Sodium and kids: how can schools help kids eat healthy?
School age children need between 1200 – 1500 mg of sodium (salt) per day. The upper limit is 2300 mg per day. (The upper limit is the highest level likely to not cause harm; it is not a recommended level of intake). Too much salt can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease.
Processed foods often contain a lot of sodium. The chart below shows the sodium content of some typical hot lunch items.
|Food||Approximate amount of Sodium (mg)|
|Fast food 4 pc chicken strips and fries||2500|
|1 – 540 mL can ready to eat hearty soup||1400 – 1700|
|1 – 85 g package of instant noodles||800 – 2100|
|1 – 425 g can pasta and beef in tomato sauce||1000 – 1400|
|1 small personal pepperoni pizza||900 – 1450|
|Fast food grilled chicken wrap||800 – 1300|
|Fast food chicken fries||850|
|Fast food 10 chicken nuggets||750|
|Fast food regular cheeseburger||600 – 700|
|1 microwave mac and cheese||580|
|3 slices (2 oz) of sliced sandwich meat (e.g. ham, chicken or turkey breast)||450-500|
The amount of salt found in many of these choices exceeds the recommended amount of sodium for the whole day! How can you support kids to eat healthier? Start by offering less of the highly processed foods. Some healthier options for lunches are:
- Sandwiches made with roasted meats
- Whole wheat wraps made with eggs or roasted meats
- Homemade hamburger soup
- Pizzas made with whole wheat pitas and vegetables.
You can further decrease sodium in foods offered at lunch with these tips:
- Check the nutrition info on the restaurant menu items and choose the healthier options
- Limit how often higher sodium foods are offered
- Offer smaller portions of high sodium foods
- Get grilled meats if possible instead of the higher fat and salt processed options
- Skip the fries, offer raw vegetables or canned fruit as a side
- Choose whole grains (whole wheat or whole grain pasta, buns or pizza crust) where possible
An occasional less healthy food choice will not have a huge impact on a child’s health. However, frequent consumption due to increased availability of less healthy choices does add up. Schools can role model healthy eating by making the healthy choice the easy choice for kids!
To help follow and support your district’s healthy eating policy, check out the Alberta Health Services Healthy Eating at School resources. If you have questions or need more information contact your local public health dietitians.
Pat MacIntosh is a Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org