Restaurants fuelling obesity with sugar-laden kids meals

Puddings with three times the daily sugar allowance and poor availability of fruit and veg are examples of “continuing poor practice” amongst many high street restaurants when it comes to children’s meals.

Using information from secret diner families, the Soil Association has ranked 25 of the UK’s most popular chains based on the food they offer to children. Jamie’s Italian came top, with 75 out of 90 points, followed by Wetherspoon (65). Strada was next with 63, climbing 16 places compared to 2015’s league table.

The good news is that there are now 13 chains serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal (up from six in 2013, whilst 12 chains include organic ingredients on the menu (up from four in 2013). The average meal price at the top five chains is also cheaper than at the bottom five.

However, 20 of the 25 restaurants scored 50 points or fewer, with Nando’s (35), KFC (32), TGI Fridays (30), Prezzo (28) and Burger King (22) the worst performers. Rob Percival from the Soil Association said the findings are a “national scandal”.

Three in four 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 [these] concerns by dishing up super-sized calorific junk, undermining national efforts to tackle childhood obesity,” Percival said.

Indeed, one pudding at Hungry Horse (38 out of 90) was found to include 78g of sugar – the daily recommended allowance for seven to 10 year olds is 24g. Children’s meals were also found to include additives linked to hyperactivity (E133 Brilliant Blue FCF), additives made from insects (E120 cochineal), and flavour-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate).

In response, Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays have committed to discontinuing free refills of sugary drinks throughout their restaurants by March 2018; both chains have also committed to including calorie information on children’s menus. Harvester, Café Rouge and TGI Fridays have promised to offer puddings in a “healthier portion size” by March 2018, according to the Soil Association.

As part of its Out to Lunch campaign, the Soil Association is calling on all high street restaurants, pubs and cafés to take seven simple steps to improve the service and food they offer children. This includes serving two portions of veg with every child’s meal, ensuring children’s puddings are an appropriate portion size and to stop promoting sugary drinks to children.

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