Stephen Jardine: Driven bats by a health club menu

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WHEN it comes to food, in my view there is one ultimate sin. It is when a child picks a strange or unusual food and their parent says: “No, you won’t like it.” Why? Perhaps they will love it and it will become a favourite taste. Instead, a prejudice against eating anything exotic is born that can last a lifetime.

We need to work hard to encourage children to eat healthy, varied diets and to be interested in food and where it comes from.

As a parent, I’m not underestimating the scale of that task. Busy families need all the help they can get to ensure kids make good food choices, which is why, today, I’m naming and shaming.

David Lloyd operates 79 gyms and fitness centres across the UK. That gives it a massive role in our healthy living agenda and direct access to thousands of impressionable kids who use its facilities for swimming and fitness classes. They also use the café and, the other day, its blackboard menu stopped me in my tracks.

Kids‘ Special – Pizza, Chips and Beans. In a greasy spoon in a back street that might not be surprising but in the café of what claims to be the UK’s premier health and fitness club, I find it astounding and alarming. It might only be in one location but the question is, should it be there at all?

Nutritionist Nell Nelson thinks not. “Pizza, chips and beans are simple carbs and tend to be laden with fats and sugar – so they will replace lost calories, but they may well lack the nutrients children need to grow such as folate, calcium and iron,” she told me.

Elsewhere on its food menu, David Lloyd does offer healthy, low-fat food options, so why ruin that good work with pizza, chips and beans aimed at children? And why call it a “special”, suggesting it is a treat or something extra desirable?

In a statement, the company said it is offering customers choice. “For some members, having treats or rewards for their hard work – or allowing their children to enjoy these options – is important.

“While pizza is not an option on our standard menu, a club can offer specials in response to particular demand and would be made with the highest quality ingredients. Our baked beans are always low in salt and sugar and we do offer chips, again in recognition of their popularity with members and their desire for choice. For any dish served with fries, we would provide an alternative such as mashed potato when requested to do so.”

To be fair, David Lloyd is not the only guilty party. In fact, many children’s menus leave a lot to be desired.

I think we need to set a good example to growing youngsters who are still learning about food. If that means limiting choice for the sake of a healthier future, surely that is a small price to pay?