It is well-documented that in-flight cuisine is generally not as optimal as it could be, and this fact was brought home to me over the summer on a flight I took with my family. On the way out at Heathrow Terminal 5 we had a quick breakfast, which was just as well because the breakfast provided for children on board our flight was nothing short of lamentable. The main feature was an omelette atop a sea of baked beans with a small, hash-brown like item on the side. A cereal bar, chocolate confectionery, cheese-flavoured baked snacks and a sweetened juice drink were also provided.
Now, I’m no healthy eating fundamentalist, and I believe that people can and should eat whatever they desire. Children, however, need more guidance because they aren’t armed with the knowledge that their guardians (should) have and it is crucial that their developing brains get the nutrients that they need in order to grow. Why were the children’s meals so unhealthy? The adult meals were far from perfect but the sweet treats and snacks were thankfully missing. To make things even worse, when I opened a newspaper after my meal, my eyes landed by chance on an article featuring unhealthy cereal bars – complete with a picture of the same bar that had just been distributed along with the children’s meals. The newspaper was one of several covering the results of a Which? survey into cereal bars that day.
The results shattered cereal bars’ virtuous image. Almost all of the bars researched (29 out of 30) were high or extremely high in sugar, and yet they somehow remain inextricably linked with good health in consumers’ imaginations. Which? suggests that this can be attributed to labelling and clever marketing. Several of the bars tested were marketed at chidren, and on labels, different types of sugars are listed individually, making the overall sugar content appear lower than it actually is.
I hope that surveys such as these will make food companies take a hard look at improving the nutritional content of their products, revising their marketing strategies, or both, but the cynic within me suggests that this is unlikely to happen. Consumer demand remains the ultimate sanction; people voting with their wallets and buying fewer of these bars will always be the most effective way to focus the minds of the companies that produce them.