The charity, which campaigns for better food and farming, looked at the UK’s top 20 family attractions for its Out to Lunch 2016 survey.
It found that the children’s menus in the Natural History Museum (NHM) and the British Museum, London, came bottom of the table in terms of offering fresh, healthy and family-friendly options.
The NHM ranked lowest, scoring 22 out of 150 on the league table; secret diners found that none of the children's meals in the museum’s cafe, which is run by the catering company Benugo, included a portion of vegetables, and free drinking water could not be found anywhere in the museum. The options on offer for children include cod goujons, pizzas, burgers and macaroni cheese.
Parents also felt that sweets were being “flogged” to children at museum shop checkouts, and found that the cafe lacked transparency about the provenance and quality of the ingredients it used.
“This seems notably at odds with the museum’s aim of inspiring debate over the future of the natural world,” the survey stated.
Similar problems were identified at the British Museum’s Great Court Restaurant and Gallery Cafe, also run by Benugo, which scored 23/150. Secret diners found that although adults could choose from a range of healthy meals, food for children was limited to choices like tomato pasta or sausage and mash.
Snacks and dessert options for children consisted largely of sugary, processed foods, with a lack of fresh fruit on offer, found the survey.
One diner was told that it would not be possible to add a portion of vegetables to their child’s meal, while another reported that the only drinking water taps they could find in the museum gave out scalding hot water.
Further up the table, Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery scored 55/150 for offering farm assured meat and free range eggs, as well as child-sized portions of adult meals, but its children’s menu was found to be dominated by chips and fried foods, and lunchboxes did not include any vegetable or salad options.
The Eden Project in Cornwall came top of the league, scoring 99/150 for freshly prepared meals that used locally sourced, seasonal and organic ingredients. The attraction won praise for promoting its core mission through the cafe, using the food served on the plate as "an opportunity to learn about where food comes from”.
The NHM said in a statement that Benugo’s cafes “exceed standard practice for ingredients’ provenance, welfare and farm assurance, and seasonality”.
“We look forward to engaging more fully in the survey next year and are confident that our high standards will result in a better ranking,” it added. The cafe’s menu is currently being redeveloped and will relaunch in December.
Do museum cafes need to raise their game when it comes to children's menus? Vote in the poll below and have your say.
Poll: Are children’s menus at museum cafes too unhealthy?— Museums Association (@MuseumsAssoc) October 25, 2016