Out To Lunch Campaign. Picture; Soil Association

Best and worst kids’ menus at restaurant chains

Soil Association and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reveal shocking statistics

A new league table ranking children’s food in 25 of the UK’s most popular restaurant chains was published on World Obesity Day (October 11), by the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign.

Several chains have improved their menus since the last survey two years ago, but the Soil Association, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and 80 secret diner families, has uncovered continuing widespread poor practice.

The survey highlights revealed:

  • Jamie’s Italian came top, with Burger King last. Wetherspoons and Beefeater were in the top five.
  • Oversized children’s puddings: one dish at Hungry Horse included 78g of sugar, more than 400 per cent of a child’s daily sugar allowance.
  • Meals included additives linked to hyperactivity (E133 Brilliant Blue FCF), some made from insects (E120 cochineal), and MSG (monosodium glutamate).
  • Poor support for British farmers, with restaurants serving potatoes from Egypt, apples from Canada, and a side salad containing ingredients from 32 countries, including Madagascar, Russia, Malaysia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Turkey, India and Peru.

Despite the horror stories, the table shows that children’s food on the high street has improved since the campaign launched in 2013. There are now 13 chains now serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal (up from six in 2013) and 12 chains that include organic ingredients (up from four in 2013).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with the Out to Lunch team, from left, Hattie Shepherd, Joanna Lewis and Rob Percival. Picture; Soil Association
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with the Out to Lunch team, from left, Hattie Shepherd, Joanna Lewis and Rob Percival. Picture; Soil Association

Rob Percival from the Soil Association said: “There is still a national scandal unfolding in plain sight: 75 per cent of UK parents say they are worried by the portion size of children’s puddings when they eat out.

“We found that renegade chains are ignoring parent concerns by dishing up super-sized calorific junk, undermining national efforts to tackle childhood obesity.”

This year Out to Lunch joined forces with TV chef and campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is filming a new BBC One series on obesity. Fearnley-Whittingstall and Out to Lunch urged chains 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 by March 2018 and to include calorie information on the children’s menu. Harvester, Café Rouge and TGI Fridays pledged to offer puddings in a healthier portion size by March 2018.

The campaign also discovered:

  • The most calorific pudding is Harvester’s Chocolate Cookie Pizza, which contains 721kcal – almost 50 per cent of a seven-year-old’s daily calorie requirement. In response to the campaign, Harvester has said it will reformulate the pudding.
  • Although not advertised on the children’s menu, free refills of sugary drinks are still available to children at Frankie & Benny’s and Nando’s.
  • At 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 per cent British 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 breastfeeding mums feel welcome

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “I’m delighted that two chains have risen to our challenge and gone some way to stop selling children ‘bottomless’ fizzy drinks – which of course amounts to ‘all the sugar you can eat’, and some chains have also reduced the shocking amount of calories that are often found in puddings.”

Jamie Oliver said: “The Out to Lunch award means a lot to us because we put so much effort into making our kids’ food balanced and delicious. All our meals for children contain at least two of their five-a-day, and nothing artificial.”

An interactive league table featuring a profile of each chain can be viewed at www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch.


Beamish Museum Harvest Festival and Harvest Home 2017

Festival of Agriculture finale, Saturday, September 30 & Sunday, October 1

The County Durham museum’s month-long festival celebrating the agricultural and rural heritage of North East England ends this weekend with Harvest Festival and Harvest Home.

There will be displays in The Pit Village chapel with choir performances as well as harvest displays at Pockerley Old Hall and the 1940s Farm.

Saturday, September 30

  • 11am: Gateshead Salvation Army Community Choir – Pit Village chapel.
  • 1pm: Harvest Festival Programme – Beamish Youth Club and Gateshead Salvation Army Community Choir – Pit Village chapel.
  • 2pm: CONCORDIAMICI performing Choral Evensong – Eston Church.

Sunday, October 1

  • 11am: Shiney Row Male Voice Choir – Eston Church.
  • 11am: Broomside Choir – Pit Village chapel.
  • 12pm: Broomside Choir – Pit Village chapel.
  • 1pm: Harvest Festival Programme – Beamish Youth Club and Beamish Volunteer Choir – Pit Village chapel.
  • 2pm: Beamish Volunteer Choir – Pit Village chapel.

Other activities

  • Corn dolly making at Pockerley Old Hall.
  • King Coal Band performing from 1pm to 4pm at Pockerley Old Hall.
  • Sunnyside Up playing at The 1940s Farm from 1pm to 4pm.
  • Paper flower making in The Pit Village school.
  • Period-style food displays at Pockerley Old Hall and The 1940s Farm.

For more information, visit www.beamish.org.uk.


Apple Day: October 21, 2017

Celebrate the autumn apple harvest

Roger's premier gold-winniing apple and pear exhibit
Roger’s premier gold-winning apple and pear exhibit at Harrogate Autumn Flower Show

It’s one of the crops we associate with autumn so celebrate the diversity of local varieties on Apple Day, held on October 21 each year.

