Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The best and worst children’s menus

The Soil Association wants high street
restaurants to improve the service and food they offer to children 
The Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign is back. Working with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it has launched it's latest League Table, ranking 25 of the most popular chains to reveal the best and worst children’s menus at UK restaurant chains. And published today (11 October), on World Obesity Day, the league table has uncovered continuing widespread poor practice with a number of chains failing to serve fresh food or healthy choices.

On the upside, the research (carried out by secret diner families) shows that children’s food on the high street has undergone notable improvement since the Soil Association launched the campaign in 2013. There are now 13 chains serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal (up from 6 chains in 2013) and 12 chains that include organic ingredients on the menu (up from 4 chains in 2013). 

Rob Percival from the Soil Association believes many restaurants are now prioritising child health and investing in healthier and more creative meal options, but says there is still a national scandal, with some chains 'dishing up super-sized calorific junk, undermining national efforts to tackle childhood obesity.'

The good, the bad - and the ugly!

With 40% of parents eating out with their kids at least once a fortnight, it's clear that restaurants have a responsibility to their customers to respond to concerns about healthy eating. But the research discovered the following facts:

· Some chains still offer oversized children’s puddings – one pudding at Hungry Horse was found to include 78g of sugar, over 400% of a child’s daily sugar allowance.

· Chains could do more to support British farmers – the campaign found that restaurants served potatoes grown in Egypt, apples grown in Canada, and a side salad containing ingredients sourced from 32 countries, including Madagascar, Russia, Malaysia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Turkey, India and Peru.

· Children’s meals were found to include additives linked to hyperactivity (E133 Brilliant Blue FCF), additives made from insects (E120 cochineal), and flavour-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate).

· Wetherspoons and Beefeater scored in the top 5, while family favourites Prezzo and Nando’s have fallen into the bottom 5. Jamie’s Italian topped the table and Burger King came last.

· Meal price does not determine where chains are scoring in the league table. The average meal price at the top 5 chains is cheaper than at the bottom 5 chains.

The campaign also discovered:

The most calorific pudding on the league table is Harvester’s Chocolate Cookie Pizza (a cookie topped with chocolate sauce, marshmallows, strawberries, butterscotch sauce and chocolate buttons), which contains 721kcal.

This is more than triple the target set by Public Health England and represents almost 50% of a 7 year old’s daily calorie requirement. In response to the campaign, Harvester has committed to reformulating the pudding.

Although not advertised on the children’s menu, free refills of sugary drinks continue to be available to children at Frankie & Benny’s and Nando’s.

At chains including Carluccio’s and Zizzi parents have to pay extra to include a portion of veg with some children’s main meals.

Jamie’s Italian, Wahaca and Nando’s are the only chains serving 100% British meat.

Jamie’s Italian, Wahaca and Strada were the only chains serving higher-welfare (organic or RSPCA) meat.

The Out to Lunch campaign is calling on all high street restaurants, pubs and cafés to take seven simple steps to improve the service and food they offer children:

· Serve two portions of veg with every child’s meal.

· Ensure children’s puddings are an appropriate portion size.

· Make water freely available and stop promoting sugary drinks to children.

· Offer children’s portions of adult dishes.

· Offer quality ingredients such as free range and organic on the children’s menu.

· Provide children’s cutlery as standard.

· Make breast feeding mums feel welcome.

Watch out for Hugh

TV chef and campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has joined forces with the Soil Association and is filming a new BBC One series on obesity. They are both urging chains to take action to offer puddings and drinks in a healthier portion size and to include calorie information on the menu. In response, Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays have committed to discontinuing free refills of sugary drinks throughout their restaurants by March 2018; both chains have also committed to including calorie information on the children’s menu. Harvester, Café Rouge and TGI Fridays have committed to offering puddings in a healthier portion size by March 2018.

Meanwhile, another TV chef is making the top of the table - with Jamie’s Italian scoring 75 out of 90. Strada was the biggest climber, moving an impressive 16 places to 3rd position. Since 2015 Strada has introduced a salad with every main meal, a fresh fruit pudding, and the option of choosing smaller portions of adult meals; Strada also offers organic juice, higher welfare RSPCA chicken, and sustainable fish.

So - is your favourite family restaurant on the list?

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