Parents will be encouraged to expose chains that don’t make the grade in terms of their provision of children’s meals under the Out to Lunch campaign from the Soil Association and Organix, which says that children are still "getting a raw deal". A total of 17,000 parents have agreed to take part so far. It could also result in political pressure to act, with the group in talks with the Government; a leading figure behind the campaign told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s sister title M&C Report that Coalition should be "more hard edged" with companies and consider legislation.
A survey of 21 high street brands carried out by 40 parents judged Jamie’s Italian to be top with 50 points from a possible 80, followed by Wagamama (38) and JD Wetherspoon (38). The brand with the lowest score was Burger King (10), ahead of KFC (14) and Prezzo (17).
Mid-market chains didn’t necessarily score higher more price-sensitive ones. For example, JD Wetherspoon and McDonald’s (11th on 28 points) were ahead of Giraffe (13th, 27 points), PizzaExpress (15th, 25 points) and Zizzi (17th, 23 points).
Outlets were judged on areas such as healthy children’s options were available, whether they were family friendly and served food that could be trusted (eg: providence could be shown). The survey found:
- 12 of the 21 chains have children’s menus dominated by nuggets, burgers and sausages
- Eight don’t include vegetables or salad in the majority of their children’s main meals
- 10 don’t include a portion of fruit in any of their children’s puddings
- Only 11 were willing to say if their food was freshly cooked and where it comes from. Of those 11, just four were making and cooking the majority of their children’s food in the kitchen (Jamie’s Italian, Wagamama, Carluccios and Café Rouge)
- Only one chain - Jamie’s Italian - could reliably tell parents where its meat came from
- Only one offers children’s cutlery as standard
- None displayed signage saying that they welcomed breastfeeding on their premises
- Only two offered a children’s drinks menu free from added sugar and sweeteners.
Overall 66% of parents said they did not think the food provision for children in restaurants is good enough.
The Out to Lunch campaign is calling on high street restaurants and pubs to:
1. Offer all young diners the choice of a children’s portion of adult meals
2. Serve freshly prepared food, not ready meals
3. Offer free water to families on arrival
4. Offer children’s cutlery as standard
5. Make breastfeeding mums feel welcome.
The campaign is asking families to feedback directly to restaurants by leaving a review slip, from a downloadable Out to Lunch campaign pack, on the table when they leave. It’s calling on parents to "be vocal", sharing their feedback with family and friends, and to "vote with their feet". They are also asked to post an image on their Facebook and Twitter profiles pledging support for the campaign.
Joanna Lewis, head of policy at the Soil Association, said: "Our investigation reveals that most high street restaurants are not even meeting the most basic standards families should expect when they eat out. Most are still churning out children’s menus dominated by the usual suspects - burgers, nuggets and pizzas -turning the table into a battlefield for any parents wanting their child to eat well. With 1 in 3 children now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, it’s time for these popular chains to use their influence in a positive way.
"Restaurants need to raise the bar and listen to parents who are saying they want fresh food not ready meals for their children, and the same kind of variety you’d expect as an adult. In the wake of horsegate, it also rings alarm bells that only one restaurant knows where its meat comes from."