The day was launched in 1990 by Common Ground, with the aim of creating a custom, and even an autumn holiday.

It’s a spotlight on the varieties we are in danger of losing, not simply the apples, but in the diversity of landscape, ecology and culture.

Activities take place across the country, notably by the Women’s Institute, the National Trust and Wildlife Trusts.

The first Apple Day took place in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, with 40 stalls showcasing fruit growers, nurseries, juice and cider-makers, writers and illustrators.

How to Celebrate Apple Day

  • Seek out apple varieties native to your region.
  • Check out events near you.
  • Host an Apple Day event, encouraging people to try new recipes and types of apples.
  • Try locally brewed ciders.
  • Take part in the Apple Wassail, a traditional form of this ancient practice, where bread is laid on the roots of trees which are then doused with cider. It’s supposed to bless the trees and bring about good harvests.

To find out more about Apple Day, visit www.commonground.org.uk/apple-day/.

For National Trust apple day events, starting this weekend, visit here.

Helmsley Walled Garden in North Yorkshire is hosting an event, visit my Cool Gardens post here.

Lubera’s recommendations for Apple Day

Why not celebrate Apple Day by planting your own tree? Here are some recommendations from Swiss fruit experts Lubera’s Bionda range.

Apple Bionda Marilyn: Medium-sized, round to slightly flat, a beautiful yellow colour when ripe, never gets russets (which is very common in yellow varieties).
Texture: Extremely juicy, fine-celled and very firm.
Flavour: Sweeter than Golden Delicious, has a distinct pear aroma when fully ripe.
Growth: Good branching, resistant to scab, little mildew.
Harvest: Matures in early September, but can also be left on the tree until mid-September, obtains a distinct pear flavour, shelf life until Christmas, from £19.90 for a 1-year tree in a 5-litre pot.

Apple Bionda Patrizia: Medium-large, beautifully high built, with deeper and wider calyx.
Texture: Firm, fine-celled and crisp, juicy.
Flavour: Even after storage, there is still lots of flavour in the spring – lots of sugar and acidity.
Growth: Medium-strong habit. Very productive, resistant to scab.
Harvest: Mid-October, directly from the tree, should be stored 1-3 months before being eaten, from £17.40 for a 1-year tree in a 5-litre pot.

Apple Bionda Bella: Round, slightly tall, the “greenest” Bionda variety.
Taste: The successor of Golden Delicious – the storability of Patrizia (until February/March) and the best texture; the flavour is balanced in autumn (sweet with good acidity, then it gets sweeter).
Growth: Compact, very well-branched; resistant to scab; no russeting.
Harvest: Mid-late September, from £19.90 for a 1-year tree in a 5-litre pot.

Beech Seedling

Seed Gathering Season 2017

The Tree Council’s bid to grow trees of the future, Sept 23-Oct 23

This autumn, The Tree Council is aiming to inspire everyone, particularly schoolchildren and families, to gather seeds, fruits, and nuts and grow the trees of the future in Seed Gathering Season.

Old apple tree
Grown from a pip when I was eight in my back yard and transported to my garden

The festival started on the autumn equinox, September 23 and continues until October 23, giving everyone plenty of time to hold events and get involved.

During the next month, most trees will produce seeds and fruit that can be gathered, potted up, sown and, with care, grown into a tree.

There are coordinated events and informal activities, or just go out for a walk and reflect on the importance of trees in your own neighbourhood.

It’s not hard to grow a tree from seed – I managed it at the age of eight and still have the mature apple tree, 42 years later!

Pauline Buchanan-Black, director-general of The Tree Council said: “Anyone who values the trees in their street, park or fields can play their own part in passing it forward by collecting healthy seeds with a view to growing a young tree.

“In the right place, that seed will become not only a visual asset but also, a living, breathing part of the ecosystem that is the bedrock of life as we understand it.

“For too long, the value of trees in both economic and environmental terms has been understated and Seed Gathering Season is the time to turn that around. Everyone with a place to plant can grow a seedling of their own and watch it develop into a tree for the next generation.”

For expert advice, there are planned events, run by The Tree Council’s member organisations, its volunteer tree wardens, and other supporters. Further information and a free poster to download can be found on www.treecouncil.org.uk/.

For events near you, visit http://www.treecouncil.org.uk/Take-Part/Near-You.

Agricultural Show

Beamish Museum Agricultural Show 2017

A Celebration of Rural Life,  September 14-17

One of the most popular events in Beamish’s calendar, the Agricultural Show, starts today and ends on Sunday, recreating a typical country show of the early 1900s. Continue reading “Beamish Museum Agricultural Show 2017”

Bee on chive

Bee-friendly facts for September and October

Let your grass grow for wild bees

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts’ Bee Creative in the Garden! campaign has had a fantastic response from gardeners who have created havens for wild bees. Continue reading “Bee-friendly facts for September and October”