Key food and health terminology such as "fresh" is causing confusion in UK adults, according to a recent survey commissioned by foodservice firm Pabulum.
The YouGov research, carried out on behalf of the school caterer, found mixed opinions among respondents about what "fresh" meant, when asked to select all answers they felt applied.
Around half (49%) said it could mean bought from a local market that morning, and 47% said straight from the farm; 40% thought "fresh" could be used to describe home grown, while 38% said food that is prepared in the kitchen from raw ingredients such as meat, fish and vegetables.
Just 10% thought the word applied to items on meat and vegetable counters from a local branded supermarket, while 15% thought that food that is frozen at the point it is caught or picked, e.g. fish or peas, could be described as fresh.
Pabulum undertook the research after it was awarded the Soil Association's highest Food For Life Catering mark Gold standard using 94% fresh food in their Cypress cluster of schools in Croydon. The caterer wanted to explore parents' understanding of some of the key food and health phrases that it uses to promote its school menus and dishes.
Commenting on the results, Pabulum managing director Nelson Williams said that the study revealed there are still some mixed messages and opinions about what terms related to food and health actually mean.
"Health education is a key part of what we do at Pabulum and with 10 development chefs all working on creating fresh and healthy meals we're proud of what we've achieved. However, we recognise there is still more work to be done in the sector and we've put plans in place to help schools, pupils and their families," he added.
"This is vital for the health of future generations and initiatives, such as the Healthy Schools for London, are a great opportunity for Pabulum to become more involved."
The term "made from fresh ingredients" met with a wide range of answers with the highest of 39% saying it meant freshly prepared and 8% replying seasonal. Despite a wide range of options to choose from almost a quarter (24%) said that the statements provided did not meet their understanding of the term.
The understanding of "healthy" also varied greatly. When respondents were offered the chance to tick a range of options, less than two thirds (60%) of people thought "healthy" meant the food was low in salt, fat and sugar; 54% said it will form part of a balanced a diet, 49% thought "healthy" was good for you and 41% said it meant free from additives such as colourings. Only 39% thought "healthy" related to having their five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.
The term "balanced diet" also caused a difference of opinion with just half of respondents (52%) saying the term meant eating a variety of foods but none in excess. 20% said it was taking regular exercise and eating a range of different foods and just 5% of respondents said a balanced diet was eating your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.
Just over seven in 10 (71%) of those respondents said they would prefer their child to have a school meal that had a good selection of menu items that are prepared from mainly fresh ingredients that will help the child be more attentive in class, while just 19% said they would prefer to send them with a packed lunch so they know they have something they will eat.
Williams described the percentage of parents backing school meals at a time when many children are trying them for the first time with the introduction of Universal Infant Free School meals as "refreshing".
He said: "A recent study from the School Food Plan highlighted that school meals provide 25% to 33% of a child's nutrition needs for a day so it's vital parents are seeing school meals as the first choice. We've worked hard to create awareness with parents on our fresh ingredients and how we opt for quality ingredients."