A survey of 351 children’s main meals from 26 hospitality chains found that 37% contained more than 2g of salt per portion.
This compares to 28% of 281 meals studied in 2015, and campaign group Action on Salt - based at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) - says 40% of dishes it tested four years ago have increased their salt content.
In 2019 the saltiest dish was TGI Friday’s chicken burger with crispy fries and baked beans, which contained 5.3g per portion – equivalent to 11 bags of crisps.
Public Health England (PHE) set a target for out-of-home children's meals to contain no more than 1.8g per serving in 2017.
Other dishes found to contain high levels of salt included JD Wetherspoon’s fish chips and baked beans (4.9g), Chiquito’s quesadilla pizza with baked beans (4.3g), and Pizza Hut’s big heroes chicken and cheese wrap with fries (4.07g).
Action on Salt is calling for the introduction of traffic light-style ‘high salt’ warning labels on children’s menu items exceeding the PHE target.
It also wants restaurant chains to commit to reducing the amount of salt in dishes.
“Reducing salt is a shared responsibility between the food industry, individuals and the government and is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from entirely unnecessary strokes and heart disease," says Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at QMUL and chair of Action on Salt.
A TGI Friday's spokesperson says the group “strongly disputes” Action on Salt's findings, and that an independent nutritional analysis found its children's chicken burger meal contained just 1.5g of salt, instead of the 5.3g as cited in the report.
Pizza Hut told BigHospitality it has "invested heavily in salt reduction" and was "committed to further reductions, without compromising on the great taste of our food".
"We detail all nutritional information about our food on our website and our kids’ menu offers options which are lower in salt, signposted as our ‘Hut Heroes’ options, to help parents make an informed choice," says a Pizza Hut spokesperson.
JD Wetherspoon spokesperson Eddie Gershon says: “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.
“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.”
BigHospitality has contacted Chiquito’s for further comment.