Skip to main content

Action on Salt

Children's Out of Home Survey

  • Children’s meals in ‘family friendly’ eateries revealed to STILL contain dangerously high levels of salt - habituating children to the taste of salt
  • Over a quarter of meals surveyed contain more than 2g of salt per meal - that’s the entire maximum recommendation for a whole day for a 1-3 year old – and more salt than 4 packets of crisps!
  • Too much salt in childhood puts up blood pressure, which leads to strokes and heart failure
  • Call for the maximum recommendation of salt for children to be lowered

SAW Restaurant Data FINAL [PDF 373KB]

For Media Coverage: Children's Meals - Media Coverage

According to a new study1 by CASH (Consensus Action on Salt & Health) to launch National Salt Awareness Week 2015 (16 – 22nd March), children’s meals served in ‘family friendly’ eateries STILL contain worryingly high levels of salt – with over a quarter of meals (29%) containing more than 2g of salt per meal. For a 1-3 year old, that’s their maximum recommended intake for a WHOLE DAY2 and more salt than the equivalent of 4 packets of crisps3!

In comparison, for a child aged 4-6 years, three quarters of the meals (74%) contain a third or more of the current maximum daily recommended intake of salt (3g – ½ teaspoon), or 6 packets of crisps.

The survey, which is the first to analyse the salt content of 218 children’s meals from 23 different eating establishments, revealed the top salty offenders include:

  • Burger King Kid’s Veggie Bean Burger with Small Fries: 4.6g salt per serving (155% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake) N.B recently increased from 2.8g salt per 4!!
  • Hungry Horse Pic ‘n’ Mix Large Ham with Mashed Potato & Baked Beans: 4.2g salt per serving (141% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake) N.B. recently increased from 3.2g salt per serving4  
  • Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill Bangers & Mash with Gravy: 4.0g salt per serving (135% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake)
  • Beefeater Mr Noisy's Bangers and Mash with Peas & Gravy: 3.9g salt per serving (130% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake)
  • Bella Italia Pizza Dog from the Piccolo Menu & Cheesy Garlic Bread: 3.7g salt per serving (124% of 4-6 year olds maximum recommended intake)5

As it is estimated that 40% of parents eat out with their children at least once a fortnight6; if a 3 year old child was to dine out on some of the high dishes highlighted above, instead of lower salt options, they would be consuming a whopping 10.5 teaspoons of EXTRA salt per year7!

By switching from a high salt to a low salt meal, parents could give their child nearly 3g less salt in just one meal:

Only 5 of the 23 catering establishments included in the survey (Jamie’s Italian, Subway, Bella Italia, EAT. and JD Wetherspoon) have pledged to reduce salt in their meals by signing up to the salt targets set by the Department of Health, highlighting the distinct lack of commitment to children’s health from the hospitality industry8.

Sonia Pombo, a nutritionist at CASH says; “We are all eating too much salt and it’s a scandal that very few restaurants are taking salt reduction seriously - especially when the health of our children is at risk. Our survey has shown us that many restaurants have done little to reduce the salt content in their dishes, especially those targeting kids. The targets set by the Department of Health are a perfect opportunity for restaurants to show their commitment to the health of their customers. More needs to be done and action taken now.”

Latest figures by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) show children aged 4-18 years are currently consuming more salt than the recommendations set by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) back in 2003, with the exception of girls aged 7-109. CASH argue that the recommendations for children are far too high, and that evidence shows children would benefit, throughout their lifetime, from much lower salt intakes10.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH and adds: “Evidence suggests dietary habits in childhood can influence eating patterns later in life. Salt should therefore not be given to children as this could lead to a ‘salt addiction’ - a preference for salt throughout their lifetime. This will consequently raise their blood pressure which tracks into adulthood, leading to increased risk of developing strokes and heart attacks. Yet the recommendations suggest it is safe for a child of 4 to eat half a teaspoon (3g) of salt a day! The evidence should be reviewed by the Department of Health immediately and a new, lower recommendation set for children.”

National Salt Awareness Week 2015 is encouraging everyone to eat less salt and to enjoy the real flavour of food.  Despite the UK leading the world in salt reduction we are all still eating too much salt, with a population average intake of 8.1g per day11, much more than the maximum daily recommendation of 6g per day for an adult (about a teaspoon).

A high salt diet can set a child up for raised blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular disease later on in life, and is also linked to a number of other serious health conditions such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease. The Department of Health estimates that reducing salt intakes by just 1g - a pinch of salt - would save 4,147 preventable deaths and £288 million to the NHS every year12.  

Top 5 questions to ask your waiter when eating out to make your meal less salty:
1. Ask your waiter for ‘less salt please!’ - You wouldn’t expect sugar to be added to your cup of tea, so why should they add salt to your food? This counts for adults too!
2. Ask them to serve salad dressings, sauces or gravy on the side, so you can decide how much to add.
3. Does your meal contain salty ingredients such as olives, capers, anchovies, cheese and cured meats? Ask for less, or better yet replace them with fresh ingredients such as vegetables.
4. Ask if they have nutrition information so you can see exactly which meals are higher in salt (more than 1.8g per serving is ‘high’).
5. Parmesan with your pasta? Say ‘no thanks’!

