High blood pressure in children is not as rare as you might think. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found that about 5% of children have blood pressure that’s higher than normal. Less than 1% of children have blood pressure that’s high enough to be classified as medically significant, but whenever a child’s blood pressure is higher than normal, it’s cause for concern. Those children face a much higher risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure as they age.

One of the main contributing factors in high blood pressure for people of any age is too much salt. Salt should be used very sparingly and, in most cases, not at all.

What can parents do?

The fastest and most effective change you can make is to stop serving your child processed foods. Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods. For example, when you make a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, one serving has 580 milligrams of sodium. Weigh that against the recommended daily allowance of sodium for adults, 1500-2400 milligrams, then adjust for your child’s age and size. On the other hand, if you use a bag of pre-shredded cheddar cheese to make macaroni and cheese from scratch – skip the salt, which is unnecessary – it will take about the same amount of time but will cut the sodium by 25%! Even better, make it with low-fat cheese and a healthier alternative to butter, and serve it with a small salad to help fill up your child’s tummy.

labelMacaroni and cheese isn’t the only meal that comes from a box. Whenever you’re tempted to pick up a boxed type meal, at the very least, take a moment to look at the nutrition information provided. Do this in the grocery store, before you decide whether you really want to bring this food into your home. Once it’s home, you will make it, and your child will eat it. But if you read the nutrition information in the store and see that one serving has more sodium than your child should eat in a day, you will be more likely to return the box to the shelf and look for healthier alternatives. Soon, you may skip the packaged meal aisle altogether.

Honestly, healthy cooking doesn’t have to take any longer than putting together a prepackaged meal. One kitchen tool that I highly recommend is a steamer. You can throw a few frozen chicken breasts into the steamer basket along with the vegetables, turn on the steamer, and then walk away. Give the kids a bath and, by the time you’re finished, dinner is cooked. Sprinkle on some salt-free seasoning when the food is done. Nothing could be easier than that.

Fast food restaurants are notorious for using packaged foods, and like all packaged foods, they’re heavily laden with salt. Limit your trips to a fast food restaurant to no more than once a month. If you must eat out more often than that, choose a local restaurant where the food is cooked fresh.

Want to learn more about healthy eating for kids?

 

A good place to start is at www.HealthyChildren.org, a website developed by AAP to teach parents about all health issues facing your children. It’s your job to educate your children, and the first step is to educate yourself.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.