Helping Kids Eat Less Sodium

happy children sitting at a lunch table at school eating

Sodium is a mineral found in table salt. Adults and children need some sodium, however, most of us eat more than double the recommended amount.  Even young children aged 1 to 3 are eating too much sodium.   Most of the sodium children eat is found in processed foods, packaged foods, ready-to-eat foods, fast foods and restaurant meals.

How much sodium is OK for children?

Use the chart below to help you find the amount of sodium that your child should consume.  Keep this number in mind when you read food labels or restaurant nutrition information.   

Try not to have more than

This is equal to about

Children 1-3 years

1500 mg/day

2/3 teaspoon of table salt

Children 4-8 years

1900 mg/day

¾ teaspoon of table salt

Children 9-13 years

2200 mg/day

1 teaspoon of table salt

Teens 14+

2300 mg/day

1 teaspoon of table salt

What foods and drinks are high in sodium?

Over 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods such as deli meats, pizza, sauces and soups. Packaged and ready-to-eat foods, fast foods and restaurant meals are often high in sodium. Here is a list of some common foods that are high in sodium: 

  • Canned or packaged convenience foods: packaged lunch meals, boxed macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli, frozen dinners and pizzas, fish sticks, chicken nuggets
  • Fast foods: hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, breaded chicken and fish
  • Salted snack foods: chips, pretzels, crackers, popcorn, trail mix, salted nuts, sour candy
  • Condiments and sauces: ketchup, mustard, pickles, relish, soy sauce
  • Processed meats: hot dogs, sausages, bacon, deli meats
  • Processed cheese and cheese spreads

Should I limit the amount of sodium my children have?

Yes. Too much sodium can lead to a preference for salty foods. Salty foods are also often high in fat and calories.  These foods may replace nutritious foods that children need to grow and be healthy. Too much sodium in childhood can also increase the risk of high blood pressure later in life.  High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.  Do your best to offer your child healthy foods that are lower in sodium.  It is fine for children to enjoy higher sodium foods once in a while especially when they are offered along with a variety of healthy foods.

What do I look for on the nutrition label?

Look for lower sodium versions of foods like tuna, crackers, soups and sauces.  Use these label reading tips to help you select lower sodium foods

  • Look for words like “sodium free”, “low sodium”, “reduced sodium” or “no added salt” on the package.
  • Use the % Daily Value (%DV) on the label to compare products and see if a food has a little or a lot of sodium.  Look for foods with a sodium content of less than 15% DV. For more information on % Daily Value view this video

What are some healthier food and drinks for my children?

Cooking at home is a great way to lower the amount of sodium that your child eats. Use the chart below for lower sodium meal ideas that your children will love. 


  • Oatmeal or almond coconut granola with milk or yogurt and berries
  • 100% whole grain bread with “natural” peanut butter or nut butters (made with nuts only) and banana
  • Egg sandwich:  100% whole wheat bagel, egg, mozzarella cheese and tomato


  • Lower sodium tuna or egg salad sandwich on 100% whole grain bread, vegetable sticks and yogurt
  • Low sodium canned or homemade chicken vegetable soup served with 100% whole wheat crackers (unsalted) and orange wedges
  • Yummy quinoa lunch with cherry tomatoes and milk


  • Homemade grilled chicken breast on a 100% whole grain bun served with baked sweet potato fries
  • Salmon kebabs, grilled vegetables with balsamic vinegar and basmati rice
  • Spaghetti with homemade vegetable and meat pasta sauce served with garden salad made with homemade oil and vinegar dressing
  • Thai curry turkey in a whole wheat pita served with yogurt


  • 100% whole wheat crackers (unsalted) and cheddar cheese
  • Fresh vegetable sticks and hummus
  • Fresh fruit and yogurt
  • Homemade cookies or muffins with a glass of milk
  • Unsalted popcorn and a cheese stick

You may also be interested in

Get the Scoop on Salt
Top 10 Lower Sodium Choices
Recipe Makeover:  Reducing sodium in the kitchen
Cut out the Salt

Last Update – May 16, 2018

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