MANY parents will be eating out with their children for a treat over the Christmas holidays -- but the dishes may not win many nutrition awards.
A report has found that only 42pc of eating establishments surveyed listed vegetables on any part of the children's menu.
Two-thirds provide healthier options for kids but less than 27pc actively promote these, according to the all-island body Safefood.
Not surprisingly, sausages, beef burgers and chicken nuggets are the top three most widely available main courses for children.
The findings showed:
* Children's menus were limited in terms of choice and healthier options.
* Caterers' attitudes towards the appeal of healthier options was mixed, but the majority agreed that they would provide healthy choices if the demand was greater.
* Eateries which provided healthier options found that it was cost effective and uptake was good.
* Key factors driving parents' decisions to eat out were "treat" and "time and convenience".
* The choice of restaurant was influenced by "perceived cost or deals" and how "family friendly" parents considered the establishment to be.
* Economic stress was forcing a change in parental behaviour, and priorities of "value for money" and "reducing food wastage" were more important than nutritional considerations when eating out. Parents reported changing their choice of eatery, rather than the number of times they ate out, and fast-food outlets had become popular.
* Many parents and caterers were willing to make efforts to improve children's diets in light of the increasing rates of childhood obesity. The report found hotel restaurants were most likely to provide healthier options for children, compared to other establishments, and were also found to:
* consider the children's menu important and actively promote it
* have made changes to their menu or cooking methods over the last year to make them healthy
* make food on the premises
* use healthier cooking methods.
Fast-food outlets were the least likely to provide healthy options and they had a limited range of menu options for children.
Fast-foods outlets were also more likely to:
* Consider the children's menu unimportant.
* Use less healthy cooking methods.
* Have made no positive changes to their menu or cooking methods over the last year.
* Consider that healthier options would not sell well, while also having little interest in providing healthier options in the future.
The advice from Safefood to parents is:
* Ask for healthier options at establishments that you regularly go to -- caterers reported that if there was greater demand, then they would make changes.
* Support and guide children in making healthier choices.