How much salt do children need? Your most frequently asked questions

Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist


Why is salt important for my toddler’s diet?

Sodium, which is in salt, is important for healthy muscle, stomach and nerve function as well as being an essential component in the blood. Children need some sodium to grow.

If it’s good for growth, why should I limit my toddler’s salt intake?

Children require only a small amount of salt in their diet for healthy growth and will naturally eat these amounts within a healthy diet. Children with a high salt diet may develop a preference for salty foods and we know that a high salt intake in later life may cause health problems such as high blood pressure.

What is meant by hidden salt?

When most people think about salt they think about shaking salt on food or adding salt to cooking. However, about three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, including processed foods such as ready meals, sauces and canned foods.

How do I keep the salt in my toddler’s diet at a healthy level?

Some nutritious foods are preserved with salt, such as cheese, some meats and yeast extract spread. These nutritious foods are part of a healthy diet but high salt foods like ham and bacon should be limited to once or twice per week. You can cut down on excess salt in your toddler’s food by limiting snacks such as crisps or packaged snack foods or takeaway meals high in salt.


  • Using herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour meals (for the whole family)
  • Using low or no salt stock cubes
  • Choosing canned food that is unsalted or low in salt e.g. choose tuna in spring water, not brine
  • Reading the label on packaged food (even those foods aimed at children) and choose those that are lower in sodium or salt

Can you recommend some quick tips to reduce my toddler’s salt intake?


  • …add salt to food at the table
  • …give your toddler salty snacks such as crisps
  • …give your toddler adult ready meals or takeaway food unless you have checked the nutritional information. If you can’t avoid it, then serve a small portion with some extra vegetables
  • …give food with added salt if a meal or snack already contains cheese, ham or bacon (these foods are preserved with salt). Added salt will be listed in the ingredients list

Do cereals have too much salt for toddlers?

Some cereals contain more salt than others therefore it is best to check labels, to choose cereals with a lower salt content. Some breakfast cereals are enriched with vitamins and iron, which can be a helpful contribution to your toddler’s dietary balance. There is no need to exclude cereals; it’s more about making the right choices. In addition, add fruit and milk to make a healthier option and…


  • …choose cereals lower in salt (less than 0.7g of salt or 0.27g of sodium per 100g of cereal)
  • …choose wholegrain cereals some of the time
  • …choose cereals low in sugar (less than 8g of sugar per 100g of cereal)
  • …try to avoid cereals with oil or fat in the ingredients list

What about in babies – does the same advice apply?

Babies (children under one year) need only a very small amount of salt (even less than toddlers), because their kidneys can’t cope with large amounts of salt. Babies who are breastfed will get the right amount of salt through breast milk. Infant formula contains a similar amount. Cows’ milk should not be given to babies as it also contains too much sodium. When you are weaning, remember not to add salt to food you make for your baby or give to them. Be careful not to give them manufactured foods that aren’t made specifically for babies.

Found our guide to salt consumption in toddlers useful? Find out more on healthy eating here, and be sure to share with your friends and family!

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.