At RED Communications we are involved in many different initiatives to promote fresh fruit and veg to parents, in leaflets and magazines, films, websites and in supermarkets. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a sea-change in the attitudes of the British public toward eating well. Programmes such as Jamie’s School Dinners and Honey We’re Killing the Kids have grown in popularity; sales of ‘healthy’ food and drinks – including bagged salads, cereal bars and bottled water – have boomed; while the Government reports that we are buying and eating more fresh food.
However, in spite of these positive trends why are there still places in Britain where it is nearly impossible to find healthy food, particularly when you are out with the children?
Whether you’re taking the family to a soft play area, to a theme park or the cinema; or stopping at a motorway café en route, at too many of these sites the provision of fresh and healthy food is still woefully low on the agenda.
The finger is often pointed at parents for failing to encourage good eating habits at home, but businesses catering for our families when we are out and about also have a big role to play in developing young palates. So it’s frustrating to see that in the vast majority of venues, the food and drink that we should be eaten is simply not available.
Instead, chocolate, crisps, artificially sweetened drinks are more representative of the typical offer. When this is the case, there is often no option but to feed the kids these things (no sane parent asks a hungry child to wait).
With the recent media attention on children’s diets and the importance that we all eat fruit, some of the more forward-looking places have introduced a fruit bowl. It’s a positive development, but I’d argue that in common with most convenience stores with a fresh spread, the choice is very often sadly predictable, featuring the usual offer; apples, bananas and clementines. There is nothing wrong with these fruits, of course, but realistically how can this meagre spread compete with the huge variety of attractive, brightly coloured bottles of Fruit Shoots, shiny Haribo packets or the plethora of biscuits, chocolate and other snacks available.
Naturally, children love these things. There is also a mentality that says a family day out is all about decadent treats, and fruit apparently doesn’t fall into this category. Caterers say demand for fresh fruit is therefore low and they shape their offer accordingly.
The challenge to play areas and other family destinations is to play an active rather than passive role and actually seek to influence people’s choices positively, to get a varied range of fresh stuff on sale, and get customers, particularly kids, interacting, finding out about it and crucially wanting to eat it.
I’d like to see more of these venues leading by example, encouraging kids to make healthy choices, with imaginative initiatives that help them to do so. This takes work, obviously, but think of the benefit for the health of your customers. If you want to be cynical about it, in the current climate think of the positive PR value you would get from doing this.
Parents still need to play their part, of course, and as well as asking their local play centres, cinemas and so on to provide proper healthy food, they also need to to ensure that the desire to eat healthily is instilled in the home.
If you want to start simply, you can try something that only 25 per cent of the population did last year: eat an avocado. Take a nice Hass avocado – one of the nutritionally richest foods you can give your kids – mash it with grated cheddar cheese, spread on thick bread and toast under the grill. They, and probably you, will absolutely love it.
If more families can foster a love for fresh fruit and veg in the home, they are more likely to seek it out – to demand it when they are out.
A final note – I often hear from adults that the quality of fresh fruit in this country is poor, and the range boring. But this is a long outdated view. Delicious and ripe fruit is available throughout the year. When British summer fruit is not in season, you can find juicy, sweet South African plums, peaches, nectarines or seedless grapes. In the autumn you can add more variety by offering exotic fruit such as Spanish persimon, which is very sweet, has no pips and can be eaten skin-and-all like an apple as a great and energy-giving snack for kids. These just are two of hundred examples I could give. Availability of an exciting range of fruit is not a problem. Lack of imagination and willingness is.
This article first appeared in Indoor Play magazine