Sites of popular family days out are scaling back and removing children’s menus, the Soil Association (SA) reports, as ‘the cost of living crisis bites’.

The SA’s Out to Lunch League Table calls out venues which ‘fail to offer child portions, vegetables and healthy snacks on days out’. It ranks The Eden Project highest, offering a menu of ‘balanced meals with local, fresh, sustainable ingredients’, followed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Chester Zoo, The Science Museum and ZSL London Zoo. At the bottom of the table is Drayton Manor, where a lack of kids’ meals and ‘an abundance of sugary treats’ was identified.

The SA says finding good food for kids at UK attractions has become ‘a real roller coaster’ with junk food dominating menus, despite a clear demand from parents for healthy children’s options on days out. “Visitor attractions are ‘slicing, dicing and ditching’ children’s menus as they battle with rising ingredient costs and staff shortages,” says the charity. Menus are suffering, the SA’s investigation found, as caterers and venues ‘face huge pressures following COVID-19 closures and ongoing staffing and supply chain disruption linked to Brexit and the Ukraine war’.

When every penny counts, parents should not be forced to … waste money on nutritionally inadequate meals for their children

The SA’s head of food policy, Rob Percival, calls the developments ‘alarming’: “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.

“Everyone likes a treat, but our secret diner parents told us they want diverse and exciting children’s menus. They also want attractions to make it easy for their youngsters to enjoy a healthy meal on days out – some of these attractions simply must do better.

“It’s essential that venues take responsibility for how family days out shape expectations around ‘treat food’. They must stop promoting an unhealthy ideal which, parents tell us, tracks back home.

“Offering more veg and less fried or sugary food isn’t that difficult or expensive. In fact, there is little variation in meal prices between the top and bottom of the league table, and several high performing attractions have free entry.

We explore ways to deliver Earth-friendly food at scale

“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,” says Percival.

Becky Fenner, hospitality manager at The Eden Project, comments: “We are delighted to have come top of the Out to Lunch league table. The Eden Project’s mission centres around building relationships between people and planet to demonstrate the power of working together for the benefit of all living things. Central to this is our food story. We explore ways to deliver Earth-friendly food at scale using a food system rather than a food product approach, finding ways of producing food in a regenerative system that is climate positive, increases biodiversity and enhances soil health. Healthy planet – healthy people.”