New Action on Salt research has claimed Wetherspoon’s fish and chips with baked beans and Hungry Horse’s large fish fingers with fries and baked beans have more than the recommended levels of salt in them.
The survey of out-of-home menus exposed “astonishingly high” amounts of salt in children’s menus, with some dishes containing almost as much salt as an adult’s recommended daily limit, the campaign group claimed.
Some 41% of the dishes tested contained more salt than Public Health England’s 2017 targets, it said.
As a result of the research, Action on Salt is calling for pubs and restaurants to put warning labels on children’s dishes that contain more than 1.8g of salt per serving, which is higher than the recommendations.
Of the 351 meals surveyed, 12 were sent for laboratory analysis, with 41% of the results showing the dishes were high in salt.
Government recommendations advise that children aged between four and six consume no more than 3g of salt a day.
The worst offender was TGI Friday’s chicken burger with crispy fries and baked beans – 5.3g of salt per portion – while Wetherspoon’s fish and chips with baked beans came in second with 4.9g of salt per serving.
Action on Salt last carried out its salt survey in 2015 and said 2019’s data showed 39% of dishes have shown a reduction in salt levels, while 20% have stayed the same and 40% have seen an increase.
“The majority of children’s menus in the out-of-home sector include side dishes, but a salty side dish can add an extra 1g of salt to the meal compared to a low salt dish,” said the group.
“For example, Wetherspoon’s chips had 1.2g of salt per portion compared with Brewer’s Fayre Chips with no salt, and that’s not even including any sauces a child may add to their food.”
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for high-street pub chains, with Slug & Lettuce and Beefeater singled out as serving dishes with some of the lowest salt levels.
It’s not just salt:
Action on Salt said: “And it’s not just salt – many of these meals are packed with excessive calories and fat.
For example, Hungry Horse's large double cheesy burger with fries and baked beans has 1054 kcal per portion, more than half the recommended daily calorie intake for an adult and more than double the amount found in Brewers Fayre's chicken burger with two mini jacket potatoes and baked beans (448 kcal).
“It would take an 8-year-old eight hours of swimming to burn off the Hungry Horse meal combo.”
Slug &Lettuce’s fish and chips, for example, contained 0.3g of salt per serving, while Beefeater’s chicken curry with brown rice and vegetable sticks contained 0.5g of salt per serving.
Zoe Davies, nutritionist for Action on Salt and FoodSwitch, said: “Many products in supermarkets display colour-coded front of pack nutrition labels which allow consumers to take personal responsibility and use apps, such as the free FoodSwitch app, to compare products and find the healthier option.
“It’s time for the out-of-home sector to take responsibility and offer us the same level of information.”
Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "Wetherspoon notes the findings of the report. Our pubs offer a range of nutritionally balanced and lower salt meals.
"We have several children's meals that fall within the 1.8g salt target. We have also been working with our suppliers to reformulate and reduce salt in recipes across the children's and adult menus.
"For example, the new children's spaghetti bolognese meal (launches 6 March) has 0.5g of salt and the children's tomato and mascarpone pasta has 0.6g of salt.
"In terms of the meals with higher salt content, we will review these. We would also point out that parents can make their choice of meals on behalf of their children."
The Morning Advertiser is awaiting a response from Hungry Horse brand owner Greene King.