Once your child is eating solids, you can begin experimenting with different kids snacks and meals. And, as much as we know that preparing snacks and meals using fresh ingredients is the healthiest way to go, most of us also buy — at least some of the time — jarred baby food and other kinds of ready-made meals and snacks.
Given the popularity of packaged foods, even for older babies, toddlers and preschoolers, I want to share some information I came across the other day. There was an article in my local newspaper about high levels of sodium (the main ingredient in salt) contained in many ready-made kids snacks and meals.
Here is what I learned:
- Babies, toddlers and children require lower amounts of sodium than adults. [2-3] This, of course, is intuitive — they’re much smaller than us. But how much should small children be getting? Well, the American Heart Association has historically recommended that sodium intake should not exceed 1,000 mg for every 1,000 calories of food consumed. This translates into the following general guideline for what the maximum amount of sodium intake should be for the following age groups: 
- 1-3 years = 800-1000 mg of sodium/day
- 4-6 years = 1000-1200 mg of sodium/day
- 7-10 years = 1500-2000 mg of sodium/day
- 11 years+ = 1500-2300 mg of sodium/day
I found a handy reference table on the Mayo Clinic website which gives a good breakdown of these guidelines. This site also gives the daily intake guidelines for a number of other nutrients (like fiber, protein, etc.) at different ages.
NB. In January 2010, the American Heart Association modified its recommendation about maximum sodium intake. The new recommendation is that everyone reduce the amount of sodium in their diet to less than 1,500 mg per day. This new guideline hopes to reduce the rate of high blood pressure in the population.
- According to the American Heart Association, 97 percent of all children in the U.S. are eating too much salt (sodium chloride). In addition, most of the sodium we consume does NOT come from adding salt to food. Rather, we are getting it from the various kinds of processed foods we eat, including packaged kids snacks and meals.
NB. We cannot always tell whether something has high or low sodium by taste alone (i.e., a food that doesn’t necessarily have to taste salty to have high sodium levels.) This simply means that it is important to always read the nutrition label on any packaged or processed food we might be purchasing for our kids snacks or meals.
- The newspaper article I read highlighted a few products designed for babies/toddlers that have extremely high sodium levels (at least according to how they are made for sale in Canada). They are:
- Parent’s Choice (Walmart Brand) My Little Meals Shells & Cheese with Frankfurters — 520 mg of sodium per serving
- Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Lil’ Entrees Macaroni and Cheese with peas and carrots — 520 mg of sodium per serving
- Heinz Toddler Vegetables, Beef, & Pasta Casserole — 470 mg of sodium per jar
- Heinz Toddler Beef Stroganoff — 420 mg of sodium per jar
- Gerber Graduates Lil’ Entrees Chicken and Pasta Wheel Pick Ups — 550 mg of sodium per serving
The bottom line? for me, it’s a big reminder to read the nutrition labels on all packaged food items I buy.
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Sources for this article on kids snacks:
1. Cross, Allison. “Prepared toddler meals slammed for high sodium content,” The Calgary Herald, February 3, 2010. Accessed at www.calgaryherald.com/story_print.html?id=2513638&sponsor=
2. American Heart Association. Located at http://www.americanheart.org. Accessed February 8, 2010.
3. Canadian Stroke Network. “2010 Canadian ‘Salt Lick Award’ goes to Gerber Graduates. February 2, 2010. Located at http://www.canadianstrokenetwork.ca/eng/news/downloads/releases/release.feb2.2010.e.pdf
4. The Mayo Clinic.com. “Nutrition for Kids.” Located at www.mayoclinic.com/health/nutrition-for-kids/nu00606. Accessed February 8, 2010.