Nutrition Project

The "Healthier Children's Menus When Eating Out" nutrition project was funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and NHS Somerset and was a collaborative project between the five local authorities Environmental Health services in Somerset and Dr Jane Philpott, Nutrition Consultant of Inspiring Nutrition.

A public health nutrition project was undertaken in Somerset in 2009-2010 with the aim of improving the nutritional quality of children's menus when eating out. The project was funded by the Food Standards Agency and NHS Somerset to further their strategic goals of reducing child obesity and other diet-related health problems in the population.

Environmental Health Officers from all five local councils in Somerset (Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, and West Somerset Council  ) worked together to engage small independent catering businesses, primarily in the leisure and tourism sectors, in training on nutrition and healthier catering. The aim of the training was to improve proprietors' understanding of the business benefits of healthier catering and the effect of diet on health, as well as to offer practical suggestions on simple changes that can be made to catering practices to reduce saturated fat, salt and sugar in the food provided, whilst maintaining or improving financial margins.

Training was delivered by Dr Jane Philpott, Nutrition Consultant of Inspiring Nutrition. and involved a combination of educational seminars and one-to-one advisory visits to premises. Fifty caterers from 39 diverse businesses across Somerset participated in the training, including children's nurseries, caf├ęs, pubs and restaurants. Visits were made to 22 of these businesses and four of them also received detailed nutritional analysis of their menus. Feedback on the training was 94 per cent positive. Some businesses responded by changing their entire menus; some removed their special children's menus - chicken nuggets and chips, sausage and chips, pizza and chips - and instead offered smaller portions of the healthier adult menu items; and others made simple adjustments to recipes across the whole menu to reduce saturated fat, salt and sugar, and increase content of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Evidence suggests that approximately 80 per cent of the businesses made beneficial changes to their menus, whilst 20 per cent made no changes at all.

The work in children's nurseries was particularly encouraging because, in some cases, substantial changes to menus were made almost overnight, such as switching from white to whole grain varieties of bread, rice and pasta, increasing the use of plant source proteins and oily fish, and replacing sugary desserts with fruit-based dishes, without affecting demand and even increasing take-up of meals. Barriers to change include limited nutritional knowledge and practical skills of caterers in healthier catering; projection of caterers' own beliefs and attitudes about food onto children - 'because I do not like it, they will not like it', 'children will only eat junk food' - which is often unsupported by evidence; uncertain customer demand on a day-to-day basis, leading to a reliance on frozen foods to reduce wastage; logistical challenges, such as large numbers of customers appearing at once after shows at tourist attractions, which increases reliance on foods which hold well and are easy to serve; kitchen staff with limited cookery skills, leading to dependence on ready-to-use sauces and heat-and-serve meals, which are often higher in salt and saturated fat than home-made dishes; sometimes limited availability of lower salt and saturated fat containing products from catering wholesalers; and a perception that value for money equates to larger portion sizes, rather than thinking about offering smaller portions and reducing the price.

Thanks goes to the Food Standards Agency and NHS Somerset for funding and to those businesses and local authorities who participated and supported this project.

Full copy of final report (copyright held by Inspiring Nutrition).

For further information please contact the Food Safety Team