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Parents reject children’s menus in service stations and department stores

30th July, 2003

A Parents Jury of nearly 1,500 parents has judged the quality of children’s menus around the UK, giving awards to the best and worst children’s food on offer.

With the summer holidays fast approaching, parents say they are faced with little choice when they take their children on journeys and outings. “It’s chicken nuggets and chips wherever you go,” said one mother. Another commented: “If parents tasted the food that is available on children’s menus I am sure that they wouldn’t waste their money on it!”

“Children’s menus are typically full of highly processed food of low nutritional quality,” said Annie Seeley, the Food Commission nutritionist who coordinates the Parents Jury. “Service stations and department stores could be encouraging children to enjoy good food, but instead many of them serve up the same old junk. And parents are telling us that they’re sick of it!”

The 2003 Children’s Menu Awards from the Parents Jury

Children’s menus in restaurants and cafés

THE BEST: The Parents Jury said Yellow River Café offered an “inspiring menu with an option to taste grown-up food at a smaller price”. They also praised the fact that fruit salad was on offer – very rare! Parents felt that children could “have a healthy … or balanced meal”.

THE WORST: Garfunkels children’s menu was criticised for offering “Heavily processed food with little nutritional value.” The menu offered a “mainly fried and unimaginative choice” and there were only fruit or vegetables (only baked beans on the breakfast menu).

Children’s menus for outings and events

THE BEST: The Parents Jury said the Eden Project’s children’s menu provided a “good selection” of “uncomplicated dishes” which included fruit and veg. Many were impressed that the restaurant was the only entrant that sourced “local produce” wherever possible.

THE WORST: The pub chain Wacky Warehouse was criticised by parents for offering chicken nuggets, burgers, and pizza with chips, accompanied by a low-juice drink and ice-cream. Parents thought this provided very little choice and was expensive at £4.99. One parent commented: “It’s bog standard children’s junk full of sugar and fat.”

Children’s menus at motorway service stations

All the children’s meals at service stations were criticised by parents for offering little in the way of healthy food or drinks. Many service stations offered lunchboxes for children, which one parent thought should be renamed “junkboxes”. Overall, parents felt that service stations could do a lot to improve their children’s menus, so there was no winner in this category. Typical comments from parents were:

“They’re all fairly awful – the children however are happy to eat the stuff. They’re often enticed by the free toy. I’d prefer to get and share out an adult meal instead, but they’ve usually been won over by the freebie before I can achieve that.”

“You are often tired and not in the mood to complain. Having bad food makes travelling with children even more stressful than it already is.”

THE BEST OF A BAD LOT: Moto received credit from parents for offering a children’s menu with a choice of hot dishes or a pick’n’mix lunchbox. Fruit, milk and juice were available. One father said: “This menu is trying, but with no great effort to sell good food.” A mother said, “If you offer children pick-and-mix or hot food, they nearly always want the junk. I would prefer this not to be offered.”

THE WORST: Little Chef offered pasta with main meals (plus chips) instead of vegetables. It also had sugary desserts instead of fruit. One parent commented: “There’s no fresh food. Everything seems to be out the freezer and into the fryer or microwave. I bet they haven’t got a chopping board in the kitchen!”

Children’s snacks while shopping

THE BEST: Parents thought that John Lewis should get “recognition for not automatically offering nuggets and chips” and also provided a reasonably healthy lunchbox with fresh fruit on offer. “Hot meals were scaled-down versions of adult food – always better than the kids’ food.”

THE WORST: Allders Grub Club was criticised by parents for its lunchbox selection for children aged 18 months to 5 years old. It contained a Frosties cereal bar, a jelly sweet, a sandwich, cake and a low-juice drink. Parents commented: “No milk or pure juice”, “No fresh fruit”. One parent commented: “Unbelievably poor. There was obviously no great thought put into it”.

Further information

Annie Seeley on 020 7837 2250.

Background information: The Parents Jury was set up in March 2002 to help parents voice their concerns about the quality of children’s food and the ways in which products are marketed. The jury votes on products and marketing practices that encourage or discourage children to eat more healthily. All parents with children aged between two and sixteen are welcome to take part. It’s free to join, and not time-consuming. Contact: The Parents Jury, 94 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF.

The following pages may also be of interest

  • Campaigns:Parents Jury
    The Parents Jury was an independent jury of over 1,300 parents who came together to improve the quality of children's foods and drinks in the UK. The Jury was co-ordinated by The Food Commission.