Sodium Reduction Tips from School Food Service Directors

nutrition label

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and nonprofit schools and residential child care institutions. It provides low cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day. Because of this, schools are a great place to implement population-based health promotion and work to prevent chronic disease. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 utilized research-based findings and expert recommendations to align lunch standards, passed in 2010, with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2010 Dietary Guidelines to improve the overall health of children.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. HHFKA has three sodium target levels to help schools adjust. The USDA created a quick sodium information resource with suggestions to assist food service directors in meeting the HHFKA recommendations. 

Findings from 2016 USDA sponsored research suggest the following options for making lower sodium an attainable action for your school: 

  • Trade shows – offer a convenient venue to identify lower-sodium products.
  • Ask vendors for lower sodium products – specifically ask vendors for lower-sodium versions of whole grain-rich breads and rolls and meat products. Sharing feedback with vendors also helped increase food quality.
  • Participate in food buying co-op – Joining a food-buying co-op can expand the selection of lower-sodium products. Participating in a co-op may help find suitable products by working with other districts to purchase products and request a greater number of bids, be more selective, and get the best products at lower costs.
  • Choose fresh and frozen products – switch to lower-sodium alternatives and using more fresh and frozen products.
  • Get staff culinary training – provide hands-on training or culinary training to assist with increasing frozen and fresh vegetables, beans and soups with the use of herbs and seasoning to enhance flavor.
  • Use standardized recipes – state agencies and USDA have recipes that are approved on the requirements.
  • Roast vegetables – roasting brings out the natural flavors.
  • Replace salt with herbs and spices – alternatives can include orange juices, salsa, sriracha sauce, garlic powder, red pepper flakes or cilantro.
  • Ask for feedback – ask the students to give feedback on new products.
  • Offer more choices – wide variety leads to higher participation and reduced waste.
  • Serve items multiple days – slowly introduce items over a period of time and leave them as options for repeat exposure.
  • Implement a condiment station – this works well in older student settings. Make sure the station provides a limited number of pre-packed condiments instead of pump bottles. 


Sarah Ransom-University of Tennessee FCS Extension Agent