Gerber Toddler Meals Get The 'Salt Lick' Treatment

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Nutrition: Health

In a fast-paced world where whipping up daily meals from scratch is a challenge for most parents, it can be tempting to reach for the convenience of packaged foods. But the next time you consider that processed toddler meal, you may want to think

Gerber Graduates Lil' Entrees has just received the "Salt Lick" award from the Canadian Stroke Network and the Advanced Food & Materials Network. The company's Chicken & Pasta Wheel Pickups dinner was found to have 550 mg of sodium, which is more than half of a toddler's recommended daily intake of 1000 mg. To put that into perspective, according to McDonald's Canada, a medium order of french fries contains 270 mg of sodium.

The "Salt Lick" award is given out each year to raise awareness about inappropriate levels of sodium in food products, and this year the focus was on products aimed at toddlers. The packaging on the Gerber meals say they are "appropriate for children 1 year or older" and "specifically made for toddlers."

Dr. Kevin Willis of the Canadian Stroke Network says, "There is a concern that eating too much sodium in childhood can lead to a preference for salty foods and, consequently, an increased risk of disease as an adult." A high-sodium diet increases blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and dementia. High sodium consumption has also been linked to osteoporosis, asthma, stomach cancer and obesity.

Other toddler meals found to be high in sodium include Gerber Graduates Lil' Entrées Macaroni and Cheese with Peas and Carrots (520 mg of sodium) and Cheese Ravioli in Tomato Sauce with Carrots, Peas and Corn (480 mg), along with Parent's Choice (Wal-Mart brand) My Little Meals Shells & Cheese with Frankfurters (520 mg), and Heinz Toddler Vegetables, Beef & Pasta Casserole (470 mg).

It's easy to let the salt content creep up in your kids' diet. I, for one, have a couple of toddlers who would gorge indefinitely on potato chips and french fries if we let them. For those of you looking to reduce your family's sodium intake, The Canadian Stroke Network offers up Sodium 101 as a resource, which lists the top 10 main sources of sodium in the Canadian diet, shows you how to read food labels, has links to fast food restaurants that offer nutritional information and lays out tips for avoiding salt.

The Globe and Mail also has a handy little salt-o-meter that tells you the sodium content for a selection of popular foods. It mainly focuses on packaged items and fast food, but I found a couple of surprises from my children's diet, including Cheerios (at 230 mg per cup) and Dempster's whole wheat bread (at a whopping 350 mg per two slices). Dempster's actually has its own salt calculator, and in addition to Dempster's products, it includes the sodium levels for a wide range of fresh and prepared foods. Incidentally, the Dempster's Cardio Way bread has less sodium than the regular brand, so I may just have to make the switch.

As for the Cheerios issue, Vancouver Sun's "Curious Dad" Chad Skelton encountered the same problem last year, and his readers suggested two low-salt alternatives: Barbara's Organic Breakfast O's (at 125 mg) and Heinz Nutrios (at 140 mg). Those two brands have slightly more fat than Cheerios, but it's definitely something I'll be looking into.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.