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Back to school snacks - are they really as healthy as you think?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

It’s the end of the school holidays and many children will be heading back to school or starting school for the first time. We thought we could help with some advice on healthy and safe snacks for your little ones teeth.

Huge strides have been made in Scotland to promote healthy eating habits within schools, to help combat obesity and improve dental health of children. These include stopping serving fruit juice in schools and changing school meals.

It's not always easy to find healthy snacks that your children can take into school that won't end up squished into their school bag so hopefully this guide can help with some suggestions.


Watch out

Many of the snacks out there that flaunt themselves as being healthy for your children are, in fact, far from it. Manufacturers are quite clever in the way that they word things on packaging to suggest that their products are perfectly healthy. It's important to remember that, “no added sugar” is not the same as, “sugar free”. Saying something like, “made with real fruit” or “no added sugar” may sound great but isn't always as healthy as it might seem -and I can say from personal experience that I have certainly been caught out myself!

So what makes a safe snack?

The main thing to look out for from a dental point of view is, yip you guessed it, SUGAR. Easy. It should be no surprise to anyone that high sugar intake increases the chances of getting tooth decay (and other things like diabetes and obesity) so obviously we want to keep this to a minimum. Now, just to make things complicated not all sugars are the same. Some naturally occurring sugars in FRESH fruit and milk are fine for your teeth and healthy because they are trapped within the food cell, however, as soon as these foods are processed in any way, sugars (also known as “free sugars”) are released - these are the ones to watch out for. So, even if you buy what you think is healthy, fresh fruit juice, because it has been processed, it is now very high in "free sugars". This is the same for smoothies and even dried fruit. So take care when some products say “made with real fruit juice” because they will have "free sugars" present. Other natural sugars like honey can be counted as “free sugars” but are quite often used to sweeten things with natural ingredients.

Watch out for frequency

One other thing to consider in determining safe snacks for your children is when they are eaten. One factor that really increases the risk of tooth decay is how often you are eating sugary things. If you have 3 meals a day then there almost certainly will be a little sugar in each of these meals and as a result your teeth will come under attack from plaque acids. Your mouth naturally does a great job of neutralising these but it can take about 20 minutes to recover after eating something. Bearing that in mind, if you have the 3 meals a day that cause your teeth to come under attack, the rest of the time your teeth should be able to recover. The problem comes with snacks between meals, when your mouth may still be recovering from plaque acids and is then subjected to another attack by having something sugary quite quickly after. The more often your teeth are subjected to this attack the more damage is likely to be done to your teeth in the form of tooth decay.

So the best advice to give is that if your child is having something sweeter such as dried fruit (like raisins) then it is best to have this at the same time they have their lunch or dinner.

How much is too much SUGAR?

Most food contains little quantities of sugar and that is fine because your body does need sugar to function. Now with the new food labelling system it can be easier to find out exactly how much sugar is in every day items. Most companies are displaying food labels with the traffic light system letting you know if something is relatively high in either fat, sugar or salt. Remember the daily reference amount per portion relates to an average adult so for your children, something like the label below would be far to much for a child in an entire day.

The NHS recommended daily allowances of sugar for children are:

5 cubes for 4-6 years (19g) 6 cubes for 7-10 years (24g) 7 cubes for 11+ years (30g)

Let's compare that to a selection of snacks that could be in your child lunch box (remember the amount above is for a whole day not just one snack)!

The pictures above (scroll right) show how much sugar is really in all of these snacks. Some (especially those that are marketed as being healthier), have huge levels of sugar. The likes of a Yorkie bar or Skittles packet would be more than a 4-6 year old daily allowance of sugar in one snack.

One thing to point out is that the berry mix which, although is dried fruit and still counts as 1 of your five a day, is very high in free sugars and it would be better to eat at meal time and have a much smaller portion.

Is Chocolate better than sweets?

No, it is a myth to think that chocolate is any better for your teeth that other sweets. Milk chocolate that most people eat is full of sugar (generally the top ingredient). The other thing that I have noticed in my clinic is that chocolate melts at body temperature and as a liquid dissolves into all the pits and fissures of your teeth and quite often stays there! This is one of the most common areas for decay to start.

What are some safe snacks

Great snacks to have are:

  • Fresh fruit like apples and bananas are perfect. 1 of your 5 a day and the sugars are safe for teeth.

  • Cheese and crackers. Cheese is great after a meal as it neutralizes the acids in your mouth after you eat.

  • Vegetables like carrots sticks

  • low fat crisps

  • rice cakes

  • popcorn (not toffee)

  • sugar free jelly

  • Buying natural or Greek yogurt and adding fresh fruit into it is a great way to reduce the added “free sugars” in flavoured yogurts.

This list of things is by no means exhaustive and I hope after reading this you can find your own safe snacks by checking the label for how much sugar is really in your food.

Please feel free to suggest your own in the comments.

Another great place for useful tips and hint for healthy meals for children is

It has great suggestions of meal and lunch box ideas and there is even an app you can download (sugar smart app) that allows you to scan the bar codes of foods and it will tell you how much sugar is in it.


We are going to do more posts in the future about various dental related topics to please follow us on social media to stay up to date with the latest posts. Also if have any other things that you would like to know more about, comment below and I will get onto it.


Martin Allan

Borland and Morton Dental Care


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