The first Vegetable Summit by The Food Foundation saw supermarkets, manufacturers and caterers commit to getting people eating more veg with their Peas Please pledges. But what are the biggest barriers to eating our greens? asks Morag Wilson
Everybody knows they should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. But how many actually do? Among children, 79.1% of children aged 5-10 years old and 95.5% of children aged 11-16 are not eating enough veg, says the Food Foundation. And this doesn’t improve greatly once we’re adults. Our current shopping habits, according to Kantar Worldpanel, shows that veg makes up just 7.2% of our shopping baskets.
The matter isn’t helped when eating out, either. We only get half a portion of veg for every three meals eaten out. Of course, that’s in restaurants and not in school meals, but it shows a bad attitude towards veg. We should be celebrating quality, British-grown carrots and courgettes, no?
The Food Foundation thinks so, and held its first Vegetable Summit to get supermarkets, caterers, manufacturers and restaurant chains to commit to improve the nation’s diets. Lidl, Tesco, Greggs, Mars Food and Birmingham City Council were among the 40-odd Peas Please pledges made at the summit, held at London’s City Hall. They were small pledges, but meaningful.
Lidl will expand its fun-sized veg range, Sainsbury’s will increase the number of products that contain a ‘one of your five a day’ message, and Tesco is making more veg a key element of their new product development. Greggs will include at least one portion of veg in their soup and leaf-based salad range and Mars Food pledged to add veg to on-pack and online recipes and champion increased veg with their catering customers.
However, it’s not quite as easy as pushing positive veg messages in the media. For one, vegetables can be expensive, but also many children don’t really like vegetables. Both points were tackled at the Veg Summit by Jason O’Rourke, head teacher at Washingborough Academy, and author Kathleen Kerridge, who writes and vlogs about the difficulties of raising children as a ‘working poor’ family.
Kathleen explained that the priority of a low-income parent is to fill their child’s stomach, so the first choice will always be the meal with the highest calories at the smallest cost – usually rice, pasta or potatoes. Vegetables, she said, are an “added extra” to that meal.
“You might be able to buy a broccoli for just 50p, but an entire meal of sausages and mash could be 60p,” she said. “People assume that there are lots of factors that link eating well with food inequality. But it’s not about the ease of putting a dish together, it’s about what’s the cheapest.”
Many of the local authorities taking part in the Veg Summit cited a barrier to eating vegetables through the Healthy Start vouchers, which are often used for infant milk formula or not used at all. Redbridge has one of the lowest uptakes of vouchers of 53-58% and it will investigate why families aren’t accessing the scheme. Retailers discussed whether it is up to them to train staff on the shop floor to communicate with shoppers on what they can use their vouchers for.
Certainly, many parents will have battled with their child about eating their veg and Jason is part of a group that is trialling the Flavour School, an initiative to get children from as young as two to taste vegetables in different ways – raw, diced and boiled, juiced – to create better eating habits. They believe that children’s aversion to veg is a learned response and they need to be exposed to it on a sensory level.
“At the Flavour School, taste is the last thing you do and nine out of 10 children will taste it,” said Jason.
There are interventions that can be done though, such as getting teachers to encourage children to eat their greens rather than parents, and exposing children to more vegetables in a natural way. For Jason, this would be best shown by expanding the Key Stage 1 School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme into Key Stage 2.
By making schools healthy zones with schemes such as this one – and implementing schemes by engaging the child rather than the parent – the nation’s childhood obesity levels could improve.
“The responsibility of giving food to a child in school shouldn’t be the responsibility of the parent,” said Kathleen. “As parents we don’t have the education about nutrition so take the parent equation out.”
There are measures – and pledges – being done to encourage vegetable eating from within the catering service. Sodexo has pledged to increase its procurement of vegetables by 10% by 2020 and continue to roll out its Green & Lean meals where two-thirds of a dish is made up of vegetables, pulses and grains. Autograph Education pledged to ensure two portions of veg are served in 30% of schools in its Brighton and Hove, Bromley and Hastings contracts. In the remaining 70% of schools it will take steps to support children to eat more veg and take opportunities where it can to deliver two portions in every meal.
In Birmingham, local authority caterer Cityserve pledged to include a minimum of two portions of veg in its school meals by redeveloping menus. It will also bring its Seed to Plate growing scheme – currently at 18 schools – to around 300 schools within 18 months.
Local authorities and cities were ambitious pledgers at the summit, which saw Cardiff, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove and the London Borough of Redbridge all pledge to become ‘Veg Cities’ and drive awareness and availability of vegetables.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not all that great at eating vegetables. Growing up, I wouldn’t eat a single vegetable – or even potatoes – and while I’ll eat almost everything today it doesn’t mean that I like it. My Peas Please pledge? To eat more varied vegetables, but not peas. I really hate peas.
For more information about Peas Please, the campaign led by The Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland, Food Cardiff and WWF, and to find out how to increase the amount of veg in your school meals, visit foodfoundation.org.uk/peasplease.
Only 1.2% of advertising spend is on vegetables and so the Food Foundation launched a competition to design an advert promoting vegetables, with the winning design featured in The Drum magazine and on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s next documentary.
Hugh was there to announce the winner, which was chosen by children from a school in Kent, but not before he called for the creation of a body to promote veg eating, just as the Milk Board successfully advertised milk consumption.
Graeme Hall’s Veggie Power slogan of a boy eating his veg with the shadow of Batman behind him took the top spot and could pave the way for better advertising of vegetables.