Where is my meat from?
There is growing interest in less & better meat when eating outside of the home – but are children’s menus lagging behind? The Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign investigates.
Children are often offered a raw deal on the high street. While popular restaurant chains invest in creative and appetising adult menus, their children’s menu is often poor by comparison. The Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign is aiming to change this. Working with secret diner families from around the UK, the campaign has been investigating the food served to children at 25 of the UK’s most popular restaurant chains. The results of the investigation were published last week in an interactive online league table.
Out to Lunch examines a range of issues related to healthy eating, provenance, sustainability, and the family dining experience, but it shines a particular spotlight on the meat on the menu. It asks whether the meat is British, farm assured or higher welfare; whether staff are able to talk about provenance and welfare; and whether a good range of veggie options are available for kids.
A lack of transparency
Secret diners are often shocked at the responses they receive from popular chains when they ask about provenance and welfare. A secret diner at family-favourite Giraffe reported: “We had two chicken dishes. The manager told us that one was sourced from Poland and the other from Thailand, but they didn’t know whether the chickens were free range – I couldn’t believe it.”
Another secret diner at Pizza Express said: “We were told that the chicken comes from Thailand and it is neither organic nor free range. Even the waitress was horrified by the provenance of the meat – needless to say, none of us ate anything with chicken in!”
Provenance is a high priority for parents, and yet the Out to Lunch investigation found that only three chains – Jamie’s Italian, Nando’s, and Strada – are serving 100% British meat. Other chains were found to be offering chicken reared in Poland and Thailand without any farm assurance, and pork sourced from Cyprus and Finland without any welfare assurance.
Jamie’s Italian was the only chain where all the meat was higher welfare. Wahaca and Strada were also found to be serving some higher welfare meat – Wahaca offers RSPCA assured pork, and Strada RSPCA assured chicken. Jamie’s Italian, Wahaca and Nando’s were the only chains where staff could consistently respond to parent questions about where the meat on the menu had come from.
Out to Lunch League Table 2017
More veg please!
It wasn’t all bad news, however – the investigation found that while some chains are lagging behind, a growing number of restaurants are offering creative meat-free options to kids. Wagamama boasts a great range of veggie options; Zizzi highlights the availability of meat-free and vegan options on the children’s menu; Wetherspoons recently added new vegetarian options to its menu, including two new vegan options; and Jamie’s Italian offers kids bundles of veg, ensuring that every meal includes at least two portions and offering one meal that includes a complete five-a-day. KFC and McDonald’s were the only chains that failed to offer children any meat-free options.
Since it launched in 2013, Out to Lunch has been working with participating chains to improve the food and service offered to children, and significant positive changes are now evident. There are now 13 chains offering a portion of veg or salad with every child’s meal, up from 6 chains in 2013. There are now 12 chains that include organic ingredients on the children’s menu, up from 4 chains in 2013. And there are now 14 chains offering children sustainable fish backed by a robust policy, up from 4 chains in 2013.
Out to Lunch is aiming to build on these successes with a focus over the next two years on getting more veg on the children’s menu, including a greater range of meat-free plant-based meals, and on getting higher quality ingredients such as free-range and organic on the children’s menu. The campaign is calling on all chains to offer two portions of veg with every child’s meal, and will be shining a spotlight on this issue when the next league table is published in 2019.
Restaurant chains have a significant role to play in helping their customers shift to eating less and better meat and more plant-based foods. It’s time for chains to embrace a more flexitarian future by prioritising the food offered to their younger diners.
The full results of the campaign can be found at: www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch
Rob Percival is Senior Policy Officer for food and health at the Soil Association.
All images by The Soil Association, all rights reserved.