Having tested a variety of mainstream food for young children, it learnt that brand names such as Only Organic, Heinz and Annabel Karmel contained between 202mg and 273mg of sodium per day.
“The Nutrient Reference Value for sodium consumption for Australian children aged 1-3 years is 200-400mg per day,” said Rosemary Stanton, a nutritionist who investigated the toddler meals.
“It would be hard for parents to keep their children’s sodium consumption to recommended levels if these types of products are consumed regularly.”
The latest health advice discourages parents from adding salt when they’re cooking at home for toddlers.
“Adding salt to products marketed to children is unwise and unnecessary,” added Dr Stanton.
The also found that apple juice concentrate and apple juice were being used in one of the Annabel Karmel meals.
“These add sugar and accustom young palates to a sweeter taste, but won’t add any significant nutrient content,” Dr Stanton said.
“Parents want to give their children the best start to life, and these products lead parents to believe they are healthy and nutritional meals for their children when many of them are actual laden with hidden salt and sugar,” said Alice Pryor, campaigns manager for Parents’ Voice, an advocacy group.
“In particular, both Annabel Karmel meals [tested] proudly proclaim ‘low in sodium’ on the front of the pack, a claim we think is misleading.”
Most parents would struggle to find time in the supermarket to compare the small print on the backs of such products, Pryor added.
The group is now calling on the manufacturers whose products were found to have over 200mg of salt per serve to reformulate their products and ensure that marketing claims are “more closely matched to the reality”.
Other products tested included Only Organic Beef Bolognese Pasta (114 mg), Heinz Little Kids Savoury Rice and Beef (100 mg) and Heinz Little Kids Spaghetti Bolognaise (95 mg).
Rafferty's Garden Moroccan Lamb was found to have the lowest sodium intake among the samples, with 34 mg.
Roughly 80% of salt consumed by Australians is already contained in foods at the point when they are purchased. The latest national nutrition survey found all Australian children already have excess sodium in their diet.
A Heinz spokeswoman said its products were considered "low in salt" as defined by the food safety code, and noted that the sodium profile of both meals was within the Nutrient Reference Values.
An Only Organic spokesman told Fairfax Media that its meals contained just a "very small amount of organic salt", though the brand was planning to adjust sodium in some of its products in the near future.