The advice followed the publication of the SA’s Out to Lunch campaign, which ordered 21 of the UK’s most popular high street eateries, including five major pub chains, on the quality and healthiness of their children’s food menus.
Harvester, which placed second on the list behind Jamie’s Italian, had reviewed its children’s offering after placing fifth on the first Out to Lunch report in 2013.
One of the major issues with the Mitchell and Butlers-owned chain was that development chefs had assumed they knew what children wanted to eat and what their parents wanted to give them, according to marketing manager Alison Fieldhouse.
“We have worked with the SA since the first league table and we’ve made a difference to our menu,” she said yesterday (21 October) at the launch of the report in London.
‘All about the balance’
“Creating a good children’s menu is all about the balance with getting the wholesome goodness and healthy nutritional options.
“But, parents also want to use these sorts of eating out occasions as an indulgence and we have to cater for that.”
Catering for the consumers who allowed their children an indulgent treat meant developing dishes that were portion controlled, she added.
One problematic practice that many foodservice venues carried out was offering a children’s menu that was completely different to the adult’s menu, Fieldhouse said.
“Create dishes that are smaller versions of an adult’s because children want to be like mini versions of their parents.”
Feedback from parents
Feedback from parents about the work carried out to improve Harvester’s children’s menu had been positive, she added. The changes also hadn’t added any costs to the children’s offer.
Wetherspoons’ food developer Sophie Jennings agreed that finding the balance between indulgence and nutrition was the key to a successful children’s menu.
“We have a standard price point for our children’s menus across the majority of our 940 pubs, which is £3.99. Children’s meals also come with fruit bags, which parents receive on ordering their food, so even if there’s a five to ten minute wait they’ve got that handy.”
A smoothie, which counts as one of a child’s five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, had also been launched by the chain, which was ranked fourth by the Out to Lunch campaign, Jennings added. “We have also added fresh vegetables to a lot of our children’s meals.”
Soil Association policy officer for food and drink Rob Percival, meanwhile, had seven top tips to help pubs develop balanced and nutritious children’s food menus:
- Make water freely available and remove sugary drinks from the menu
- Let children choose from the main menu
- Serve a portion of vegetables with every meal and fruit-based puddings
- Use quality ingredients, such as free-range and organic
- Provide children-sized cutlery as standard
- Serve freshly prepared food and not ready meals
- Make breast feeding mums feel welcome.