooked Beans/Beans and Rice
Sides to Include in a Braces Friendly Packed Lunch
We think we’ve made our point by now, but we’ll reiterate it one more time to be sure: Avoid packing anything hard, crunchy or chewy in your child’s lunch. That means no hard foods like corn chips, crackers, or pretzels. Chewy foods such as bagels or beef jerky should also be avoided. And while fresh veggies are certainly some of the healthiest things you can feed your kids, use caution with hard crunchy vegetables while your child is wearing braces; make sure they are thinly sliced/peeled or cut into very small pieces. When in doubt, always opt for soft foods.
- Thin Carrot Curls (made with a scraper)
- Cucumber (diced and peeled)
- Cheese Cubes or Babybel-Type Soft Snack Cheeses
- Cottage Cheese
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Cheese Puffs
Braces Friendly Dessert Ideas for School Lunch
- Banana Slices
- Grape Halves
- Citrus Fruits
- Other Soft Fruits Like Kiwi or Melon
- Apples—Peel, slice thinly and then dip them in a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning.
- Applesauce (or any of the mixed fruit “sauces” in individual servings)
- Canned Fruit (peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, orange slices, etc.)
And since few foods other than yogurt and pudding are truly “no-stick,” add a little braces care packet that can stay in the lunchbox or backpack: In a reclosable sandwich bag, combine a tiny cone-shaped, spiral-bristle brush with its self-cover (one brand is GUM® Proxabrush, available at pharmacies in the dental aisle), a little mirror for quick smile checks, that packet of wax strips from your orthodontist for anything that starts to poke, and even a small toothbrush and paste.
A final tip for your student: drink plenty of water. It will help keep teeth clean, fresh, and ready to dazzle with that new silver smile.