14.04.2024

Britain’s unhealthiest attractions REVEALED

Top family attractions are failing children by cutting back on fresh healthy meals in favour of junk food, a damning study reveals. Investigators visited shops and cafes at 16 leading theme parks, gardens and museums and found many filled with sweets, processed meat, sugary drinks and fried food.

Kids were not offered hot meals at almost half of venues and several sold ‘nutritionally inadequate‘ packed lunches lacking fruit or vegetables.

The Soil Association, which organised the Out to Lunch probe ahead of this week’s school half-term, described its findings as ‘alarming’.

The charity sent an average of three families to each attraction and scored them on a range of criteria including their use of seasonal produce, ease of access to free tap water, portion sizes and type of snacks.

Attractions were also asked to complete a survey that considered factors such as the source of their meat, whether eggs were free range and whether food was prepared on-site.

Drayton Manor, which claims to offer the ‘ultimate family day out’, ranked bottom of the league table due to a lack of children’s meals and an ‘abundance’ of sugary treats.

The Ulster Museum and World Museum also performed badly, finishing in the bottom three.

Investigators visited shops and cafes at 16 leading theme parks, gardens and museums. The Eden Project finished top and was praised for serving 'balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients'. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh finished second for 'making healthy eating easy', with 'delicious salad taking centre stage with vegetables from the kitchen garden'. Drayton Manor, which claims to offer the 'ultimate family day out', ranked bottom of the league table due to a lack of children's meals and an 'abundance' of sugary treats

Investigators visited shops and cafes at 16 leading theme parks, gardens and museums. The Eden Project finished top and was praised for serving ‘balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients’. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh finished second for ‘making healthy eating easy’, with ‘delicious salad taking centre stage with vegetables from the kitchen garden’. Drayton Manor, which claims to offer the ‘ultimate family day out’, ranked bottom of the league table due to a lack of children’s meals and an ‘abundance’ of sugary treats

In its report on the Ulster Museum, the Soil Association said: ‘Cakes, doughnuts and other sweet treats are right next to the check out.’

On the World Museum, in Liverpool, it said: ‘The only hot meal for children was chicken nuggets.’

The Eden Project finished top and was praised for serving ‘balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients’.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh finished second for ‘making healthy eating easy’, with ‘delicious salad taking centre stage with vegetables from the kitchen garden’.

Chester Zoo, which freshly prepares and cooks food in its restaurant, ranked third.

The Soil Association said caterers have come under ‘huge pressure’ from Covid closures, staff shortages and supply disruptions.

Overall, parents reported a lack of healthy children’s options, with kids’ menus removed entirely or typically smaller than before the pandemic.

Fewer than half of the attractions served vegetables with every kid’s meal.

EDEN PROJECT: The park finished top and was praised for serving 'balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients'

EDEN PROJECT: The park finished top and was praised for serving ‘balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients’

DRAYTON MANOR: The theme park, which claims to offer the 'ultimate family day out', ranked bottom of the league table due to a lack of children's meals and an 'abundance' of sugary treats

DRAYTON MANOR: The theme park, which claims to offer the ‘ultimate family day out’, ranked bottom of the league table due to a lack of children’s meals and an ‘abundance’ of sugary treats

DRAYTON MANOR: An example of snacks sold in one of the cafes at Drayton Manor

DRAYTON MANOR: Sugary sweets are available from floor to ceiling at Drayton Manor

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, told the Daily Mail: ‘It’s alarming that venues are slicing, dicing, or ditching child appropriate menus.

‘It’s a tough environment for caterers, who are grappling with staff shortages and rising ingredients costs, but it’s disappointing that children’s health seems to be taking the hit.

‘In a cost-of-living crisis, when every penny counts, parents should not be forced to buy large adult portions or waste money on nutritionally inadequate meals for their children.’

He added: ‘Finding good food for kids is the real roller coaster at UK attractions, but there are some great examples of caterers who do put children’s health first.

‘The others must catch up.’

The study found no apparent link between food quality and the cost of a day out.

Second place holder Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh does not charge for entry and eating out at table-topping Eden Project costs just 24p more than dining with bottom-place Drayton Manor.

More than half of parents (55 per cent) said having a range of children’s meals and healthy options was their top food priority when visiting a tourist attraction, compared with 2 per cent who wanted ‘treat’ or ‘junk’ food.

Some parents raised concerns that junk food was being marketed directly to young children.

Eve Thomas, who visited Drayton Manor with her two children, aged three and seven, said: ‘I was surprised at how few healthy options were available.’

Soil Association experts were disappointed to see high quantities of sugar at many venues, particularly those near the bottom of the table.

Whipsnade Zoo’s chocolate brownie, aimed at both adults and children, was the worst offender containing 73g of sugar.

This is more than twice the recommended daily allowance for adults (30g) and nearly four times the limit for kids aged four to six-years-old (19g).

Official figures show four in ten children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, increasing their risk of ill health in adulthood.

Almost a third of five-ten-year-old’s eat less than one portion of veg a day.

Legoland – the most expensive day out among the attractions visited – ranked 13th in the league table after investigators found fried food remains the ‘dominant food on offer’.

It pledged to serve vegetables with every kid’s meal after finishing bottom of the league when the study was last conducted four years ago but the Soil Association said it has failed to honour it.

Six attractions did not have a hot kids’ menu in the restaurant that investigators visited: Drayton Manor, Eden Project, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Science Museum, The Great North, Ulster Museum.

Salad or vegetables only came with every child’s meal in seven of the attractions.

The data from the 11 attractions who returned their survey to the Soil Association showed they serve more than 21,500 kids’ meals each month.

Those who failed to respond were docked a few points as a result: Drayton Manor, the World Museum, Legoland, the National Museum Wales and Ulster Museum.

Rebecca Tobi, registered nutritionist and senior engagement manager at the Food Foundation said the findings were ‘deeply concerning’. She added: ‘Although times are certainly tough for many in the hospitality industry at the moment, we cannot keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to children’s health and nutrition.’ A spokesperson for Drayton Manor Resort said: ‘Where possible, we source local British produce from accredited suppliers.

‘We offer child-sized portions in all restaurants, apart from Safari Pizza, where family-style sharing is encouraged, and free water is available at all of our food and beverage outlets upon request.

‘Healthier options are available in many of our outlets across the resort, including in the hotel, where children’s meals accompanied by vegetables are also available.’

Brona Moffett, head of experience and enterprise development at National Museums NI, which runs Ulster Museum, said feedback on its catering is ‘mostly positive’, but added: ‘We do know we could do better in terms of the variety and appeal of our food offering.’ especially for children which the Out to Lunch survey focused on, and we will be working closely with our catering partner to reflect and improve on this feedback.’

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