#LessSalt #EscapeTheSalt


Comment from Philippa Wallis, nutritionist for Harvester: “At Harvester we are committed to salt reduction and believe we have an important role to play in helping our guests lower their salt intake. As part of our wider nutritional strategy we have evolved our Harvester Young Guest menu to include a wider range of dishes that are smaller versions of our adult meals and increased the variety of vegetables, carbs and protein options available. We have also been pro-actively reducing the salt content of a number of ingredients used in our dishes.

All of the ingredients used in our Young Guest meals meet the Government 2017 salt targets, with the exception of our fried fish batter, which we are replacing in Spring 2015. We have developed a sausage specifically for our young guests that is seasoned using only herbs and spices, and contains  0.5g salt per 100g, well below the Government salt target of 1.13g for sausages. We now only use reduced salt and sugar baked beans across our entire menu and our mash has been redeveloped to be below the 2017 salt target, containing only 0.44g salt per 100g. Our chips are made using only potato and sunflower oil, contain no added salt and are not seasoned for our young guests. In addition we have introduced several low salt sides and vegetables to provide parents with a selection of healthier choices. We are also working towards all our Young Guest main meals meeting the Department of Health Responsibility Deal max target (Pledge F.10) set for children’s meals per serving of 1.8g – in fact many of our meals are already achieving this. As part of recognising the importance of encouraging our younger guests to eat less salt, we do not season children’s food before service and provide calorie information in house and full nutrition information on our website to enable parents to make an informed choice when dining as a family.

In March 2015, Harvester will become the first restaurant chain to launch a new Mineral Salt for use in our kitchens and as a replacement for standard table salt. This Mineral Salt contains 15% less sodium than standard salt and therefore will help reduce the amount of sodium our guests consume. Our Mineral Salt product along with a number of other initiatives are helping us meet our commitment to the Public Health Responsibility Deal Salt Reduction pledges F5(a) and F5(b).We hope the information we have provided emphasises our commitment to salt reduction and how we recognise it as a key pillar within the wider Harvester nutritional strategy.”


National PR - David Clarke: M: 07773 225516
Available for interviews – Professor Graham MacGregor, Nutritionists Sonia Pombo and Katharine Jenner
Welcome to Consensus Action on Salt and Health
Twitter: @cashsalt

Notes to editor

1 - Survey details, full data tables are available with this release
The survey looked at 218 children’s main meals from 23 restaurants, pubs, fast food chains and cafes.
NB. Portion sizes differ widely between meals.  Where menus provide an option of sides (Harvester, Hungry Horse, Nando’s, Burger King & McDonald’s) only the two combinations with the highest salt and lowest salt value was included in the survey data. These are highlighted as either ‘(HIGH)’ or ‘(LOW)’ in the data spreadsheet. Other combinations are available in store.
CASH collected nutritional information online, in-store or direct from the company [January-March 2015]. Salt content information for Bella Italia, Brewer’s Fayre, Giraffe, Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill and TGI Friday were not available online or at request. Therefore on the week commencing 2nd February 2015 CASH staff visited the restaurants and ordered three main meals at random from the children’s menu. The meals were paid for from each restaurant and taken away in containers and delivered to Public Analysts, who analysed the salt (sodium) content of the meals. The results from the Public Analysts are available on request. Meals were analysed at Kent Scientific Services by Public Analyst Jon Griffin, 8 Abbey Wood Road, Kings Hill, Kent, ME19 4YT

CASH recognise that this is a small sample and there is huge variation in restaurant cooking practices of different chefs; however this is an accurate reflection of three meals that three random children would have consumed had they eaten at that restaurant on that day.

2 – Maximum Recommended Salt Intakes
The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on their age. According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN):

Salt & Health Report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 2003

3 – A standard 32.5g packet of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps contains 0.5g of salt

4 – Whilst conducting the survey, nutritional values available online for Hungry Horse and Burger King changed. Copies of pdfs downloaded from the company websites are available on request.

5 – When ordering from Bella Italia, a starter (Cheesy Garlic Bread) was given as part of the children’s meal. Other options are available e.g. ‘Veggie Dippers’ and ‘Slurpy Soup’.

6 - The Soil Association’s Out to Lunch Report

7 – Assuming a 3 year old child ate the maximum recommended intake of salt (2g/day) any other day, but consumed the Burger King Veggie Bean Burger with Small Fries twice a month, they would be consuming an additional 5.28g salt per month, totalling a whopping 63.36g more salt a year than required. This is the equivalent of 10.5 teaspoons.

8 - The Department of Health Responsibility Deal Salt Pledges
The Department of Health have set up 2 pledges with specific salt targets. One is aimed for the food industry which looks at 76 food sub categories with targets on a per 100g basis:
The other is aimed primarily for the out of home sector, with maximum per serve targets for 10 of the most popular dishes in the UK, and an additional one for all children’s meals:

9 – The National Diet & Nutrition Survey Report 2012
Results from Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 -2011/2012) - with urinary sodium data for children aged 4-18 years. Mean estimated salt intake for children aged 4-6 years was 3.7g/day. In children aged 7-10 years mean intake was 5.5g/day for boys and 4.6g/day for girls. For 11 – 18 years, mean intakes were 7.1g/day for boys and 6.2g/day for girls.

10 - He FJ, MacGregor GA. Importance of salt in determining blood pressure in children: meta-analysis of controlled trials. Hypertension. 2006;48:861–869

11 – The National Diet & Nutrition Survey Report 2011
Assessment of dietary sodium in adults (aged 19 to 64 years) in England, 2011

12 – Department of Health Statistics on Salt Reduction
One of the public health benefits for salt reduction as stated by the Department of Health  

Return to top