For healthier lunches, say so-long to sodium

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 26th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s no surprise that most children tend to prefer less-than-healthy food. Hence the prevalence of items such as pizza, chicken nuggets and French fries in most school cafeterias.

The federal government wants to encourage kids to make better choices. So it is cracking down on school lunches, banning trans-fats, requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting milk to low-fat or nonfat varieties.

But the one regulation that’s likely to make the kiddos howl? Reducing sodium.

So next time someone asks you to pass the salt shaker, consider this: The new USDA guidelines call for school lunches to contain more than six-hundred and thirty-six to seven-hundred and thirty-six milligrams of sodium. Breakfasts are limited to between four-hundred and thirty-five and four-hundred and ninety-five milligrams, depending on the age of the child. The new guidelines are based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine.

School dietitians say that’s going to mean a drastic change. Not only do children tend to like salty foods, salt is the ingredient that makes food taste better. In fact, teens eat more salt than anyone else: about three-thousand, eight-hundred milligrams per day, according to the American Heart Association. The typical school lunch today contains an average of one-thousand six-hundred milligrams of sodium.

Under the new guidelines, students in the Tampa Bay area will have to say so long to the ham, egg and cheese biscuit that’s currently served in school cafeterias. It has nearly eighteen hundred milligrams of sodium. Likewise the grilled cheese and tomato soup, which packs about thirteen hundred milligrams.

The good news is the new restrictions will be phased in over the next decade. That should give children more than enough time to adjust to the less-salty offerings.