Is Britain a Processed Food Nation?

  • New research into the eating habits of under-18s has found that children eat a staggering amount of processed food for breakfast, lunch and dinner several times a week

  • 87% of children and teens eat processed meat in their school lunches. Nine in ten (90%) parents of 5-8-year-olds say their child will eat processed meat at lunch

  • The majority of under-18s eat processed items for dinner several times a week, with sausages (57%) and chicken nuggets (56%) topping the list

New research conducted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has revealed just how much processed food children in Britain are consuming on a weekly basis for lunch, dinner and even breakfast.

The survey of more than 2,000 parents nationwide found that 69% of parents with under-18s say their child usually eats something processed for breakfast, including refined cereal (35%), toast (15%), a full English (11%) or a pastry (8%) all of which are high in either salt, sugar or saturated fat.

At lunchtime, 87% of children and teens are eating processed meat – including ham (57%), sausages/sausage rolls/hot dogs (35%), chicken nuggets (30%) and bacon (24%). More worryingly, this number increases with 5-8 year olds as nine in ten (90%) parents say their child eats processed meat in packed lunches.

Dinner doesn’t fare much better when it comes to how much processed food is on plates. Over a third of under-18s eat processed foods for dinner several nights of the week. Chips (67%), pizza (62%), sausages (57%) and chicken nuggets (56%) are the most popular for families.

Lack of time from parents also seemed to be a contributing factor as to why children are eating such huge amounts of processed foods. 63% of parents questioned said they are only able to spend half an hour or less preparing and cooking dinner yet 59% of parents worry that their child is not getting the nutrients they need in their daily diet.

In spite of the movement towards healthy eating, more than half of parents (56%) opt for processed foods because they are simple, easy and 48% say that they are quick to prepare. Almost 3 in 5 parents admitted to feeding their children processed food because it’s something that they enjoy and it keeps them happy at meal times. Just over half (53%) of parents say their child eats a microwave or ready meal for dinner every week, including 35% who do several times a week or more.

Michelin-star chef and Masterchef: The Professionals judge, Alyn Williams is an Ambassador for the Alaska Seafood industry. “This piece of research highlights the need to break with habit. It’s true that processed foods are convenient, often cheap and ideal for someone who has little time to prepare meals. But cooking a piece of fish takes less time than a sausage.

Perhaps it then boils down to what we’re used to or what we feel confident cooking. Fresh, natural and wild ingredients shouldn’t be feared. Products such as wild Alaska pollock or wild salmon are packed with nutrition and can be served quite simply.

What I am trying to do, in partnership with Alaska Seafood, is encourage a day in the week that encourages parents to think consider an alternative. Wild Wednesday for example offers parents chance to introduce provenance and storytelling at children’s meal times, making it more fun for kids and families”.