Saturday 14 February 2015

Change4life Sugar Swaps Challenge

You have probably heard of the Change4life Sugar Swaps Challenge as it's been advertised on TV and in the media since January. This is the latest in a series of campaigns where the Public Health England promotes the benefits of a balanced diet and this year the challenge focuses on ways that parents can help their families to eat less sugar through a few simple changes.

Public health England wanted to understand the difficulties that mums had with sugar in their children's diets so they teamed up with Netmums and Reading University to deliver a Family Sugar Challenge to 50 families across the UK.

We were chosen as one of those families and were tasked to fill in a diary of everything every member of our family ate over a six week period. Now forgetting about implementing any changes just completing the diary was hard enough for me! Keeping track of everything that I, my husband and our two children ate wasn't easy...

The first two weeks involved eating as normal and keeping a record of it. Just the act of writing everything down made me think about what I ate and the food I gave to my family. I saw our diet as quite balanced and healthy and on the whole it was but then there were a few things sneaking in. It was mainly after school or at busy times when the children and I wanted a quick snack but I didn't have time to prepare anything that  would just dip in to the cupboard and this would often involve biscuits or snack cakes.

After the first two weeks we were sent a list of swaps covered four main areas: Breakfast, After School Snacks, Sugary Drinks and Sugary Puddings. We started to implement some simple changes found it easier than I had thought.

Breakfast Swaps

Breakfast wise there wasn't a lot to swap, the children occasionally had sugary cereals as a treat but not every day and they didn't seem to miss them. They enjoyed having fruit with their breakfast as we always did.

After School Snack Swaps

This was the area where we had the most to change. After school is a busy time of running around and I guess I've used this as an excuse to give prepackaged snacks to the children when they are hungry. When I did my weekly shop I deliberately missed out the cereal bars, snack cakes and biscuits and instead picked up packets of rice cakes, hummous and carrot sticks. The children really took to having a small pot of hummous with some pitta bread or carrot and cucumber to dip in to it as an afternoon snack and didn't seem to miss the cake bars or biscuits. The draw backs were that it did take a little more time to prepare and the cost was slightly more but on balance I am happy to spend a bit more money and time to ensure my children have a healthy diet.

Sugary Drink Swaps

Drinks were more of an issue for myself and my husband to be honest, both my son and daughter are happy to drink sugar free drinks, milk and water although they had been used to having fruit juice with breakfast they were happy to replace this with milk. It was a concerted effort though for my husband and I to give up some of the fizzy drinks that get us through the day!

Sugary Pudding Swaps

I was actually surprised at how much sugar as in some of the puddings our family ate! I regularly give the children a yogurt and a piece of fruit as a 'healthy dessert', it wasn't until we started this challenge that I realised how much sugar was in some of these yogurts. I instead bought pots of sugar free jelly and low fat, lower sugar yogurts to go with the fruit. The children took to these really well and this is one aspect of the challenge that we have kept up on a regular basis since!

After these two weeks, I continued our food diary for a further fortnight to record which swaps we had carried on and which hadn't fitted into our lifestyle.

The aim of this activity was to identify how making small, simple swaps throughout the day can make a real impact in reducing the amount of sugar in the diet.

Overall I'm really pleased that we took part in the project and I think it can be a real eye opener to record everything you eat for a period of time. You often get in to a habit of buying certain things without even realising that they have a high sugar content.

We've been able to maintain a lot of our swaps and when given a choice the children will now ask for carrots and hummous rather than biscuits as an after school snack!

As part of the Change4life Sugar Swaps campaign, you can register for a FREE Sugar Swap pack to be sent to you that includes hints, tips, recipe suggestions and money off vouchers.

You can also request a daily email or regular texts with support and advice on reducing your childrens' sugar intake. Find out more here.

This study was in partnership with Netmums and I was compensated for my time in taking part and writing this blog post.

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