Schools Boost Flavor to Lower Sodium in Meals

As part of the National School Lunch Week theme, “Recipes for Success,” today we’re featuring school meals that are lower in sodium but big on flavor! We’ve got details on a comfort food favorite, Broccoli Cheddar Soup from a South Carolina lunchroom, and a colorful Teriyaki Chicken from an Arizona cafeteria.

Lower sodium doesn’t mean less flavor and Charleston County School District in South Carolina has proven that with their scratch-made broccoli cheddar soup, served with low sodium ham and cheddar sandwich on whole grain bread. Having soup made from scratch allows school nutrition professionals to monitor sodium levels, using fresh ingredients and flavors from herbs and spices, rather than salt.

Charleston County School District, SC-3
School nutrition professionals from Charleston County School District (SC) offer a lower sodium homemade cheddar broccoli soup and ham and cheese sandwich as one tasty school lunch.

Low sodium deli meats and cheeses round off this healthy and balanced lunch, complete with a fresh garden salad served with low-sodium ranch dressing, a whole apple and reduced sugar fat free milk. For a similar family-friendly and healthy dinner, check out this adapted recipe for a healthy broccoli cheddar soup from The Food Network.

Yuma Union High School District in Arizona is offering this delicious meal to high school students – BBQ teriyaki chicken with brown rice, served with fresh-cut peppers and broccoli. Completing the balanced meal is a garden salad with mandarins, mushrooms and wonton crisps, fresh-cut fruit and a low fat milk. Low-sodium sauces combined with fresh, whole ingredients allows students a flavorful lunch option that meets the sodium reduction requirements schools must follow.

Yuma School Distirct-Arizona-2
Yuma Union High School District (AZ) created this colorful and healthy, low sodium chicken teriyaki menu option for students.

Taking what has been successful in the cafeteria and making it work for a family dinner can be tricky – but for a similar healthy dinner recipe, visit The Recipe Critic.

School nutrition professionals have more access to low-sodium products as food companies are catering to current USDA guidelines, something that was highly visible at this year’s School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference in Atlanta.

How are schools lowering sodium levels? According to the 2017 School Nutrition Trends Report, schools report employing a wide range of tactics to meet sodium limits for school meals. These changes can be made in food prepared for family meals as well: reformulated recipes with substituted lower sodium products, like herbs and spices instead of table salt, increase scratch preparation of foods to control salt while cooking, limit the access and use of condiments and reduce portion sizes.

Some practical quick tips used in schools that can be incorporated at dinnertime too:

  1. Decrease sodium in teriyaki sauce by diluting with pineapple juice.
  2. Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to foods.
  3. Dilute purchased ranch dressing with yogurt.
  4. Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables – this can cut the sodium by up to 40 percent.
  5. Consider using salt-free packaged ingredients in soups, stews and casseroles. Then add salt sparingly.
  6. Purchase lower sodium versions of products you eat frequently.
  7. Use kosher or sea salt in place of table salt.

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