If we are what we eat, then most of the packaged foods on grocery store shelves will turn your family into a salt shaker. A government report published in April found that more than half of these foods – including more than 70 percent of pizza, pasta and meat dishes and 50 to 70 percent of cold cuts, soups and sandwiches – contain more salt than U.S. dietary guidelines consider healthy.
But these are the foods that busy parents often reach for when they’re pressed for time. Melissa Halas-Liang, R.D., an L.A. nutritionist and founder of SuperKidsNutrition.com, offers up these easy-cook strategies for limiting packaged foods in your family’s diet and protecting your children’s health:
Make go-to meal plans. “Have a few favorite dinners to fall back on, go-to recipes that you know you can pull together quickly with what you have on hand, and that the family will like,” Halas-Liang advises. These might include omelets and green salad, pasta with vegetables, vegetable stir-fry with rice or lentils in tomato sauce.
Stock your pantry and freezer. Make sure you have ingredients for your family’s go-to meals on hand. Whole-grain pasta, lentils, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables and frozen stir-fry veggie mix are great staples.
Shop for time-savers. Bagged pre-washed salads, frozen vegetables, low-sodium canned tomatoes, pre-cooked whole grains and thin-sliced boneless chicken breasts can cut your workload in the kitchen.
Prep ahead. Spending 10 or 15 minutes chopping fresh bell peppers, carrots, onions, zucchini or other vegetables for the week means these are ready to toss into a salad, pasta dish, soup or stir-fry. “Place these prepped vegetables in containers and keep them in the middle of the refrigerator as a reminder to add into dishes,” says Halas-Liang.
No one shops or eats perfectly all the time, so when you do find yourself eating packaged foods, balance them out. “Think of the meals for the whole day,” suggests Halas-Liang. “If the adults or kids are having high-sodium packaged food at dinner, have a salad for lunch instead of a sandwich, since bread and deli meats will both contribute relatively higher amounts of sodium.”
She also advisees eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and making high-sodium foods part of a larger meal to help spread the sodium out over a greater amount of food. “Add lots of vegetables to pasta when using jarred sauce,” Halas-Liang says, “or top a frozen pizza with veggies and serve with a green salad.” Just choose low-sodium dressing.
U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping daily salt intake under 2,300 miligrams, which is about a teaspoon. When reading food labels, check the nutrition facts and use the percentage of Daily Value (DV) for sodium as a guide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers foods with five percent of DV, or 120 mg, of sodium per serving low-sodium foods. Foods with 20 percent DV, 480 mg, of sodium preserving or more are considered high-sodium.
Learn more about U.S. nutrition guidelines at www.fda.gov/food.