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Out to Lunch 2021

Child eating

Out to Lunch 2021 investigates the UK’s leading food chains

This year’s Out to Lunch campaign looked behind the menu at Britain’s top 20 restaurants, publishing a league table ranking restaurants based on what they’re serving up to children. While some chains have improved their menus, others are really letting the side down, with meals overloaded with sugar and still containing lots of deep-fried ingredients.

Why is Out to Lunch important?

With 1 in 5 children dining out at least once a week, eating out is no longer a treat. Dishing up around 15 million children’s meals every month, these chains can have a huge impact on the younger generation’s health and the planet. Amid rising obesity rates in the UK (highlighted in the National Food Strategy) and with COP 26 fast approaching, Out to Lunch couldn’t come at a better time. Our campaign aims to improve children’s eating habits in and out of the home, as well as encouraging restaurants to do their bit for the environment.

Children’s food is changing for the better

Thanks to our scrutinous secret diners, we’re seeing real change take place on the high street but there is still more to be done!

So, what did we find? Firstly, it’s not all doom and gloom!

The 13 out of 27 restaurant chains that pledged to serve 2 portions of vegetables with every meal in 2019 have fulfilled their promise. While adding extra veg is still optional on many menus, some menus come with 2 portions as standard. Chains such as Zizzi’s, Leon and Wagamama rank high on their veg content.

As well as looking at main meals, we also looked at what’s for dessert. The results were shocking, with 40% of deserts containing enough sugar to blow a 4-6year old’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sugar of 19g per day.

Chiquito’s topped the list for the most sugary desert, with their build-your-own ice cream coming in at a whopping 56g sugar – that’s more than the 30g RDA for an adult! Thankfully, 15 restaurants have fresh fruit available as a desert, and Ikea gives out pieces of fresh fruit to kids even if they’re not having a meal.

And what about the health of the planet?

Responding to consumer demand, restaurants have increased their meat-free menu options. But the meat served is rarely high-welfare, meaning that it is worse for animals, worse for the planet and worse for our health.

In 2019, 50% of the restaurants surveyed had at least a 25% vegetarian or vegan menu. This year we’ve seen a huge increase in vegetarian meals offered.

Overall, 70% of restaurants have at least 3 meat-free options which make up over 25% of the menu. 30% of these restaurants have a half vegetarian or vegan kid’s menu and Zizzi’s menu has more vegetarian options than meat.

While there is no need to go completely vegetarian or vegan, the meat we do serve has to be better quality to minimise negative climate and nature impacts. Only 3 restaurants serve 100% British meat. And a minimum is ‘farm assured’ meaning that the majority is likely to be industrially produced and with lower welfare standards. Only Wahaca serve 100% free range meat. All other restaurants have a lot of catching up to do. 

What is Out to Lunch calling for? 

Now in its eighth year, Out to Lunch is calling on our food chains to take simple steps to improve the food and service they offer children. These are some of the changes that the Soil Association are encouraging restaurants to make:

  • Work with supply chains to ensure soya used for animal feed is not associated with deforestation. Ten chains signed our pledge this year to work on their supply chains, we’d like to see this commitment across the sector.
  • Make water freely available and stop serving sugary or artificially sweetened drinks to children
  • Ensure desserts don’t exceed recommended sugar intake
  • All restaurants should serve two portions of vegetables with every kids’ meal
  • Use quality ingredients. This includes sourcing locally and using ingredients such as organic, higher animal welfare accredited meat
  • Include more healthy plant proteins in vegetarian and vegan dishes to make sure they are healthy and nutritionally balanced
  • Serve children’s portions of adult dishes (ensuring they are healthy and nutritionally balanced).

Would you like to help bring better and more sustainable food to our restaurants? Share these steps on social media with the hashtag #OuttoLunchUK and tag the chain that you think needs to clean up their act!