Salt for Kids

When the editors at asked for my input on this New York Times article question, “Is it safe to add salt to a 5-year-old’s food?” my initial gut reaction is yes, everything in moderation. With that being said, the American Heart Association recommends that children limit sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. If we ignore salt all together, Americans are getting more than enough sodium through processed foods and convenience items. But how much? The chart below shows how much sodium can be snuck into common products found in our refrigerator and pantry shelves.

ProductServing SizeSodium
Chicken Nuggets4 nuggets430-500 mg
14” Pizza1 slice640-700 mg
Chicken Noodle Soup½ cup890 mg
Tomato Sauce½ cup480-600 mg
Happy Meal1 meal580 mg
Broccoli with cheese sauce2/3 cup430-600 mg

If a child were to consume all of the above items in a given day, his sodium intake would clock in at 3,870 mg, which is way beyond what is recommended for salt for kids. Another point to keep in mind, these foods found above are convenience items.  The products come in a jar, package, or in the frozen department. Therefore, we don’t realize how much sodium is being consumed. The saltshaker contributes to our overall intake.

The recent New York Times article, “Should You Salt a Child’s Food”, discusses the pro’s and con’s to using extra salt for kids. Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, is quoted in the article saying that adding a pinch of salt to foods can also be a useful tool to condition children to like nutritious — yet bitter — foods, like broccoli or cauliflower. Although salt can alter the flavor of food, “just a pinch” can add a large amount of sodium that may have you thinking twice. Remember we mentioned earlier, one teaspoon of table salt accounts for 2,300 mg of sodium! That means if you use 1 tsp. of table salt, it accounts for your entire recommended daily intake and is on the high end of your child’s daily-recommended amount.

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Okay, so now you are probably thinking, “I don’t want my food to taste bland and boring.” I totally agree with you. As a registered dietitian who has hosted countless cooking classes, my number-one goal is to teach other how to prepare food that is good for you but actually tastes good, too. Nobody likes to eat food that doesn’t taste good; it doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child!

So, what do I recommend? Crack open your spice cabinet and dust off the bottles. Don’t feel confident seasoning your food? There are tons of spices on the market do the work for you. Mrs. Dash seasonings are all 100% sodium free! You can use large quantities of her spice blends without adding any additional sodium into your dishes. McCormick also has a few sodium-free spice blends on the market. In addition to their products, their online recipe portal has hundreds of healthy recipes created by their in-house dietitian.

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So, is it safe to salt our children’s food? In summary, we need everything in moderation, including sodium. The foods that our children are consuming contain a sufficient amount of sodium. Using the saltshaker can cause the sodium levels to add up quickly. Does that mean we have to throw out the saltshaker? Absolutely not, but it is smart to be conscience of how much sodium we are consuming. Familiarize yourself with reading product labels. The supermarkets carry a large variety of salt-free alternative products that use natural herbs and spices that contribute nutritional benefits versus sodium.

– By Samantha Pappas, RD, LDN, CPT, Dietitians of Palm Valley


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