Eating with an Expander: Tips and Tricks

Almost four years ago, on the night before Thanksgiving, my daughter knocked her two front teeth out while jumping on her bed. After an emergency call to the dentist and reassurance that “they were just baby teeth,” she settled into bed with the promise of extra mashed potatoes the next day. We knew that her teeth would probably have some long-lasting effects, but we weren’t overly worried.

Earlier this summer, on our semi-annual trip to the pediatric dentist, the first flag was thrown. “It’s time to see an orthodontist,” our dentist said. Before I could even protest he said, “It could mean the difference between some work now and surgery later.”

Ok, fine.

Well, we quickly fell in love with this particular orthodontist office, their staff, their conservative thoughts on braces, and their location. Abigail loves that it’s a father/son team, “Just like John Adams and John Quincy Adams,” she announced at our first visit. And this month, we started the expander journey.

Dietary Changes with an Expander

While the expander is designed to carefully and gently expand the top of her jaw, it has thrown some curveballs our way. Her mouth is a little sensitive and adjustments can hurt a bit, but she’s hanging in there like a trooper.

The biggest change to our lives has been the restrictions on food. Most of the things on the “do not eat” list are things that you will almost never find in this house. “Potato chips!” she exclaimed dramatically, “I love those!” Y’all – I buy them maybe once a year, and when my mother-in-law comes to visit, because “Memere likes them with sandwiches,” my oldest says.

But, nevertheless, some changes to our eating habits had to be made. For example, whole apples will need to be sliced, popcorn, pretzels, and chips should be avoided, and the pizza crust is a no-no.

After her initial shock, she started thinking of things she could eat, even when her mouth was sore. Topping that list were smoothies, applesauce, pudding, and soft tacos. See, there is hope – ice cream didn’t even make her top five list!

What She’s Eating

Luckily, breakfast is an easy meal for someone with sore teeth. Since we don’t usually serve up cereal first, it doesn’t impact her too much. Some great options are things I normally cook: eggs, french toast or pancakes, oatmeal, muffins, and yogurt. Some of these are easy to whip up the morning of and some can be done in advance.

Want some quick breakfast ideas that require minimal time? Here they are.

At first, we were told no peanut butter. This was the one that rocked us both. WHAT? I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches en masse. I about died—even though I don’t eat them. But we experimented a little and talked to others who have had an expander and declared we were good. Phew. That helped for lunch, of course. And I include snacks like applesauce over apple slices and avoid the snacky foods that can get stuck.

What She’s Not Eating

Abi generally likes food. She likes pasta, tacos, and most chicken dishes. She loves smoothies, applesauce, and muffins. And while I wanted to make sure she had some good options, I didn’t want to create an entire menu around her. So we came up with a compromise.

If her teeth hurt, or what was being served was something she knew she could not eat, she would ask if she could make something similar. For example, if we were eating tacos and had hard shells, she would ask for tortillas or lettuce to make a taco salad. She would not get to ask for ice cream.

Her biggest fear was when she was at someone else’s house and they offered, or served, her something she couldn’t eat. We talked about how it was ok to say, no thank you and come home and eat. Or eat only what she could without hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s hard to avoid chips, pretzels, and sugary drinks at a birthday party, but they also don’t happen every day. Some focused brushing afterward would certainly help.


Abi has always been aware of other people having food restrictions due to allergies. Her first-grade teacher had a gluten allergy, so Abi made gluten-free cupcakes and icing when she celebrated her birthday. While Abi’s food restrictions aren’t a matter of life and death, they are something she’ll be working around for about a year now, and a few later on. It’s good for her to learn about alternatives and how to handle the situation.

Do you have a child with a food allergy or restriction? How do you incorporate that into your meal planning?

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