The Out to Lunch campaign will see the children's menus at 21 chain restaurants reviewed by more than 50 parents over the next few weeks with their findings to go in a report that will be released in July.
Amy Leech, policy officer at The Soil Association, said there was a need to review the food on offer for children in restaurants in the same way that there had been for food in schools.
She said: "We know parents want to see a good range of healthy dishes in restaurants, but often the range is limited or everything comes with chips. However, it's not just about whether dishes come with chips, but about whether restaurants are making healthy eating easy for parents. Childhood obesity is such a problem in this country and restaurants have a responsibility to provide healthy options, just as schools do."
Good and bad
Leech said parents would be asked 'what good and bad looks like' within the restaurant setting and asked to report back.
"We've asked them to explain what is important to them and what they look for when they go out to eat with their children," she said. "Some chains we have spoken to already have admitted they haven't looked at what they offer to children for a long time, while others are already doing some good work. This report will bring all that together and will form our recommendations."
When it comes to catering better for children, Leech said restaurants should offer 'fresh and healthy' food and approach them in the same way as they would with adults.
She said: "A lot of parents living overseas say there is no such thing as a children's menu where they live, they just order smaller portions off the main menu and a recent study from Scotland showed that children who eat the same as their parents are healthier.
"We seem to have a culture of a kid's menu in the UK, but perhaps there's something to be said about giving children the flexibility of ordering off the adult menu."
Anna Rosier, managing director at Organix, underlined the fact that restaurants have a responsibility to provide healthy options for children.
“Going to restaurants is a regular part of children’s lives and the industry has a role to play when it comes to educating children about food. What they eat at a young age will impact what they’ll choose and prefer later in life," she said.
“Currently many restaurant children’s menus consist of only a few, often unhealthy choices. Surely this isn’t fair when adults get a whole host of freshly cooked dishes to choose from?”