A special day out | News

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A special day out

Thursday 5th January 2017
The Soil Association has launched a new league table that looks at the state of food in some of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions.

A special day out

The Soil Association has launched a new league table that looks at the state of food in some of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions as part of its Out to Lunch campaign. As most parents will already know, finding affordable and healthy options at many family-focused attractions can be a challenge, but the Soil Association’s army of ‘secret diners’ have uncovered everything from lunchboxes loaded with sugar, to dodgy ingredients and a lack of transparency about where food comes from. Together, these attractions – which include art galleries, zoos, visitor centres and theme parks – receive nearly 40 million visitors every year.

The Out to Lunch campaign has uncovered a lack of healthy choices for children at popular family attractions. Three-quarters of children’s lunchboxes didn’t include any veg or salad options, while half of attractions offered lunchboxes including muffins, cakes and sweet treats, but no fresh fruit. These findings come weeks after the government announced new plans to tackle childhood obesity.

Secret diner parents reported that while sugary drinks were readily available, few attractions were prominently providing free fresh drinking water for children. When secret diner parents at the 900-acre Alton Towers park asked for a glass of tap water, they were refused and told to buy a bottle from the restaurant. Secret diners at Stonehenge commented that free drinking water was available for dogs but not families. At no attractions were healthy drinks the normal option in vending machines.

Millions of families visit the UK’s iconic visitor attractions during the school holidays. Parents say that food on offer isn’t up to scratch – only 14 per cent of parents say that children’s food at popular attractions is good enough. Anya Hart-Dyke, an Out to Lunch secret diner parent, said: ‘I’ve lost count of the lunchboxes and children’s meals we’ve encountered on family days out that I just won’t consider buying for my child – as a parent you get used to the disappointment. Healthy, real food must be a priority for family attractions – I’d be far more likely to come back if I knew my child would get some proper food.’

Rob Percival, Soil Association policy officer, said: ‘Visitor attractions are making life hard for parents who want to enjoy a healthy and happy day out. Lunchboxes loaded with sugar and unimaginative ultra-processed foods are the norm. So long as junk-filled lunchboxes continue to dominate family outings, parents will have a hard time convincing their children that healthy food can be a treat too.’

The Natural History Museum and Brighton Pier scored in joint last place in the league table, but on a positive note, some attractions proved they were bucking the trend. The Eden Project (first place) and Chester Zoo (second place) topped the league table, offering healthier meal choices and using locally sourced produce such as milk and vegetables, where possible.

An interactive league table profiling each attraction can be viewed on the Soil Association website at www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch.

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