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Best and worst kids’ menus at restaurant chains

The Soil Association and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Out to Lunch campaign for healthier children's restaurant food reveals shocking statistics

Out To Lunch Campaign. Picture; Soil Association
Out To Lunch Campaign. Picture; Soil Association

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.

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