Childhood Diets – Ideal vs. Reality

Young school children eating lunch together at a table

According to the CDC, 9 in 10 children consume more than the recommended daily allowance of sodium. Here’s how to reverse the trend before it’s too late.

Key Takeaways:

  • 9 in 10 children aged between ages 6 and 18 eat more sodium than is recommended for their age.
  • 1 in 6 American children between ages 8 and 17 have elevated blood pressure, which can be reduced by consuming less sodium. 
  • Parents, schools, and government agencies need to work together to improve children’s eating habits

Soda, candy, and chips may be tempting and delicious, but they’re also a gateway to chronic conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, when given the choice, most kids will opt for these salty treats over fruits and vegetables. With a little guidance from responsible adults, however, children can not only enjoy a healthy and balanced diet but also discover how tasty and fun it can be to make more responsible food choices. Read on to find out how to get your kids involved in the low-sodium lifestyle.

Recommended sodium intake for children

There are many reasons why children consume more sodium than they should. For one thing, junk food companies spend millions of dollars each year to market unhealthy foods to young people. For another, parents are often unaware of how much is too much when it comes to sodium intake. Here’s a breakdown of the CDC’s recommended sodium limits for children: 

Age            Maximum Limit
1-3 years          1,200 mg
4-8 years          1,500 mg
9-13 years        1,800 mg
14-18 years      2,300 mg

For context, an 8-oz. bag of potato chips has almost 1,200 mg of sodium, so it’s easy to see how kids can quickly overshoot their ideal sodium intake if they aren’t careful. And they generally aren’t.

Most children make poor diet choices without proper guidance

With 9 out of every 10 American children consuming more sodium than they should, it’s not shocking to learn that 1 in every 6 of them has elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure in children is likely to be carried into adulthood and increases the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. The CDC reports that one adult in the U.S. dies every 34 seconds due to cardiovascular issues. Reducing children’s dietary salt intake can therefore be lifesaving. 

Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. Place two bowls in front of a group of children, one full of broccoli and the other full of candy, and you’re going to end up with a lot of leftover broccoli. Why? Here are four factors that contribute to unhealthy food choices in children.

1. Parents

In today’s fast-paced digital world, many parents are too busy to stop and eat a healthy meal themselves, much less get one for their kids. Parents also don’t often have the time and energy to argue over food choices every single day. So in many homes, children more-or-less have free rein to eat whatever snacks they want anytime they want. Without proper guidance, children are more inclined to make unhealthy food choices, including high-sodium snacks and sugary foods. It’s no surprise, then, that close to 1 in 5 children in the U.S. are obese.

2. Marketing

When was the last time you saw a food company spending millions of dollars to advertise broccoli and carrot sticks? Yet these companies spend over $2 billion each year on ads targeted at children – ads that make unhealthy foods look appealing. This includes gimmicks, like associating snacks with favorite cartoon characters, that make children want unhealthy foods even before they’ve tasted them. 

3. Schools

Children spend a lot of time in school, so they can get up to 50% of their caloric intake from school meals. It’s probably not surprising, then, that a 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that children in states with strict school meal nutritional standards had lower obesity rates. 

Unfortunately, a majority of schools don’t prepare their meals from scratch but instead opt for frozen meals which they heat before serving. Not only do frozen meals tend to come up short in terms of nutritional value, they’re also typically packed with sodium

4. Time and Money

Preparing a meal from scratch takes time, and fresh ingredients are likely to cost more, depending on where you purchase them. And even when you eat out, it’s more convenient and less expensive to run by a drive-thru than to sit down in a full-service restaurant for a freshly prepared meal. 

In fact, unhealthy foods always appear to be the easy way out until you consider the long-term ramifications. How much does it cost to manage obesity, diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease? That’s the real cost of making unhealthy food choices.

What does an ideal childhood diet look like?

Most parents have a rough idea of what the ideal childhood diet should look like. The challenge lies in executing it. Here’s a recap of the dos and don’ts of childhood meals.

  • Choose healthy proteins such as lean meat, soy products, and unsalted nuts
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables 
  • Choose whole grains
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Avoid foods and beverages with added sugar
  • Avoid foods with saturated fats such as pizzas, burgers, and burritos
  • Avoid salty snacks

Join the low-sodium revolution with Salt Me!

Kids (and adults, too!) love salty chips, which are, unfortunately, one of the easiest ways to load up on excess sodium. Is there a way out?

Salt Me! potato chips are flavored with MicroSalt® crystals that contain half the sodium and double the flavor of regular salt. This isn’t a salt substitute, but rather a more heart-healthy version of the real thing! Tiny MicroSalt® crystals have the same taste as regular salt, but they have been specially engineered to deliver 50% less sodium, making them a healthier choice. The particles are 100 times smaller and have great adhesion properties, ensuring that you get a full burst of flavor instantly. 

Contact MicroSalt® today

We’re dedicated to creating a new food paradigm where great taste and good health go hand-in-hand. MicroSalt® is the proud global winner of the P&G Alumni Network’s 2021 Star Entrepreneur Award, and we’re here to help make low-sodium healthy eating – and healthy living – a reality. Simply contact us via our message page, connect with one of our international offices, or call 1-877-825-0655 to learn more.

More To Explore

Scroll to Top