It is advised that children eat no more than 4g of salt a day but some lunches on offer at restaurants like Nando’s and Wetherspoon’s exceeded this amount.
The Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) tested over 160 meals at 11 chains.
A ham and cheese sandwich with chips at Wetherspoon’s was found to contain 4.8g of salt, more than a McDonald’s Happy Meal with a hamburger and fries. A veggie burger with creamy mash at Nando’s contained 5.3g of salt. At Harvester, a gammon and chicken combo with mash and beans contained 4.3g.
The study revealed inconsistencies in some restaurant menus. An Annabel Karmel spaghetti bolognese at Wetherspoon's contained just 0.1g of salt.
The lowest salt options were found in fast food chains. A McDonald’s meal of four chicken nuggets and a fruit bag contained just 0.4g of salt, while Wimpy’s fish bites with salad had 0.5g. A KFC kids’ popcorn chicken portion with corn cobette had 0.78g.
Consuming high levels of salt increases the risk of stroke and kidney disease, and is linked to higher blood pressure.
Cash noted that it was difficult for parents to make healthy choices for their children because nutritional information was absent from menus.
Meals were also found to be short on veg. Although all outlets offered a vegetable side option, only four included vegetables as part of all meals.
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."
In a statement, Nando’s said: “We are 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.”