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Restaurant chains savaged over “irresponsible” menu items for children

Children’s food

A new league table ranking children’s food at 28 popular chains has revealed “irresponsible” menus in supermarket cafes, with Marks & Spencer Café serving no vegetables on its children’s menu, and Tesco Café serving no British meat.

The ‘Out to Lunch’ league table, compiled by the Soil Association with a team of secret diner children and parents, has persuaded 13 chains to commit to serving two portions of veg with every child’s meal within the next 12 months.

This means more than 11 million portions of veg will be served to children across the UK in the coming year.

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JD Wetherspoon topped the league table, followed by Ikea and Harvester, with organic and sustainable ingredients and lots of veg on the menu.

Oliver Addis, food development manager at Wetherspoon, said: “We are delighted to have topped the Out to Lunch league table. Our children’s meals are extremely popular, and we continually innovate to offer parents the best possible meals for their children, both in terms of quality and health. Providing children with meals that they will both enjoy and are good for them is a top priority for us and we are delighted that this has been recognised.”

Children’s meals in the highest scoring chains were on average £1 cheaper than meals in the lowest scoring chains, showing that price isn’t a barrier to good food, the Soil Association said.

But even with an increase in fresh vegetables and organic food across the high street, many chains are serving children unhealthy and unsustainable meals – despite 88% of parents saying that children’s food in high street chains isn’t good enough, and 70% saying environmental sustainability is important to them.

Marks & Spencer Café serves no veg on the children’s menu, and several chains are offering “excessively sugary” puddings, according to the report.

Hungry Horse’s Mini-Mania Sundae was found to contain 56.2 grams of sugar and 495kcal – this is more than double a child’s daily sugar allowance.

Several chains, including Bella Italia and Giraffe, were found to be serving children single-use plastics, like cups and straws.

The Soil Association accused others, such as Las Iguanas and Café Rouge, of “dishing up deforestation” by serving meat fed with uncertified animal feed. The unsustainable production of animal feed is responsible for wildlife loss and deforestation abroad.

Supermarket cafes, which serve millions of meals each year, were included in the league table for the first time alongside high street chains.

They generally scored near the bottom of the table, with no British meat served at Tesco Café, mouldy fruit at Morrisons Café, and Asda Café declining to say whether they use free-range eggs. Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Pizza Express and Tesco Café ranked at the bottom of the league table.

Hattie Shepherd, Soil Association policy officer, said: “Out to Lunch has kickstarted a veg revolution on the high street with more than a dozen chains committing to serving two portions of veg with every child’s meal.

“But many chains are being irresponsible and failing to offer children the food they deserve. It’s baffling that children aren’t offered a single portion of veg at Marks & Spencer’s cafés – this is Simply Rubbish.

“Parents would be shocked if they knew popular chains were dishing up deforestation to their children – especially when it’s clear from top performing chains like Wetherspoon and Ikea that cost isn’t a barrier to healthy and sustainable food. And why are British chains and supermarkets sourcing meat from Thailand and China over British farmers? Our children deserve better.”

Out to Lunch worked with a team of 80 volunteer families (recruited from across the UK in a nationally representative sample stratified by region, ethnicity and income) which visited and reviewed over 100 establishments from the league table.

28 of the UK’s most popular restaurant chains and supermarket cafés were scored against a points system based on school and early years nutrition standards, good practice drawn from the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here scheme and 1,000 parents telling it what matters to them most.

This includes making healthy eating easier if a variety of dishes is offered to children; whether food is cooked fresh, meat is traceable and free range eggs and sustainable fish are used; and if children and families are welcomed and high chairs and children’s cutlery are available

Chains were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their offering to children.

The campaign also found:

– Tesco, ASK Italian, Giraffe, Harvester, Hungry Horse, Prezzo, and Zizzi were unable to trace the meat they served to children back to the farm.

– Chains are failing to support British farmers, serving chicken from Thailand and Brazil; meat from Hungary and Uruguay; fish from China, Indonesia and Malaysia; cucumbers from the Canary Islands; tomatoes from Tunisia and Senegal; and mushrooms from Poland.

– Single-use plastics, including cups, straws and cutlery, were served with children’s meals at Bella Italia, Brewers Fayre, Giraffe, Pizza Express and Sainsbury’s café. One parent reported six cups and straws over two courses for two children at Giraffe.

– Chains are serving “excessively sugary” puddings at Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Harvester, and Hungry Horse. Hungry Horse’s Mini-Mania Sundae was the most sugary pudding on the league table, containing 56.2 grams of sugar and 495kcal.

– Chains including Asda café, Brewers Fayre, Las Iguanas, Morrison’s café, Tesco, TGI Fridays, and Waitrose café are withholding nutritional information from parents, failing to disclose any nutritional information for children’s meals.

– No British meat was offered at Giraffe, Wagamama or Tesco.

– 20 chains, including Café Rouge and Giraffe, are failing to ensure sustainability in their supply chains by serving meat fed with animal feed that lacks sustainability certification.

– In response to the campaign, 13 chains committed to serving two portions of veg with every child’s meal within the next 12 months – Harvester, Ikea, ASK Italian, Zizzi, Giraffe, Hungry Horse, Wetherspoon, Prezzo, Leon, Wahaca, Wagamama, Sainsbury’s café and Brewers Fayre.

– 15 chains are serving organic ingredients – up from four chains when the Out to Lunch campaign began in 2013 – Brewers Fayre, Café Rouge, Frankie & Benny’s, Harvester, Ikea, Las Iguanas, Marks & Spencer café, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Prezzo, Sainsbury’s café, TGI Fridays, Waitrose café, Wetherspoon and Zizzi.

Tags : chainsChildren's menusmenusThe Soil Association
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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