Eating-out chains need to stop “hiding behind their brand” and introduce genuinely healthy meals for children, M&C Report’s Future Pub Conference has heard.
Amy Leech, senior policy officer at the Soil Association, which has surveyed parents on their views of children’s food in well-known brands, said: “At the moment far too many pubs and restaurants are hiding behind their brand and their menu when it comes to food quality, and I think that’s going to change dramatically over the next year, two years, five.
“Brand isn’t enough, and you need to back this up with integrity and practices when it comes to eating out. There are no labels when you look at the food on the plate.”
The Soil Association’s survey of 1,000 parents last year saw many chains perform poorly for their provision of healthy, nutritious food for children.
“Put simply, kids seem to be getting a raw deal when people eat out. Many restaurant [and] pub chains are failing to meet the very basic needs of kids.
“The over-riding message from parents is that they’re completely fed up with being offered the usual suspects with chips. Like adults, they expect expect to see variety and a good choice.”
She criticised the lack of transparency at branded pubs and restaurants. For example, staff at 11 of the 21 brands couldn’t say where food came from or whether it was cooked fresh, and just one, Jamie’s Italian, could say where meat came from.
“To be honest I’m surprised how marketing teams sleep at night in some of these high street chains.”
She said there’s a “bit of a one size fits all approach when it comes to kids feeding kids”.
“It’s a case of, ’here’s a menu, get on with it’. As any parent knows, a two or three year old doesn’t eat the same way as an 11 or 12 year old.”
Leech also warned about the future of fizzy, sugary drinks, saying that recent studies into the effects of sugar on health “will become accepted wisdom in three or five years time”.
“At the moment sugar is acceptable and widely available, and public heath experts will be pushing in every direction they can to make that change.”
She said McDonald’s was a “leader” for pledging to take fizzy drinks off children’s menus in 2015.