Children's restaurant meals were branded a "nutritional nightmare" this week in a new report exposing shocking levels of fat, calories and salt in every meal investigated.
Harvester, Garfunkel's and Wacky Warehouse were shown to be some of the worst offenders, but every children's meal tested in the survey of 141 high-street and in-store restaurants failed the minimal nutritional standards recommended for schools by the Caroline Walker Trust (CWT).
Harvester's Rib Ticklers meal provided more than two times the maximum recommended calorie intake and four times the maximum recommended fat content for a children's meal.
Spirit Group's Wacky Warehouse chicken nugget meal (deemed a "healthy option" by the company) fared little better, as did Garfunkel's hamburger, fries and baked beans meal, which contained double the recommended calories for five- to six-year olds.
Rachael Foulds, author of the research, said most meals analysed were energy-dense and low in fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. "We found a woeful lack of fruit and vegetables on the menus," she said.
The research also highlighted misleading information from some restaurants menus, which claimed to offer a "healthy" option. "Generally a parent choosing from the children's menus would find it difficult to make a healthy choice," the report concluded.
But the British Hospitality Association defended restaurants. "Sometimes the school meal is the main meal of the day so its nutritional standard is of paramount concern to children and their parents. When children eat out in a restaurant the same considerations clearly can't apply so the comparisons are misleading."
Compass Group, which provides meals at London Zoo, reinforced this. "The report is not comparing like with like. The CWT nutritional guidelines are for school meals, which are eaten on a daily basis. A trip to London Zoo is a special occasion and for kids eating out there is a wide choice of healthy food on the menu."
Mitchells & Butlers' Harvester admitted it had already been in discussions with the Food Standards Agency about the salt and fat content in its food and has altered its menu.
The research was undertaken at London Metropolitan University for the Food Commission.
CAPTION: Every children's meal tested failed to meet nutritional standards; spare ribs were among the worst choices