External blog post. Dr Susie Bayley is an inner city GP and mother of two hungry boys. She became increasingly disillusioned with the standard of children’s food when eating out with her young family. Inspired to make a difference she created http://betterchildrensmenus.com: an online campaign to improve children’s food, promote progressive eateries and provide a community for parents passionate about feeding their children well.
Eating out with children can be hard work. There’s the stress of getting the little ones into the café, juggling trays and trying to find something appropriate to buy for them. I am quite confident I’m not alone; I am sure every parent has struggled with temper tantrums and flying food whilst trying to have a relaxed meal or coffee, the poor, exasperated serving staff looking on.
But why is this the case? Café culture in the UK is booming and despite austerity people are still going out. Mums and babes are frequently seen in in the high street. Babies are not too difficult in this scenario, it’s when the kids get a little older that eating out becomes more tricky.
Hop across the channel and the situation seems rather different. Children are welcomed in all cafés and restaurants with open arms. Food for les enfants or bambini is the same as would be offered to adults, but smaller. As a consequence dining out is more relaxed and often, children seem better behaved. Broadening kids culinary horizons is welcomed as a challenge and the family eats together.
We do have very different food cultures, but I do feel that in part, this is due to the value (or lack of it) we place on children’s food in the UK.
You would have had be living in a cave in the past few years not to have heard stories about the increase in childhood obesity. The statistics in the UK are a grim read. As a GP I’m very aware of the long-term health consequences, and it frightens me. There are innumerate campaigns about child health, sadly, it seems, hospitality sector has been rather sluggish to respond. Although there are some great cafés and restaurants, many still assume a plate of sausages, chips and beans or a sad cheese sandwich is all that a child wants. In my experience, its not.
I’m not saying ban all of the treats, I cannot say that I regularly go to a café for a low calorie meal, but we can endeavor to improve the quality of children’s food and add healthier options. It’s about choice and raising standards.
For these reasons http://betterchildrensmenus.com was founded. I want to encourage eateries to take a second look at their menus and see if they could do better.
Those venues who are already progressive with excellent food for children are promoted on the site. Better children’s menus cafés and restaurants commit to the following on their children’s menu:
– Better choice: An increase in the breadth of child menus. Where possible, offering smaller portions of adult dishes (particularly where special dietary requirements exist e.g. dairy allergy/coeliac disease)
– Better ingredients: Using fresh produce and avoiding processed food with additives, preservatives and excess salt
– Better for them: Having some dishes which are healthier options
We’re also a community for parents to swop tips on how to get kids to eat well. We have a section where parents can voice their wishes and let the industry know what they would like to see on children’s menus.
The interest I’ve had from parents and both famous and local independent eateries has been phenomenal. It is clear that there’s a wealth of establishments out there who already have the same quality control for our children’s food as they do the adult plate. There are dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free options, and many offer kids smaller versions of the locally-sourced, home-made adult menu. This is fantastic, but we need more venues to commit.
So if you’re an owner or manager of a café, look again at the food you serve children. If you already follow our pledge, please sign up and help us encourage others to change. If, not, could you make a better children’s menu?