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USDA, Partners Seek Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium for our Students

Posted by Amanda Heitkamp, Public Affairs Specialist, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Apr 04, 2019
School lunch staff with food in trays
Creating healthier environments starts at home and in schools.

Sodium, the major nutrient found in salt, is essential to maintain blood volume, regulate water balance in cells, and aid nerve function.  According to the American Heart Association, however, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.

Unfortunately, 90 percent of children in the U.S. consume too much sodium (as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  With that in mind, USDA and our partners are seeking creative ways to reduce sodium content in school meals, yet still keep students healthy and happy.

Parents and caregivers can shop smart and serve as healthy role models at home, but we’re also confident that hardworking school nutrition professionals can incorporate strategies to help lower sodium in our children’s diets. Strategies can include savvy menu planning, taste testing, and increasing the use of herbs, spices, and less-processed ingredients. By taking some small but important steps today, we can all help prevent heart disease tomorrow. 

Because salt acts as a preservative and adds flavor, it’s used in food processing, cooking, or at the table. While we need some sodium, almost everyone consumes more than they need.  In fact, children and teens in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 18 consume about 3,300 mg of sodium per day, not including salt added at the kitchen table. This is far more than the maximum of 2,300 mg daily recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the primary sources of sodium for children are pizza, breads and rolls, and lunch meats, as well as chips and pretzels, sandwiches, and cheese.

With the support of our partners, we’ve created the “What’s Shaking: Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium” website that provides an audience-specific, convenient hub for schools to access various resources on sodium reduction and healthier school meals. This website identifies existing resources and provides new strategies for families and schools to reduce sodium in meals, while maintaining food acceptability.

Modifying diets can be challenging for all of us.  But with the strong support of families, schools, partners, and tireless advocates, improved health outcomes can become a reality for our nation’s next generation. Creating healthier environments starts at home and in schools. 

National associations and organizations have joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to share information, resources, and best practices for sodium reduction in school meals and at home. The number of groups joining this national sodium reduction initiative continues to grow, and we are thrilled to work with partners including:

  • Action for Healthy Kids
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American Heart Association
  • American School Health Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Association for Middle Level Education
  • Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Center for Ecoliteracy
  • Chartwells K12
  • Family Career and Community Leaders of America
  • FoodCorps
  • McCormick Science Institute (member of the American Spice Trade Association)
  • Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior
  • Society for Public Health Education
  • Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!)

To learn more about “What’s Shaking?” and find sodium-related resources, visit: healthymeals.fns.usda.gov/whatsshaking

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition