Struggling families are being encouraged by the government to feed their children cut-price supermarket cafe menus including ultra-processed junk food during the summer holidays, experts have claimed.
The Government’s Household Aid campaign last week urged families hit by the cost of living to take advantage of new or existing supermarket meal deals, including a ‘kids eat for £1’ offer at Asda and “kids eat free” with adult paying customer at Morrisons.
David Buttress, the government’s “cost of living czar” and co-founder of food delivery company Just Eat, said the first phase of the campaign covered school holidays. “It’s a good way to support people during the summer holidays when school meals aren’t available,” he said.
However, analysis by Professor Greta Defeyter, whose research has informed the government’s holiday food programme, suggests the menus fall short of school food standards.
Defeyter said: “The majority of these foods are ultra-processed, which have been linked to obesity and cancer. The symbolic nod to vegetables is the serving of peas and a meal accompanied by a salad.
Children in the Asda hypermarket cafes can choose from hot items such as chicken nuggets, fish sticks and all-day breakfasts. But only two of the five hot meal options include vegetables or salads. Morrisons Cafe offers kids chicken nuggets, fish sticks and sausages. But only one in five has a vegetable side.
Primary schools are only expected to provide fried starches once a week, but according to the analysis, Asda’s menu lists fries three times.
Schools should also provide at least one serving of fruit and vegetables a day, but Asda’s hot food menu does not list any fruit options, and while Morrisons provides only one fruit, peas are served with only one meal. Schools should only serve manufactured meat products once a week, yet these ultra-processed foods are available on supermarket menus every day.
Professor Defeyter added that these menus do not meet the dietary needs of children. “The government shouldn’t be promoting menus that are mostly made up of ultra-processed foods. Families should have quality and nutritious food all year round,” she said.
“If the charities running holiday activities and the government’s food program are supposed to provide children with meals that meet school food standards, why can’t the big supermarkets do the same?”
Asda said it launched the program to help the thousands of children who go hungry when schools close for the summer. “The menu includes hot and cold dishes, fruits and vegetables to provide different options for children,” a spokesperson said.
Morrisons said all dishes on its children’s menu come with a piece of fruit and a drink. “We support local communities by donating nutritious food to schools and groups throughout the summer holidays,” they said.
Barbara Crowther, from the food charity Sustain, said children’s menus were often overloaded with foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. She said: “Too much of these types of meals during the summer could rack up major health issues for children in the longer term.”
Over 40% of children aged 10-11 are obese and overweight in England, while children in deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese as those in wealthy areas.
Under pressure from charities and campaigners concerned about the growing number of parents using food banks outside school hours, the government launched a national holiday activity and food program last year. However, the schemes, which are run by the councils, only run for 16 days out of the 6 week summer holiday, and only children eligible for free school meals are eligible to attend, leaving more than 800,000 children in poverty, without any specific government funded program. arrangement.
Crowther added: “Once again we see the government turning to supermarkets and big business to cover up their own failure to ensure all children can access healthy food during the summer holidays.”
A government spokesperson said: ‘Ensuring children have healthy meals is a priority, which is why our holiday activities and £200million-a-year food program provide healthy meals for children from families low income. Last summer, more than 600,000 children had access to the program, of which more than 495,000 are entitled to free school meals.