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Ok, it’s Saturday and you have control over your kid’(s)’ meals all day but it is also a day with some running around in it. So you want to keep it simple, also reasonable price-wise. (Those unplanned museum or public attraction snack bar meals add up cashwise!) Let’s say the meals fed to the kids wind up looking like this:

Breakfast:

  • Bowl of honey nut cheerios and milk
  • Strawberries or sliced apple.

Lunch:

  • Individual pizza, cheese or pepperoni
  • Sliced carrots or red peppers
  • Potato chips
  • Oreos or Cakester

Afternoon Snack

  • Pretzels and Hummus
  • Milk or juice

Dinner

  • Mac and Cheese (TJ’s or Stoeffers frozen)
  • Chicken Frank
  • Steamed Broccoli

Looking that over, you know it could be better but it could be worse too. You’ve gotten veggies and fruit in there and you’ve gotten the children out for exercise so there’s nothing to be ashamed of. In a perfect world they’d be eating the same dinner you’re eating, etc. but that will improve in time. But here’s what they’re getting way too much of: salt. The day I put this in front of my daughter I have helped her to ingest approximately 3,200 milligrams of sodium – three times more than she should be getting. Grown-ups without any issues around sodium intake are okay with their allowance of 2,000 mg, but kids are supposed to get more like 1,200 mg per day.

Now I know I’ve been a bit of a broken record about salt and cutting back on it – I did claim it was going to be one of ‘my things’ – but it occurs to me that I haven’t really taken the time to tell you why. We probably know that as an adult, high sodium levels in the diet can lead to or exacerbate high blood pressure and heart disease. Pregnant women have to watch out for too much salt. But kids? Well, like a lot of things, it’s about setting up good patterns and bad. Besides the fact that more kids are now turning up with high blood pressure than in previous generations, I have to think that programming our kids’ palates for extreme saltiness is not going to be good for them in the long run. Hey, not that long ago I used to salt pizza. Habits can change, but our kids are still setting theirs. So while we still have some control over what they are eating we should set up better opportunities to love the taste of of food unmasked. We’re probably already explaining to kids why they can’t have so many sweets, but salt just isn’t as much on peoples’ radar screens when it comes to excess amounts and RDA’s.

Here is an excerpt from my favorite article that came up from my google search “Why is too much salt bad for kids?” It’s from the UK’s SuperNanny Team:.

Why salt can be bad

Some people think it’s just the elderly who need to watch their salt intake, as it makes them more prone to strokes from high blood pressure. But what children eat now can have a huge effect on their health later in life. A high salt intake may mean high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney stones, heart disease and strokes. Osteoporosis and kidney stones have even been detected in children – proving salt intake is a problem for their present as well as future health.

Research has even suggested that a high salt consumption can aggravate asthma. It was shown that a reduction in salt was associated with an improvement in symptoms of asthma. So although salt is not a direct cause, it seems a high intake can act as an aggravating factor.Some companies are taking notice of parent’s concerns and have begun to reduce the salt levels in manufactured foods. But ultimately, the responsibility lies with parents.

The final words of Professor MacGregor should bring hope to any parent wanting to change their children’s taste: “Weaning children off salty foods may take a little while. They may reject less salty foods to start with, but the tastebuds will soon adjust, if you persevere, and soon your kids will reject salty food because it tastes so horrible.” 

Now I feel better that I’ve put some hard facts out there. As for the health risks, I forgot about the kidney stones. I had my brush with them in college, my senior year. It hurt so much that I left the library doubled over to cower in my dorm room until I could make a phone call to the University Health Center. I had to tell them that, no, I wouldn’t be able to walk up there and a van came to fetch me. Never before or since had I been in that degree of pain – at one point I hovered on the floor of my room on all fours ready to bark like a dog in case it might help.  I have a kid now and hate to think of her going through this in her dorm room because she was habitually too cheap to buy beverages when eating pizza or whatever out at college haunts all the time like I was!

But I digress, let’s look at the food list again with the sodium values attached:

Breakfast:

  • Bowl of honey nut cheerios and milk (160mg/125mg milk)
  • Strawberries or sliced apple. (negligible)

Lunch:

  • Individual pizza, cheese or pepperoni (810 or 1020 mg w/ pepperoni)
  • Sliced carrots or red peppers (negligible)
  • Lays Potato chips (160mg or 90mg for kettle cooked)
  • Oreos or Cakester (200 mg)

Afternoon Snack

  • Pretzels and Hummus (580 mg)

Dinner

  • Mac and Cheese (TJ’s or Stoeffers) (590 mg)
  • Chicken Frank (550 mg)
  • Steamed Broccoli (negligible)

We know that the strawberries, carrots, peppers and steamed broccoli on the list are always going to be a freebie for any of us, and we should be eating more of those things because they keep us further from sugar, fat and salt we’d mostly rather be eating. Pretzels are pretty salty making the hummus snack not as virtuous as it appears (try carrots!). Potato chips have less sodium than a glass of milk, depending on the brand of chips. I think of potato chips as an up-front salt, an honest, old-fashioned option if you’re not watching fat too closely yet. Once you start getting into the flavored potato chips like sour cream and onion or cheddar and brightly adulterated tortilla chips, that’s when sodium adds up in a hurry – chemicals and preservatives too. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that soups and breads are more salty than we think, but you’d still do better to substitute bread or rolls to go with the hot dog and skip the mac and cheese – at least not serve both in the same meal. It’s hard to throw together homemade pizza at the drop of a hat but cheese quesadillas deliver the same satisfaction, probably, at about 480 mg, or you can do what a friend of mine does – she gets a bag of pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and will make quasi homemade pizza for a fun dinner.

My top tips for lowering salt in the food you’re serving:

  • keep the salt shakers off the table if you can get away with that and don’t keep a salt shaker by the oven range
  • purchase lower sodium soy sauce (the green bottle)
  • buy unsalted butter
  • check nutrition labels for canned veggies like green beans and tomatoes, some are quite high in sodium, some not
  • ditto with cold cuts, the organic or natural ones are generally lower in sodium
  • put salt front and center where it belongs like on popcorn or special occasion snacks but avoid the sweet’n’sour seesaw of salty processed sweets  (check the labels)
  • buy high-end bacon that’s dry cured or uncured, if you use it, it’s less salty
  • make more homemade stuff, especially soups, salad dressings and any sauces you’re putting on chicken, beef or pork.
Now that I know I’ve been clear and more thoroughly explained my stand about salt in our diets I’ll get off my soapbox for today. I’ll just also mention that the Lance Armstrong Foundation has good information in an article on its site LiveStrong about how salt works in the body, why we need it but not too much of it. Oh, and as long as you’ve made it to the end of this juggernaut, go and do yourself a favor for me – drink a glass of water! It does a body good.
Janice
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