Full English cooked breakfast

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The supermarkets are at odds with charities delivering the government’s holiday food programme, which must comply with school food standards

The supermarkets have been shouting about their free meals for children. Yet the majority of these meals, designed to serve low-income families over the summer holidays, are nutritionally not fit for purpose. And I don’t say that lightly. 

A typical menu across many participating supermarkets contains items such as sausages, chicken nuggets and fish fingers – even all-day breakfasts. These options all heavily rely on manufactured meat products. So, for balance, you’d expect plenty of vegetable sides and fruit to accompany these meals, right? Wrong. Many of these meal options offer no vegetables on the side, with a free piece of fruit thrown in if you’re lucky.

It means supermarkets are at odds with the charitable organisations delivering the government’s holiday food programme, which must comply with school food standards stipulating the inclusion of at least one portion of fruit & vegetables. That decision continues to leave me, and many others, baffled. 

Yes, the priority is to ensure struggling families can feed their children hot and cold meals when the schools are closed. But those children deserve the option of healthy, nutritious meals all year round.

Instead, our most vulnerable children are being sold a diet overloaded with saturated fat, salt and sugar – all while the government is supposedly on a mission to halve childhood obesity levels by 2030.


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The issue is highlighted by the profoundly concerning statistics around childhood obesity. The pandemic prompted the biggest increase in childhood obesity levels recorded to date. Today, 25.5% of 10 to 11-year-olds and 14.4% of four to five-year-olds now live with obesity, according to the NHS.

Children living in the most deprived areas are bearing the brunt of this issue – they are more than twice as likely to be obese. These are the same children who are likely to take full advantage of supermarket meals during the summer.

So at the bare minimum, supermarkets should follow school food standards. The priority is ensuring children have access to nutritious hot and cold meals during the school holidays. 

Retailers are well aware that childhood obesity was one of the key factors behind the clampdown on high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods, due to come into effect in October. This clampdown will restrict the promotion of such foods. 

Considering this awareness, supermarkets should equally take control of what they are offering here. That means increasing the variety of healthy meals and fruit & vegetables on offer, while removing any restrictions requiring families have to buy an initial product (like a drink or adult meal) to be eligible for a free/cheap children’s meal. The government should also be forcing supermarkets to offer healthy meals that meet school standards, rather than allowing them to fill their offers with ultra-processed meat.

At a time when we’re fully alert to one of the greatest health challenges of our time, where we’re fully aware of how important healthy, nutritious food and positive behaviours from a young age can positively influence our children’s future health, the lack of responsibility shown here is deeply worrying.

And a free piece of fruit won’t be enough to change my mind.