Processed convenience foods and quick takeout meals make meal and snack time quick and easy for us busy parents – but is it always the best choice for the health of our little ones? While convenient and tasty these foods are also responsible for adding alarming amounts of sodium to our children’s diets. A new study in the JAND found that 89% of kids’ sodium intake exceeds current recommendations of no more than 2,300 mg—by a whopping 40%—regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or weight! Researchers found that the primary sources of sodium are convenient, store-bought, processed foods, with fast food and pizza restaurants as the next biggest source. The foods piling on most of that sodium are pizza, Mexican foods like tacos and burritos, sandwiches including burgers and hot dogs, bread, lunchmeat, soup, salty snacks like chips and pretzels, cheese, milk, and chicken. Salt is added to all of these foods during processing, except for milk, which naturally contains sodium (1).
Why is too much salt a problem?
One in nine school-aged children has higher-than-average blood pressure. High blood pressure as a child increases their risk of high blood pressure as an adult, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease—the number one killer in the United States. Lowering sodium intake can reduce blood pressure, thereby decreasing that risk. Because childhood is when many taste preferences are formed, it is important to reduce children’s salt intake now while they’re forming lifelong habits (1). We all know the longer a habit is around the harder it is to break – so let’s stop it before it becomes a problem!
What you can do:
Reducing salt consumption will allow kids to develop an appreciation for the way foods naturally taste. It’s easy to start cutting back on salt today. Here’s how:
• Compare labels. This week at the grocery store look for low-sodium versions of your favorite packaged foods. If not advertised on the package front, take a quick look at the Nutrition Facts label. Compare the sodium content of different brands, keeping an eye on portion sizes, and choose the lower sodium option. Aim for less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
• Pizza party! With pizza as the biggest offender, make pizza a special weekly treat instead of an everyday lunch or go-to dinner. Order it with light cheese. When you have the time, have a pizza-making-night at home with the kids. Buy a whole wheat pre-made crust or make your own. Let your kids spread out low-sodium sauce, sprinkle on the low-sodium cheese, and choose which fresh vegetables and herbs to put on, like sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, and garlic.
• It’s snack time! Swap out pretzels and chips with fresh fruit and string cheese or nuts without salt for a quick, grab-and-go snack. You don’t even need a baggie to pack an apple or pear, and you don’t even have to wash a banana! Additionally, at the beginning of the week wash and cut veggies like carrots, celery, jicama, radishes, cauliflower, or broccoli and put it front-and-center in the fridge where your kids will see it first, making it more likely your kids will grab that. Feeling creative? Try making your own sweet potato or veggie chips with herbs instead of salt for flavor.
• Dining out. Even when we’re too busy to cook, we can make healthy choices to reduce sodium. When eating out, make fries, bread, or chips an occasional side item. The rest of the time ask the server to hold onto the bread and chips and order a salad or fresh steamed veggies for the family to share or slice up some fruit instead.
Choose two of these ideas to try this week. Don’t let your kids’ complaining about “No fries?!” stop you from doing what you know will help them grow into the healthy adults you’re raising them to be. Continue to offer healthy choices, and they’ll adjust. Kids are remarkably adaptable, and you’ll be teaching them heart-healthy habits they’ll take with them in the future.
Learn more ways to cut down on sodium.