Salt warning issued over children's meals

 

Children's meals at some of the UK's leading pub and fast food
chains contain more salt than they should eat in an entire day, a study
has found.

Lunches containing more than the child's recommended 4g of salt were found at popular family restaurants including Wetherspoons, Harvester and Nando's, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) said.

Nando's and Wetherspoons both had children's meals containing three times as much salt as a McDonald's Happy Meal of a hamburger and fries.

A Nandino's (Nando's) veggie burger with creamy mash contained 5.3g of salt, a Wetherspoons Wiltshire cured ham and cheese sandwich with chips had 4.8g, while a Harvester gammon and chicken combo with mashed potato and beans contained 4.3g.

A Sizzling Pub 4oz gammon with mash and beans contained 4.1g salt and another Wetherspoons meal, chicken breast nuggets with chips and baked beans, held 4g.

The survey found significant variations in the amount of salt in meals, even at the same restaurants, but found it was impossible for parents to make healthy choices because of a lack of nutritional information on menus.

Wetherspoons also offered an Annabel Karmel spaghetti bolognese containing just 0.1g of salt, while Sizzling Pub had a chicken breast with jacket potato and peas with 0.8g.

Other low-salt options included McDonald's four-piece chicken nuggets and fruit bag, containing 0.4g of salt, Wimpy fish bites with salad (0.5g), Hungry Horse fish fingers and jacket potato with peas, corn or salad (0.73g), and a Kentucky Fried Chicken popcorn chicken with corn cobette (0.78g).

Side dishes were found to contain extra sources of salt, with Nando's mash or spicy rice containing 1.8g - nearly twice as much as a main dish of Nandino's chicken breast fillet strips at 0.8g.

Mash and beans were typically found to be the combination containing the highest amount of salt, while a jacket potato, vegetables or salad contained the lowest amount.

Although all outlets offered a vegetable side option, just four included vegetables as part of all meals.

Desserts were also found to be a surprising source of hidden salt, Cash said, with five found to contain the same or more salt as a packet of crisps.

Cash campaign director Katharine Jenner said: "Children's meals should provide tasty and healthy alternatives to more adult dishes. It is an outrage that when families go out for a pub lunch, they may be unknowingly putting their children's health at risk."

Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, the Cash chairman, said: "Salt addiction starts in childhood and can lead to serious health issues in later life including high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

"Parents are doing their best, but with the food industry continuing to put huge levels of salt in our food without any information on the menu, our children remain at risk."

Cash suggested parents carefully consider side orders or order a smaller portion of an adult option, try not to add further salt at the table and remember that foods like bacon and cheese are high in salt.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "We take on board the findings of the report.

"We aim to provide a range of children's meals and these feature varying salt levels. We are reviewing how we can reduce the salt levels on the two meals indicated.

"We provide all of the salt level figures in a leaflet available in all pubs and on our website, along with full nutritional information.

"It is encouraging that our best-selling children's dish, spaghetti bolognese, was found to have the lowest levels of salt (0.1g salt) of any children's meal in the report."

Nando's said in a statement: "We are currently revising our children's menu, with specific focus on salt content. A trial of a new range of children's meals will begin on June 25.

"Nutritional information is available on our website and in all our restaurants on request.

"Our most popular item, ordered by half of children, is the Nandino's chicken breast fillet strips, which has been highlighted as a good, low-salt option. And our most popular side dish choice is chips, which are unsalted at 0.1g salt per 100g.

"The veggie burger accounts for only 2% and the creamy mash only 4% of orders from the children's menus.

"In our new trial menu the veggie option will contain 66% less salt and all of the children's options will be well within recommended guidelines. Both creamy mash and spicy rice will not feature in the trial children's menu."

In a statement, Harvester and Sizzling Pubs said: "Families eat out with us for an occasion or treat, not on a daily basis.

"Harvester and Sizzling Pubs children's menus provide choice, encourage children to eat vegetables and promote the importance of a balanced diet. On both menus lower-salt dishes are available as well as a choice of vegetables, salads and jacket potatoes."

A spokesman said the chains had created children's menus to encourage children to eat more vegetables and provide a choice of dishes containing food groups that children loved to eat and which parents trusted.

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "In just over a year through the Responsibility Deal, half of the major high street restaurants have already said they would reduce salt in food so people eat 1g less per day by the end of 2012 and we are working closely with the catering sector on new ways to help reduce this further."

PA

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