Kids eat right.

Family Dinners for a Healthy Heart

By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN
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Want your family to have healthy hearts? Start with the family dinner table. Not only do most adults consume too much sodium, most kids do as well.  Eating too much sodium can increase risk for high blood pressure which can eventually lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. That's cause for concern since the average child consumes more than twice the sodium they need each day.

Opt for Spices

In the kitchen, think out of the box. Opt for spices instead of added salt. When you're cooking, reach for low-sodium seasonings such as fresh lemon or lime juice, fresh herbs or salt-free herb blends and vinegar to boost the flavor of your favorite foods.

Surprisingly, the salt we add during cooking and at the table only accounts for about 10 percent of our day's sodium. The main offenders are packaged and processed foods which supply more than 75 percent of the sodium we eat.

Keep in mind that from a very early age children's taste buds adapt to what they're used to eating.

Read Nutrition Labels

You can trim the sodium in your family's diet by carefully reading the Nutrition Facts on the label when buying canned, frozen and packaged foods. Comparing brands and labels also can go a long way as the amount of sodium in foods can vary from brand to brand by hundreds of milligrams.

Look for Foods Low in Sodium

It also helps to focus on whole, unprocessed foods which are naturally low in sodium. The Standard American Diet is way too high in sodium and way too low in potassium. Eating more vegetables and fruit can restore that balance. Produce contains little sodium, yet it's rich in potassium, a mineral which balances blood pressure. However, few of us get the potassium we require. Children under the age of 13 need roughly 3,000 to 4,500 milligrams of potassium a day while teens and adults require 4,700 milligrams. Top sources include vegetables  such as potatoes, tomatoes and spinach and fruits such as bananas, oranges and avocados. Eating at least 2 cups of fruits and 2½ cups of vegetables each day can help your family get the potassium they need while also taking the place of sodium-packed processed foods on their plates.