Kids’ menus under the spotlight

WETHERSPOON IS one of the few chains doing well at catering for children, who are getting a 'raw deal' all too often according to researchers.

 

Wetherspoon might not be the first port of call for health- conscious parents, but perhaps it should be. The pub chain, which boasts over 880 outlets in the UK, has been praised for its kids’ menu, which includes veg with every meal and lots of fruity options for pudding – even the meals that count towards the five-a-day recommendations are signposted. “Wetherspoon’s menu is one of the best we’ve seen for making healthy eating easy,” said researchers at the Soil Association.

 

The research, part of the charity’s Out to Lunch campaign, was compiled using detailed feedback from 40 families, and further input from another thousand. The 21 pub and restaurant chains assessed were also approached directly for information – but only 11 provided any. The outlets were rated on provenance, healthy eating and attitude towards families. In general, the Soil Association found kids are being offered a “raw deal” when eating out. Many menus remain dominated by nuggets, burgers and sausages, while “eight of the chains don’t include any vegetables or salad in the majority of their main meals for children”.

 

With a nod towards the horse meat scandal (see Footprint March, p4 on line), there were also concerns over sourcing. “In the wake of horsegate, it also rings alarm bells that only one restaurant knows where its meat comes from,” said Joanna Lewis, the Soil Association’s head of policy. That was Jamie’s Italian, with staff able to consistently offer information about meat sourcing policies.

 

McDonald’s, which has just opened its supply chain to inspection by a small group of its customers (see Footprint June, p4 online), was commended, though staff were found wanting when it came to relaying procurement information to parents. The fast food giant was also marked down for availability of healthier foods, with no vegetarian option and a choice of just three main meals. The offering of fruit or carrot sticks instead of chips was, however, noted.

 

Nando’s fared a little better, with a 100% UK Red Tractor sourcing policy for its chicken. And there were also veggie options for young guests, cooked in-house.

 

Preparation and cooking of dishes in-house was an area that not many businesses were happy to talk about, said researchers and families. Only four of those that provided relevant information were cooking the majority of the children’s food in the kitchen. One was Wagamama, which offers children the same food experience as adults. “Their open-plan kitchen and restaurant is not just for show – you can rest assured that most of the food on your child’s plate is chopped and cooked for the first time in the restaurant,” read the report card. This also gives the restaurant flexibility in what it’s offering, said the Soil Association’s policy officer, Amy Leech. “Each restaurant or pub should offer children a portion of any adult meal – but that’s a challenge if it isn’t cooked fresh on- site.”

 

Wetherspoon’s senior food development manager, Jameson Robinson, welcomed recognition of the work carried out to source UK ingredients and offer balanced meals. But he admitted there was more work to be done, including offering varying portion sizes. Harvester, which ranked fifth, was commended for being one of the few that catered properly for the different needs of children, from baby to toddler and beyond. Free refills of Pepsi didn’t go down too well, though.

 

With four out of 10 parents saying they eat out at least once a fortnight, children’s menus represent a huge opportunity for foodservice and hospitality companies. While all are doing something right, few are getting everything right. The Soil Association is hoping for plenty of feedback on its site during the summer holidays as it looks for best practice among the biggest chains and also smaller restaurants so the sector can cater better for kids.

 

Pub/Restaurant | Rating (out of 80)

Jamie's Italian | 50

Wagamama | 38

Wetherspoon | 38

Carluccio's | 36

Harvester | 34

ASK Italian | 33

Cafe Roughe | 33

Frankie & Benny's | 31

Strada | 29

Nando's | 28

McDonald's | 28

Hungry Horse | 28

Giraffe | 27

Beefeater | 27

Pizza Express | 25

Pizza Hut | 25

Zizzi | 23

Brewers Fayre | 20

Prezzo | 17

KFC | 14

Burger King | 10

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