It’s safe to say that at one time, all of us had a toddler in our households or were a toddler ourselves. Many of you reading the Salty Scoop are probably caring for a toddler right now. And I’m sure that you are working hard to help your little one thrive. After all, many healthy habits can be formed in childhood – you have the power to set your child on a healthy path for life!
One of the ways that you can do that is by providing healthy, nutritious food because our taste preferences are shaped by what we eat early in life. That’s why it’s concerning to see the results of a new study released today in the journal Pediatrics. It found that a majority of toddler dinners surveyed were high in sodium. There wasn’t a big difference in sodium if the meal was organic or a popular brand versus a store brand, the researchers said. Parents may think that foods for young children are held to a higher nutritional standard, but the study results suggest that this assumption is not necessarily true.
Researchers looked at the sodium and sugar content of almost 1,100 infant and toddler foods and drinks. The products for infants (up to 12 months old) were almost all low in sodium. It was the foods aimed at toddlers (12 to 36 months old) that were a concern for sodium. Three-quarters of those products were high in sodium, defined as having more than 210 milligrams (mg) sodium per serving. On average, the toddler meals had about 360 mg of sodium. The survey was based on 2012 data, so it wouldn’t account for any ingredient changes – like lowering the salt and sugar - that might have been made to the products between now and then.
The toddler dinners highest in sodium tended to be things like pasta with sauce, macaroni and cheese, or chicken and pasta. This is not surprising, because sodium is often added to all of those foods. The highest-sodium product in the survey had 950 milligrams. The maximum amount of sodium that children ages 1 to 3 years old should eat is 1,500 mg for the whole day.
About 80 percent of children in this age group already eat more than that maximum amount, which puts them at risk for high blood pressure earlier in life. Already 1 in 6 U.S. children 8 to 17 years old has pre-high blood pressure or full blown high blood pressure. This makes them more likely to get high blood pressure as adults, so it’s important to start preventing it early.
As a parent, future parent, or caregiver for young children, what can you do to set them up for a healthier future? Here are 4 tips:
- Compare nutrition labels of similar products while grocery shopping and choose the one with the lowest sodium. Sodium content can vary a lot, even in similar foods.
- Involve children when you’re preparing healthy meals. Try some of our kid-friendly recipes.
- Support changes that will lead to healthier meals in child care centers and schools. Ask your child care center if they have nutrition standards for the foods that are served. The American Heart Association’s Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children are a good guide.
- Take the pledge to reduce the sodium you eat and get started with some of our tips to cut back. Your healthy habits can influence the children who are eating with you.
Are you surprised to find out that many toddler foods are high in sodium? What else can parents and caregivers do to help young children avoid sodium traps in their food?