Family attractions failing on healthy food

New campaign reveals meat and sugar on the menu at Britain’s museums, galleries and key sites

The Soil Association's 'Out To Lunch' league table and close up of healthy salad buffet

The Soil Association has been looking into how well some of our most popular visitor attractions are doing in the healthy eating stakes – and the answers are not encouraging.

As part of its Out To Lunch campaign, the food and farming charity has been assessing the food on offer at 20 tourist sites around the country. An army of parents acting as “secret diners” was sent in to galleries, arts centres, castles and museums to help compile a league table of the most and least healthy. Points were earned for providing children and adults with healthy choices and fresh food from sustainable sources.

Top of the league table was the Eden Project in Cornwall, which scored 99 points out of a possible 150 for its freshly prepared and locally sourced food, while in last place were Brighton Pier and the Natural History Museum in London, the most popular visitor attraction in Britain, which both scored a paltry 22 points. The museum declined to share information about where it sources its food from, how environmentally sustainable it is or whether it takes action on food waste.

Other attractions in the top 5 included Durham Cathedral and Titanic Belfast; languishing in the bottom 5 were Stirling Castle, Alton Towers and the British Museum.

Three-quarters of children’s lunchboxes surveyed contained no vegetables or salad whatsoever. Half contained no fresh fruit but were packed with cakes and other sugary foods – a London Zoo lunchbox was found to contain up to 36 g of sugar, almost 200 per cent of the recommended daily allowance for children.

Compounding such distressing findings, the children’s food on offer in the bottom 5 attractions cost almost £1 more than the healthier fare available in the top 5 attractions.

According to the Soil Association, only 14 per cent of parents think the children’s food available at popular attractions is good enough. Rob Percival, the charity’s policy officer, said that because unimaginative ultra-processed food was the norm, parents were finding it difficult to enjoy a healthy day out. “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,” he said.

The biggest range of meat free adult meals were offered at the Mac Birmingham arts centre and the Eden Project. Dishes at the former include Asian Spiced Vegetable & Chickpea Salad, while the latter serves up the likes of Falafel with Roasted Red Pepper and Spring Onion Salad

“Rather than hindering individuals, families, and schools who are doing their bit for the planet by supporting Meat Free Monday or eating less meat and animal products overall, visitor attractions should be taking the lead in helping them,” said Percival. “It would make a real difference if attractions offered a range of good plant-based options, enabling and inspiring all of us to eat healthily and sustainably on days out.”

As a result of the findings, the Out to Lunch campaign is calling for all visitor attractions in Britain to: include a portion of veg or salad in children’s lunchboxes; focus on fresh rather than ultra-processed food; make sweet treats less available; make fresh drinking water available for free; buy British and organic produce.

View the Soil Association’s interactive Out to Lunch league table – and vote with your feet for healthier, meat free days out for all families to enjoy!