Kids' restaurant meals 'worse than school dinners'
27th July 2004
Children's meals served in restaurants, cafés and other high street outlets are failing to meet basic nutrition guidelines recommended for schools, according to a report in the Food Magazine today.
A survey of 141 children's meals in popular restaurants found every one to fail the minimal standards recommended for schools 1. Many meals contained high levels of fat and saturated fat, and many had excessive calories and insufficient essential vitamins and minerals. The unhealthiest meals were:
Harvester: Harvester's Rib Ticklers meal provided more than two times the maximum recommended calorie intake, four times the maximum recommended fat content and more than three times the saturated fat content for a children's meal;
Wacky Warehouse: their chicken nugget meal was called a 'healthy option' despite containing too much fat, saturated fat and calories, and insufficient amounts of fibre, iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and sodium;
Garfunkel's: Garfunkel's hamburger, fries and baked beans meal provided double the recommended calorie intake for children aged 5-6 and almost double for 7-10 year olds. It also contained more than twice the recommended fat and more than three times maximum saturated fat content for a children's meal. Garfunkel's has already been the target of criticism for their poor children's menus 2.
Rachael Foulds, author of the research, commented "Most meals analysed were energy dense and low in fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. We found a woeful lack of fruit and vegetables on the menus. Only two menus offered a selection of fresh vegetables, while those that included pudding in the meal failed to offer any fruit. Consequently it was very difficult to choose a healthy meal from the children's menus."
The research was undertaken by London Metropolitan University and was inspired by the Children's Menu Awards, held in July last year by The Food Commission's Parents Jury. The awards showed that it was difficult to find healthy restaurant food for children, with most menus offering a restricted choice of deep-fried foods such as chicken nuggets and chips 3.
Annie Seeley, nutritionist and co-ordinator of The Parent's Jury added "This research confirms what many parents feared. Families are eating out more than ever before but these meals perpetuate the cultural norm that children's food should be highly processed and devoid of fresh vegetables or fruit. These outlets must take greater responsibility and improve the quality of their children's meals."
Telephone: 020 7837 2250. Interviews can be arranged with researcher Rachael Foulds and The Parents Jury coordinator Annie Seeley.
The report has been submitted to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in response to their Children's Food Promotion consultation, and to the Department of Health for their Choosing Health consultation. The FSA is working on a nutrition criteria for all foods promoted to children (due to be published in March 2005).
 Nutrition guidelines for school meals have been published by an expert committee of the Caroline Walker Trust http://www.cwt.org.uk/, and have been adopted subsequently by government departments in England (in 1996) and are being proposed in Scotland. The recommendations state that a single meal should provide not more than a third of a child's recommended daily intake of calories, fat, saturated fat or added sugar. The meal should provide at least 30% of a child's recommended daily intake of protein, fibre and vitamin A, at least 35% of calcium and vitamin C, and at least 40% of iron.
 Garfunkel's won a Nasty Nosh Award from the Parents Jury in July 2003 for the low standard of its children's menus. Parents criticized the chain for offering 'The usual kids' menu - heavily processed with little nutritional value.' No fruit or vegetables were available other than baked beans and most of the foods provided a 'mainly fried and unimaginative choice.'
 The Parents Jury was launched in 2002 by the Food Commission as an opportunity for parents to express their views about children's food and food marketing. It has over 1,800 members.
The following pages may also be of interest
- Articles: Children's menus flunk nutrition standards
A new report on children's meals served in restaurants, cafés and leisure centres has uncovered a nutritional nightmare. Annie Seeley reports.