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Action on Salt

Hospital food survey

10th October 2010

  • Nearly half of children's hospital main meals exceed school nutritional standards for salt or saturated fat
  • 1 in 3 of the surveyed items would have a red traffic light
  • A lasagne served in hospital contains 6 times more salt than one served in school
  • CASH and Sustain are calling for legal nutritional standards for all food served in public sector institutions

For Media Coverage:  Children's Hospital Food Media Coverage
Click here for all data - Hospital Meals [DOC 998KB]or Hospital Food spreadsheet [DOC 540KB]*
*use the tabs to navigate between full data sheet and each category



Campaigners are calling on the Coalition Government to introduce minimum nutritional standards for hospital food after research revealed that nearly half of the main meal items that are given to children in hospital (85 of 189 surveyed) [Ref 1] are too unhealthy to be served in schools, exceeding the maximum school food standards for saturated fat or salt [Ref 2]. In addition, nearly one in three of all menu items (132 of 451 surveyed) would be classified ‘red’ for saturated fat or salt according to the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light labelling scheme [Ref 3].

The new research carried out by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) and Sustain revealed the shocking amounts of saturated fat and salt contained in popular main meals, snacks and desserts served on Britain’s hospital children’s wards when compared to equivalent school meals.

Within the main meals, a ‘chicken tikka masala and rice’ served in a hospital was found to contain a massive 14 times more salt (2.20g vs. 0.15g/portion) and 8.5 times more saturated fat (6.0g vs. 0.7g/portion) than a ‘chicken & vegetable balti with rice’ served in a school. In another example, a lasagne contained nearly 6 times more salt than a lasagne served in schools (3.2g vs. 0.57g/portion).

It is important that children eat and enjoy their food during their stay in hospital, however treats such as a pizza contained nearly double the amount of salt (2.43g vs. 1.35g/portion) and a ‘sticky toffee sponge pudding with butterscotch’ was 6 times higher in saturated fat (19g vs. 3.0g/portion) compared to similar items provided in school under the mandatory Government guidelines. This is over twice the amount of saturated fat allowed in the average school lunch (7.9g/portion).

“With everything we know about the risk of children developing high blood pressure and diet-related diseases such as obesity, it is vital to keep their consumption of salt and saturated fat as low as possible, whilst still being appetising” says Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH. “When such great progress has been made on what pupils are eating in school it is shocking that children in hospitals are being ignored.”

The findings follow a report by food campaign group Sustain published in March, which concluded that in the last ten years government has wasted more than £54 million of public money on unsuccessful attempts for hospitals to improve their food on a voluntary basis [Ref 4]. In contrast, since the mandatory school nutritional guidelines were introduced by the Government in 2005, to protect children’s health by giving children the right mix of energy and nutrients, the number of children eating school lunches in England has seen a significant increase [Ref 5].

Joan Walley MP has introduced a new Bill to Parliament which would introduce legal nutritional standards for all food served in public sector institutions, including all food served in state-run hospitals, care homes, universities and in the armed forces.

She said: “It is really important that children are served food in hospital which they like, but we must also make sure that it is nourishing and healthy for them to eat. The Bill I have introduced to Parliament would set nutritional standards for all food served in public sector institutions so that we can be sure our family and friends are being served food which is good for their health. The onus is now on the Government to accept the Bill”

– ENDS –

For more information about the campaign and Bill please go to:
Or contact Joan Walley MP on: 0207 2196985 or 07850 779650

For further information about the survey go or:

Professor Graham MacGregor on: 020 7882 6217 or 07946 405617,

Amy Thorne on: 0207 221 5040 / 07525 486100 or email /

Table 1 - Ten Highest Salt Products (per portion)

Product Salt/portion(g)
  Red = > 2.40g/portion
Lasagne 3.20
Potato Topped Bacon Pie 2.92
Vegetarian Sausages in Gravy 2.90
Ravioli au Gratin 2.87
Sausages in Onion Gravy 2.70
Sausages in Gravy 2.49
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce 2.46
Cheese and Tomato Pasta 2.45
Pizza 7" 2.43
Sausage in BBQ Sauce 2.34


Table 2 - Ten Highest Saturated Fat Products (per portion)

Product Saturated fat/portion(g)
  Red = > 6.0g/portion
Cheese, Onion and Potato Pie BHF 20
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch 19
Vegetable Crumble 17
Cheese Flan 16.2
Lasagne BHF 16
Baked leek, Cheese and Egg Pie 15.2
Macaroni Cheese 14.5
Broccoli and Herb Quiche BHF 14
Cheese and Onion Quiche 14
Savoury Sausage Casserole 14


Table 3 - Hospital vs. School Meals (Salt)

Hospital Meal Salt Content (g) Comparable School Meal Salt Content (g) Difference (g)
Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice 2.2 Chicken and Vegetable Balti 0.15 2.05
Lasagne 3.2 Lasagne 0.57 2.63
Pizza 2.43 Vegetable Pizza 1.35 1.08

Table 4 - Hospital vs. School Meals (Saturated Fat)

Hospital Meal Salt Content (g) Comparable School Meal Salt Content (g) Difference (g)
Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice 6 Chicken and Vegetable Balti 0.7 5.3
Sticky Toffee Sponge Pudding with Butterscotch 19 Chocolate Treacle Sponge 3.0 16


School Nutrient-based standards:

  • The equivalent school meal products were found from School Food Trust compliant menu examples:
  • Nutrient based standards for school lunches became law in September 2009 for secondary schools. The below values are set at maximum levels because too much of each nutrient can be harmful. 
Nutrient An average school lunch must contain not more than:
Energy (Kcal) 646 +/- 32.3 Kcal
NME Sugars (g) 18.9g
Fat (g) 25.1g
Saturated Fat (g) 7.9g
Sodium (mg) 714mg
Salt (g) (calculated from sodium) 1.785g

Food Standards Agency Traffic light labelling figures

  Salt Fat Sat Fat Sugar
Green ≤ 0.30g/100g ≤ 0.30g/100g ≤ 1.5g/100g ≤ 5.0g/100g
Amber >0.30g to ≤ 1.50g/100g > 3.0g to ≤ 20g/100g > 1.5g to ≤ 5.0g / 100g > 5.0g to ≤ 12.5g/100g
Red > 1.50g/100g Or
> 2.40g/portion
> 20g/100g Or
> 21.0g/portion
> 5.0g/100g Or
> 6.0g/portion
>12.5g/100g Or
> 15.0g/portion
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