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TRICK OR TREAT? Out to Lunch league table exposes the truth behind children's menus in 21 chain restaurants and pubs

  

A new league table ranking the health of children's food in 21 of the UK's most popular restaurant chains is published today (21 Oct) by the Soil Association's Out to Lunch campaign. Two years since the first league table there have
been some significant improvements made by a small number of chains, but the Soil Association, working with an army of parent secret diners, has uncovered continuing widespread poor practice with many restaurants failing to
serve fresh food or healthy choices.

  • The campaign found restaurants serving potatoes pre-mashed in Holland, fish fingers pre-cooked in Poland, chicken from Thailand and Brazil, cheese from Australia and New Zealand, and a chicken product with 19 additional ingredients produced variously in Kazakhstan, Russia, Vietnam, Argentina, Malaysia, India, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Ukraine and Slovakia.
  • Over half the restaurants give no indication of where their food comes from, and only one chain (Jamie's Italian) could reliably tell parents where their meat comes from.
  • 3 chains still offer children free or discounted refills of high calorie sugary drinks as standard (Café Rouge, Frankie & Benny's, Pizza Hut). Just two fizzy drinks will see a child stack up 17.5 sugar cubes.
  • The Size of a chain does not determine the position in the league table. Jamie's Italian (the smallest chain) and Wetherspoons (the second largest chain) are both in the top 5. Strada (the second smallest chain) and KFC (the third largest chain) are both in the bottom 5.

Despite much continuing bad practice, it is clear that a revolution in kids' food on the high street is underway. The league table reveals significant positive changes - 10 chains are serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal (up from 6 chains in 2013) and 9 chains include information on where ingredients come from on the menu (up from 5).

Since launching the campaign in 2013, the Soil Association has been working with participating restaurants to improve children's menus and as a result of the Out to Lunch campaign, over 5.5 million meals1 served to children this year include healthier options. The biggest contributors to these positive changes are larger chains, like Harvester and Prezzo, and also giraffe.

Restaurants have a big role to play in influencing what children think good food looks like – going out used to be seen as a treat, but research2 shows it's more common now with 40% of parents eating out with their kids at least once a fortnight. Meanwhile, 66% of parents say they don't think kids' food in restaurants is good enough2.

Rob Percival from the Soil Association said; "'Our 2015 league table includes big winners and big losers - adults expect to be offered real food and real choices in restaurants and we think children deserve the same. We've found some up-market eateries are designing menus that make healthy eating for children almost impossible, and price is no guarantee of quality - lower cost restaurants are outperforming more expensive chains. Since our first league table Harvester and Prezzo have proved it's possible to make major improvements – we're now calling on other restaurants to raise the bar and give our kids the food they deserve."

Jamie's Italian topped the table with a great score of 64 out of 80 (up from 50 two years ago), and Prezzo was the biggest climber, moving an impressive 13 places to 6th position. Since 2013 the chain has introduced fresh fruit and an organic fruit lolly for desert, and has prioritised children and family enjoyment with an activity pack that includes activities related to fruit, veg, and healthy eating.

 

 league table

 

The Soil Association has a new Eating Out Guide for families to help them select which restaurants are best to visit depending on what's important to them. Visit http://www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch/parents to download

The campaign also discovered;

  • 12 chains offer a fresh fruit pudding but fail to include it as the default option in the meal deal, promoting instead an array of sugar-laden puddings that will quickly blow a child's daily sugar budget.
  • Only at Wagamama is every meal option balanced and only Wagamama provides children's cutlery as standard.
  • The majority of chains are not freshly preparing and cooking the majority of their food in the restaurant.

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:

  • Make water freely available and remove sugary drinks from the menu
  • Let children choose from the main menu
  • Serve a portion of veg with every meal and fruit-based puddings
  • Use quality ingredients such as free range and organic
  • Provide children's cutlery as standard
  • Serve freshly prepared food, not ready meals
  • Make breast feeding mums feel welcome