To celebrate Salt Awareness Week (14th-20th March), we asked our nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed about salt intake for babies and toddlers, and how to add flavour without adding salt.
Children under 1 should be having no more than 1g of salt a day. That’s less than ¼ of a teaspoon and so not a large amount. Salt (or sodium) naturally occurs in foods such as fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products so you don’t need to add any salt to your baby or toddler’s food.
Adding salt to your little one’s food can actually encourage a taste for salt early on and we know that adults’ intakes are linked to high blood pressure, so ideally we want young children to enjoy all the flavours of food without the need to add salt.
Here are my Top Tips to keep salt intake low:
Always read the label: Some foods are very high in salt. These foods include processed meats, olives, cheese, sauces such as ketchup & mayonnaise, stock cubes & gravy, marmite, butter, and smoked meat & fish. Other foods that can be variable but do usually contain moderate amounts of salt include shop-bought soups and sauces, bread, hummus, pizzas and some breakfast cereals, so always check the label and try to offer lower salt options to baby and avoid offering anything ‘high’ in salt too often or at all.
Remember that low salt is anything that has 0.3g of salt or less per 100g, and high salt is anything that has 1.5g of salt or more per 100g.
Get cooking: When possible, make your sauces, pizzas and dips at home. A lot of pre-prepared sauces are high in salt and sugar so you may be surpassing your child’s daily intake without even realising. I always freeze leftover sauces as they’re great to have on hand when you need a speedy supper.
I also love making homemade pizzas with Raffy and Ada rather than buying shop-bought options, which can be high in salt. These Easy Pitta Pizzas are lots of fun to make and you can add your own yummy veg toppings too.
Use natural flavourings: Fruits and veggies have so many unique flavours, let kids enjoy what these really taste like. I also love flavouring kids’ food in other exciting ways: Citrus juices like lime and lemon are great for adding flavour into meals. For example, squeeze some fresh lime on some avocado for a lovely flavour combination or try adding lemon juice to chicken or fish before cooking. Lemon squeezed onto steamed broccoli florets or green beans is also delicious. You can even put little helpers in charge of the squeezing!
Experiment with herbs & spices: Another great way to add flavour to food is with herbs and spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, paprika, fennel, parsley, garlic, ginger, or fresh chives are all great examples. You can buy a lot of these dried as powders so they’re easy to add to meals whilst cooking. Try mixing mild curry powder into a cheese sauce to give it a lovely new flavour, a spribkle of cinnamon in natural yogurt, or add a tiny pinch of chilli powder and lemon juice to mashed avocados for a yummy dip.
Strike a balance: Try to balance out higher salt meals and snacks throughout the day with lower salt options such as fruit, veggies, and homemade sauces and meals.
Get creative: Make some of your favourite family recipes without salt – you probably won’t miss the salt, as long as you’re adding plenty of other flavours!
Look for food tinned in water whenever possible – beans, veggies and fish are sometimes stored in salted water which may not be suitable for babies, so it’s a good idea to always check the label.
Keep your eyes peeled - Don’t be afraid to ask whether salt has been added to food when you’re eating out. Ask if the salt could be avoided or if there are any lower salt dishes that are suitable for young children.
Finally, remember that if your child has more salt on some days and less on other days then that is going to be OK. It’s all about overall balance and trying to keep salt intake low wherever possible. I hope the tips above help you feel more confident when it comes to salt in your little one’s food.