Parents want supermarkets to put special offers and discounts on healthy essential foods to protect children’s health in a cost-of-living crisis, a survey has found.

Responses to the survey, commissioned by The Food Foundation, showed parents want help in affording bread, milk, fruit and vegetables in particular, with budget ranges available in convenience branches and main outlets.

The charity said this would help prevent lower-income families from being forced to switch to cheaper alternative foods that have poorer nutritional value and increase the risk of obesity.

Latest Food Foundation data showed almost one in four households with children (24.4%) reported experiences of food insecurity – skipping meals, going hungry or going a whole day without eating.

The charity said that continuing high levels of food insecurity will likely affect the diet of much of the UK population, with particularly serious long-term health consequences for low-income families.

In a statement it said: “Poor-quality diets are a major contributor to the health crisis which has been slowly building in the UK.

“Over a third of children leaving primary school in England are now categorized as having an unhealthy weight and by adulthood, two thirds are overweight or obese.

“Children in more deprived areas are more likely to have obesity than in less deprived areas.”

Data from the charity’s survey shows that food-insecure households are more likely to be buying less fruit, vegetables and fish.

In relation to purchasing fruit, 57% of food-insecure households said they were cutting down compared to 11% of food-insecure homes.

When it comes to vegetables, 42% of food-insecure homes reported they were cutting down compared to 6% of food-insecure ones.

Asked about buying fish, 54% of food-insecure households said they were buying less compared to 14% of food-insecure ones.

The Food Foundation is calling on food retailers to support and follow its Kids Food Guarantee roadmap to ensure children can eat well during the cost-of-living crisis and avoid lasting damage to their health.

Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, said: “Most families in the UK rely heavily on the major supermarkets for food, so we’d like to see the retailers stepping up to meaningfully support families with children through the cost of living crisis .

“The Government also has a critical role to play in tackling the cost-of-living crisis and ensuring everyone can afford and access the food they need. Action is urgently needed in both public policy and business practice to address this crisis.”

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at consumer brand Which?, said: “These findings echo Which?’s research showing that families, especially single parents, are being hit particularly hard by the cost-of-living crisis.

“As food prices continue to increase, it is crucial that everyone is able to access affordable food that is healthy for themselves and their families.

“Supermarkets must ensure that budget lines for healthy and affordable essential items are widely available across their stores and shoppers can easily compare the prices of products to get the best value. Promotions should also be targeted to support those most in need.”

The Food Foundation survey collated online responses from 10,814 UK adults between January 31 and February 3.