Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Change4Life Sugar Swaps Challenge - Could you do it?

Like most mums I try my best to get my children to eat the right foods. Foods that give their bodies the vitamins and minerals that they need, that develop their taste buds, that teach them to love not loath healthy, and that are tasty and comforting too.

I grew up with dinners made from scratch every day by my own mother, and whilst puddings were frequent so too were lots of fruit and veg - often from our own garden. The food memories I have from that time are wonderful - fresh baked cakes straight from the Aga, strawberry picking and jam making, pies, potatoes and home-baked breads.

I reckon that I grew up with a fairly healthy attitude towards food, and I wanted to recreate those kinds of foodie memories and that mindset for my own kids. Yep, I was doing a pretty good job of it there for awhile -

or so I thought...

And so, when I was asked to take part in the Change4Life sugar challenge late last year I was excited, and dare I say it - possibly a little bit smug.

What the challenge involved.

In order to understand the sugar issue from mums’ perspective, Public Health England partnered up with Netmums and Reading University to deliver a ‘Family Sugar Challenge’. A unique activity that involved 50 families over a six week period. 

Each family was asked to fill in a dietary summary for two weeks ahead of making any changes to their diet while you eat and drink as usual. The ‘Sugar Swaps’ were provided in the second week to allow families to plan their shop. In week three, the swaps were implemented for two weeks and each family completed a dietary summary via an online link. The final two weeks saw families continue to complete a dietary summary.

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. 

The first two weeks.

The first stage of the challenge involved writing down exactly what each of the family ate each day - with no changes being made. 

This was a real eye opener for me. It turned out that whilst my own diet was pretty good, the children were consistently being 'drip fed' treats. A biscuit here, a couple of sweets there, a pastry after school, a treat after dinner. Their diets were FULL of sugar laden treats. 

It was during this two week period that Kaya (10) had to go to the dentist and got her first filling. As the dentist explained - having treats little and often was the worst thing you could possibly do for your teeth. Better to eat the whole lot in one go and then brush your teeth!
I felt guilty. Kaya was upset. Must do better. 

The middle two weeks. 

For the second stage of the challenge we were sent a list of easy sugar swaps to introduce:

Foods and drinks to swap from:
Foods and drinks to swap to:
Breakfast Swap
·       Sugary cereals
·       Plain Porridge

·       Plain Wholewheat biscuits

·       Plain Shredded whole grain
After School Snack Swap
·       Muffins

·       Cakes

·       Croissants or pastries

·       Biscuits

·       Chocolate bars

·       Cereal bars

·       Sugary breakfast cereal

·       Puddings

·       Sweets
·       Fruit; fresh and tinned (in juice not syrup)

·       Cut up vegetables such as carrot or cucumber sticks

·       Plain rice cakes

·       Toast with spread such as low fat spreads and reduced fat hummus

·       Wholewheat biscuits and shredded whole grain

·       Plain unsalted nuts

·       Fresh or tinned fruit salad (not in syrup)
Drinks Swap
·       Sugary Fizzy drinks

·       Sugary drinks

·       Sugary squash
·       Water

·       Lower-fat milk

·       Sugarfree drinks

·       No added sugar drinks

·       Diet drinks
Sugary pudding (TBC)
·       Chilled desserts

·       Cakes

·       Ice cream

·       Puddings

·       Yoghurt
·       Fruit, fresh and tinned (in juice not syrup)

·       Fruit salad (tinned no syrup or fresh fruit salad)

·        sugarfree jelly

·       Low fat, lower sugar yoghurt

Armed with new knowledge and zeal we actually did really well on this. 

Breakfast swaps were moaned about for about three days and then they magically got on with it. 

After-school snacks took a little more planning but they were more than happy with the substitutes. 

Drink swaps were almost irrelevant as they only drink milk or water as a rule.

Sugary pudding - I'm a bit in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound with these. So we cut back and had a proper pudding once or twice a week instead. I also stopped the children getting a biscuit \ treat in every school lunch. 

I was surprised how quickly the children all adapted. Not even a word about the absence of treats in the schoolboxes!

Final two weeks:

For the final two weeks we were once again allowed to eat as we pleased. But guess what?! Lots of our new swaps stayed the distance. 

Breakfast cereals are now almost always oats or wholegrain, no sugar varieties. After-school snacks are more considered. School treats are once a week. Of course we've fallen off the wagon a few times - but in general these swaps are swaps for life. 

Doing the challenge I realised that no only was I drip feeding them sugary treats each day, I was also focusing my healthy hat solely on dinner - so yes I was cooking a good meal from scratch every day-, but everything else was falling by the wayside. 

The only issue I really had \ have is the substitutions of full fat milk \ yogurt etc for low fat ones. I'm sure the low fat options actually contain more sweeteners, and having less fat means they are less substantial and so less likely to fill you up. I'm open to being corrected on that though!
I'm still not convinced low-fat is the way to go. 


For us the experiment was a successful one and really opened my eyes to the reality of what we were eating. 

How you can join in:

The Change4Life campaign recognises some of the challenges that parents face on a daily basis when it comes to controlling the amount of sugar their kids eat and drink. We know that mums face hurdles like picky eaters or encounter pester power, then there’s also the challenge that food labels are simply bewildering and even with the best will in the world, many mums have no idea how much ‘hidden’ sugar they and their family really consume.

In recognising these daily difficulties, the campaign provides support, encouragement and practical advice to help families make simple Sugar Swaps at key occasions in the day such as breakfast, puddings, drinks and after school snacks.Throughout the campaign, families can register for their free Sugar Swaps packs, which they will receive through the post. The packs are filled with hints, tips, recipe suggestions and money off vouchers. You can sign up to the Change4Life via this link:

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post however all opinions and experiences are my own. 
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