It’s common for juvenile arthritis to affect the jaw. Lucky me, my first “jaw flare” came while visiting Walt Disney World for the Food and Wine Festival. That was extremely disappointing. Not only did it hurt to chew but it was also difficult to open for a bite. Slowly, I worked up from drinking smoothies and shakes to handling soft foods like rice. While I was upset that some foods would be off the table until I was better, I took it as an opportunity to try lots of drinks, soups, and other soft, delicious foods.
When someone has an arthritis flare of the jaw, it makes eating incredibly difficult. Not only does food need to be soft, it also needs to be prepared so it doesn’t force the jaw to open too much. Throw in the need to make soft food appealing to kids, and it can feel impossible. Thankfully, soft food diets are usually temporary while getting a jaw flare under control. Plus, many of these options are kid-friendly and approved!
No sugar, please!
A flare is not the time to load up on sugary snacks. Ice cream, milkshakes, store-bought smoothies, highly processed yogurts, and other snacks can be appealing, especially if your child isn’t eating due to pain. But flares are a time your child desperately needs proper nutrition. What’s more, jaw flares may mean your child isn’t brushing as well, so extra sugar should be avoided.
A better solution is to do a bit of DIY. Using a food processor, you can often make your own fruit sorbet, smoothies, and milkshakes at home with products such as fresh fruit. If you don’t have the time or resources to make things yourself, check the ingredients and nutrition facts while shopping to make sure the sugar content is acceptable.
Breakfast tends to be the easiest meal to cope with. Most people think of scrambled eggs, which can be a good start. Throwing in small bits of vegetables such as peppers or onions (thoroughly sautéed) can help keep things interesting. If your child is adventurous, they may even like eggs with avocado! Oatmeal — cooked thoroughly so it’s nice and soft — is also a great option. Bananas, while a good soft food option, should be pre-cut or mashed. Very thin slices of banana in a bowl of milk or yogurt makes a delicious “cereal” too.
Lunchtime can get tricky, but some school lunch classics are jaw-friendly. For less severe flares, white and rye bread are good options. Packing an open-faced jam sandwich (peanut butter can be hard to chew) with a cup of applesauce, jello, or yogurt is a great lunch. A thermos of tomato soup with some cheddar sprinkled on top also holds well for school.
Thankfully, some childhood favorites are soft foods. All sorts of pasta are usually OK during jaw flares. Your child will be relieved to hear that macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and chicken noodle soup are OK for less severe pain. During times I wasn’t able to take big bites because of pain, I opted for things such as orzo, pastina, and SpaghettiOs.
Besides pasta, there are many other soft dinner foods. While your child might not care much for vegetables, it’s worth mentioning that butternut squash, mashed sweet potatoes, and other mashed or steamed vegetables are great options. Most soups and chilis are also OK, but be prepared to blend it down if it has large chunks. White rice is also a good option; throw in some steamed vegetables (never raw during a flare!) cut thinly, and you have a stir fry the entire family can enjoy.
Mealtime during flares can take a bit of extra planning, but overall, it’s doable. Most soft food meals are extremely easy to prepare. With a bit of work, you can often find something that will coax your child to eat. Of course, this article shouldn’t be your guide; your child’s rheumatologist or dentist might have their own set of instructions. If a flare is particularly severe, your child may be restricted to liquids and need nutritional substitutions, but this is up to the doctor.
While I did my best to offer a variety of meal options, I certainly didn’t touch on every appropriate food. Take this as an opportunity to experiment a little in the kitchen with your child. In addition to finding new things to try, you’ll probably have fun, too.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.