How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)
Too much salt is dangerous for kids’ health. Kids today eat far more salt than is healthy for them. Yesterday we looked at some ways to avoid eating too much salt and to reduce the amount of salt in your kids’ diets. Today we will look at a few more really important strategies to keep your kids from eating too much salt.
Read Nutritional Labels
Learn how to read nutritional labels and teach your kids, too. Look for the line that says “sodium” and choose the lowest sodium option. Look for foods with no added salt or low sodium labels. Try to select foods with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food. You will be surprised at how quickly the amount of sodium in what you eat adds up over the course of a day! The Heart Foundation recommends that 4-8 year olds consume only 300-600mg of sodium per day. Once you start reading nutrition labels, you will be surprised how quickly your child hits that upper limit!
Make Avoiding Salt a Game
Make avoiding high sodium foods a fun game for kids. It is a great tool for teaching math skills, too. Have kids help you plan meals with less salt, and get them to help you when you are grocery shopping. Have them add up the amount of salt in each ingredient for each meal of the day. Then talk about the amount of salt they will be eating each day and how to lower it. Make a competition to see which child can come up with the lowest sodium meal plan for a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, with the prize being that those will be the meals served that week.
Avoid High Sodium Processed & Restaurant Foods
Did you know that 43% of the salt kids eat comes from just 10 types of food? That’s right! Pizza, bread/rolls, cold cuts/cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties/nuggets, mixed pasta dishes, mixed Mexican dishes, and soups account for 43% of the sodium kids consume. Some of these foods most of us recognize as salty food items: salty ham cold cuts, pizza, cheese, and potato chips are all foods we recognize as super salty. Some foods, we might not think of as high in salt until we really give it some thought, like pasta dishes, Mexican food, and soup.
But at least one of these items comes as a surprise to most people: bread. Bread is often very high in both sugar and salt. Bread is very easy to make at home. If you are wary of making your own bread, investing in a bread machine will really pay off in the long run. A loaf of bread that costs several dollars in the store costs just cents at home, and you can control what goes into it – no preservatives, low salt, low sugar, and whole wheat flour, plus the option to add seeds or dried fruit!
Some processed foods contain salt when they do not even need to. One of the most common culprits is peanut butter. Peanut butter marketed to kids in brightly colored containers is often full of salt, sugar, and oil. None of these things is necessary to make peanut butter taste good! Get a high quality organic pure peanut or almond butter. Some stores now even offer to let you make the peanut butter yourself on the spot using a special machine. If so, let your child participate, perhaps choosing which nut butter they want (if multiple options are available) and letting them pull the lever or press the start/stop button.
Another processed food high in sodium is the sandwich meat we often give our kids for lunch. Cold cuts and preserved meats are generally very high in salt content. If you do want your child eating a meat sandwich, make some extra meat with dinner and use that instead. For instance, make a sandwich with sliced turkey or chicken breast that has been cooked in a healthy way, rather than using salty sliced deli meats.
Be aware of other processed foods that often contain a lot of salt as a preservative. Canned food is often high in salt and/or sugar. Consider replacing canned vegetables with frozen vegetables, which should not have any additives. Avoid other canned convenience foods like soups or beans, which use salt to preserve them, and if you do buy canned vegetables or bean, rinse them off with fresh water before cooking or serving. Food in jars often faces the same problem, as salt and sugar are used to preserve foods at room temperature.
Also avoid eating high sodium foods in restaurants and fast food joints. If you request it, these establishments should be able to give you the nutritional information for their products before you order. Then choose one of the lower sodium options. You can also ask that no salt be added to your food during cooking. And definitely do not add extra salt to your dish even if there is a salt shaker on the table! If you think this may be a temptation for your child, ask the waiter to remove it.
Simply by switching to lower sodium options and not adding salt to home cooking, you can dramatically reduce your child’s salt intake. Making this switch does not have to be that difficult. Just cook as you always have, but take the salt shaker off the table and stop adding salt to your food. At first the foods may seem a bit bland, but as your taste buds adapt you will really enjoy the flavors of the foods themselves. It only takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adapt! For processed foods, check labels to choose lower sodium options, or scan them with a smartphone app like FoodSwitch that list healthier alternatives.