Stacking the chips in our favour

Do food businesses have a responsibility to provide healthier food? Or is it up to the consumer to seek healthier food establishments? Alex Ward looks at some examples from the Healthy Choice Catering Scheme for local food businesses.

Food choice factors

The food we choose to eat is a deeply personal decision and our taste preferences are shaped from a very early age (even pre-birth through amniotic fluid).  But it isn’t just taste preference that drives consumption.

Every decision we make when eating out depends on a range of sub-conscious and conscious factors; culture, mood, taste, texture, convenience, price, peer influence, health, the environment, animal welfare, allergies… the list goes on. We are unaware of many of these factors calculating in the background as we choose what we buy and eat.

The food establishment in which we choose to eat can influence our decision to an extent, but let’s be honest, on the days we want cheesy chips, we’re unlikely to be convinced to order salad instead.  However, they can help provide a balanced playing field.  This is about choice and a fair food system.

Fish and Chip Friday

Imagine the moment, when you are standing at the counter of a fish and chip shop, perhaps a family member or housemate had a craving and you went along with their request.  You’re scanning the menu on the board above, feeling the pressure of your turn approaching, your belly rumbling, perhaps a feeling of guilt for the calories you’re about to consume…perhaps not.  Having a choice of a healthier option may really help align to your sub-conscious preferences which, without the choice, one may unknowingly override.

That is exactly what Athena B Fish and Chip shop in Portslade did when they signed up to the Healthy Choice Catering Scheme.  The Healthy Choice Catering Scheme, led by Brighton and Hove City Council supports and rewards food businesses providing safe, healthy and tasty food. The aim is to promote the use of healthier cooking methods and quality ingredients, and to increase opportunities for customers to make healthier choices if they wish.

Mary and Matt are a mother and son team and Owners of Athena B.  They signed up to the scheme in 2019 and, following healthier catering training sessions delivered by the council, identified ways in which their customers could be given more choice.  The result?  Athena now have grilled fish, roasted vegetables and jacket potatoes as alternatives alongside traditional fish, chips and mushy peas upon request.

Athena B offers customers a light bite box where they can choose between grilled or fried fish, small portion of chips and peas and they offer a halloumi burger with salad.  Every time a customer orders, they are given the choice of fried or grilled fish, offering up an opportunity for a healthier decision.

The halloumi burger and pea fritters are both popular items, but most people still favour the traditional fish and chips.  The important thing is, they are given a choice and reminded of their options each time they visit our shop.

Mary, the driving force behind Athena B

The entry requirements for the Healthy Choice Catering Scheme are that food service businesses are registered in Brighton and Hove with a minimum Food Hygiene Rating score of 3.  Once they sign up to a range of commitments in the Healthy Choice Catering Guide (HCCG), they receive a Healthy Choice Award and regular visits are made by the council to review the commitments and offer ongoing support.  Customers can find participating businesses online and spot the scheme logo on menus or in premises.

What standards do Healthy Choice Award holders meet?

The Healthy Choice Catering Guide highlights Public Health England’s Eatwell Guide, which includes the recommended daily intake of different food types and the proportion of our plate that should be vegetables, carbohydrates, wholegrains, dairy and proteins.  Practical advice is included from Brighton and Hove’s Sugar Smart City booklet on how to reduce sugar and the lower sugar alternatives for drinks and desserts.


Healthy Choice for children

Healthy Choice Catering award winner Little Tums Early Years catering, who provide hot lunches and cold afternoon teas to children’s nursery schools and schools in and around Sussex, committed to reduce 20-30% of the sugar in their desserts.

The Healthy Choice guidelines also delve into opportunities along the food service process at which healthier options can be chosen.  The opportunities for change which arise before the point of sale are many, revealing that the burden of choice need not solely sit with the customer.

Freshly prepared food using unprocessed ingredients is encouraged, as well as awareness around the salt, sugar, fat and MSG content of processed ingredients.   Exploring alternative cooking methods can make a big difference, favouring grilling and baking over deep frying.  Avoiding deep frying is tricky for businesses like Athena B, so using a healthier cooking oil and offering alternatives are advised.  The guide includes special sections on drinks and chips.

Sharing healthy choice catering in the community

Hove Park Cafe have committed to exchanging sugary drinks and cakes with lower sugar options.  Café Chef, Carla, also reached out to customers to deliver two cookery showcasing sessions where they shared examples of how parents could cook healthier food on a budget.  During Healthy Eating Week in June 2019 the Council worked with Hove Park Café, City Academy Whitehawk and 7 families to deliver a cookery workshop supported by Infinity Foods.

“Hove Park Café spent an incredible afternoon at our school, delivering a session to parents and children around healthy eating on a tight budget. Every single family that came along said how amazing the session was – they all felt that they could relate to the chefs, who shared some recipes that they tried out in school and can easily use at home.

Almost all of the families that took part are trying to eat more healthily and are interested in weight management, so they were able to take on some really useful information about how we can all eat nice meals while being aware of some healthier choices” said a teacher at City Academy Whitehawk.

How to make ‘healthy’ sell

Other commitments made by members include the marketing and promotion of healthier alternatives – being aware that sometimes the word ‘healthy’ deters customers.  Product placement on the premises and menu positioning are also a focus. “Diners also get used to always going to the same display or menu item, so rearranging products and menus can often be all that’s needed to break habits so people try a different, healthier choice”  explain Compass Group in a report entitled Designed with Health in Mind, A psychological approach to helping consumers make healthier choices in foodservice.

The report reveals a vast range of actions the food service industry can take to rebalance the environment in which we make our food decisions.

As a customer wanting to make healthy choices while still enjoying food out of the home, the Healthier Choice Catering Scheme adjusts the framework in which we are making those decisions.  Sharing the burden of choice with the food provider means fairer food for all.

Currently 130 food outlets, 21 breakfast clubs and 22 nurseries are part of the healthy choice scheme.  This year, Brighton and Hove City Council have had an increase of 27% in new breakfast club applications which is the equivalent of six new schools.

Supporting local restaurants and cafes has never felt so important. There is a list of healthier choice cafes and restaurants and the commitments made through the scheme to help support those wishing to make healthier choices.

Gold Food City Bid

This scheme and other important food work going on across the city is part of the bid to become a Gold Sustainable Food City. Join in the conversation on social media using #goldfoodcitybid

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