Amanda is Healthy Food Guide's nutrition editor with a degree in nutrition and a post-grad diploma in dietetics. She is a member of the British Dietetic Association; The Nutrition Society and The Guild of Food...

When it comes to children’s meals, there are some salt shockers in restaurant chains. Find out the too-salty options – and discover the safer menu choices for children.Action on salt

Each year the food industry quivers, wondering if the annual Action on Salt press release will shine an unfavourable light on their products, business or brand.

In the new March 2019 campaign, it’s the turn of restaurants that serve overly salty children’s meals to squirm in their seats and admit the nutritional game is up. As Action on Salt discovered, the saltiest of the meals they scrutinised contained the equivalent of the amount found in 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

Reporting that TGI Friday’s chicken burger with fries and baked beans has 5.3g salt per serving (something the company refutes), Action on Salt reveals this staggering amount is almost all of an adult’s daily 6g maximum and is, therefore, virtually double a six-year-old’s maximum recommended intake for the day.

TGI Friday’s offering was by no means the only high-salt meal aimed at children. Having analysed some 351 meals regularly served in well-known UK chain restaurants, Action on Salt warns food companies that they are failing customers when it comes to the role they play in their health and wellbeing.

The harm it can do

As a spokesperson from Action on Salt explains: ‘Eating too much salt can cause your body to store more water to rehydrate, which raises blood pressure. As your blood pressure gets higher so does your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. Some 41% of children’s meals contained more salt than the Public Health England 1.8g per serve guideline. This was a rise from 29% in 2015. We are now calling for high salt warning labels on all children’s menu items that contain more than 1.8g salt to help parents find healthier options for their family.’

More than a third of the meals studied delivered at least all of the salt a three-year-old should be eating in a whole day, with 144 meals topping Public Health England’s guidance to keep meals for children at their advised level of 1.8g or less.

On the retail side of the food business, supermarkets and food manufacturers have made significant improvements in salt levels in many products, from bread and ready meals to pasta sauces and condiments, over the past 15 years. Mhairi Brown, nutritionist for Action on Salt, confirms that more needs to be done to protect children when eating out.

‘This survey highlights the shocking levels of salt still present in many children’s meals. It is well known that dietary habits formed in childhood influence what you eat for the rest of your life,’ she says. ‘Protecting children’s health should be a priority for all food and drink companies – the out of home sector must act now and take salt off the menu for children.’

10 healthier, lower-salt options when eating out

Go armed with the facts: The MAXIMUM amount of salt children should have per day is…

1-3-year-olds: 2g
4-6-year-olds: 3g
7-10-year-olds: 5g
Over-11s: 6g

Go-to choices on the menu:

If possible, try to stick to similar options to those Amanda suggests below.

1 Poached eggs on toast with a 150ml glass of fruit juice

2 Muesli and yogurt topped with berries

3 Pancakes with fromage frais and peaches or berries

4 Grilled fish with vegetables and baby potatoes glazed with olive oil

5 Baked potato with reduced-salt baked beans and salad

6 Lean baked chicken breast or leg with vegetables

7 Lean steak with ratatouille and new potatoes

8 Nigiri sushi with ginger and wasabi

9 Grilled salmon with steamed vegetables and peas

10 Fish fingers with carrots, peas and mashed potato

This blog was last published on Tuesday 5th March 2019