To the Point - Help families to make a healthy swap

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Dr Patricia Mucavele, head of nutrition at the Children's Food Trust, explains why her organisation is supporting the current CHange4Life campaign


For many people, improving their family's diet will be one of their
new year's resolutions, and to help achieve this Change4 Life has just
launched the Smart Swaps campaign. Advertising includes TV, radio,
online and posters until the end of January, so it should come on
everyone's radar.The concept of swaps is very simple. It encourages families to substitute commonly consumed food items for healthier versions, for example moving from sugary breakfast cereal to a low sugar cereal.

Public Health England has set aside £840,000 worth of vouchers, provided by commercial food stores and major food brands, for those who sign up to the campaign.

Smart Swaps is supported by the Children's Food Trust because we believe it gives parents and early years practitioners a good opportunity to teach young children about making healthy food choices.


Over a fifth of children are either overweight or obese by the time they join reception class in primary school. Involving children in making healthy choices at a young age is crucial to them leading a healthy life.

However, for children under five years of age it's not quite as simple. Parents and practitioners need to be sure they are making changes that will help the health of our children and support their growth and development.

Children need some fat in their diet. Fats are a great source of energy and contain vitamins A, D and E which are vital for a healthy immune system and the development of healthy bones and teeth. However, we need to make sure young children get enough of the right types of fat.

Saturated fats such as those found in meat, butter, cakes and biscuits can, over time, cause high cholesterol levels increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. That's why it's best to limit the amounts of saturated fat.

Unsaturated fats, such as those that are found in fish and vegetable oils, are a much healthier option.


For parents who are planning on using Smart Swaps, the following advice is useful:

Swap from sugary drinks to sugar-free drinks

Sugary drinks are one of the largest contributors to children's intake of added sugar. However, a lot of sugar-free drinks contain artificial sweeteners. The best drinks for young children are water, milk or diluted fruit juice.

Swap sugary cereal for plain cereal

Breakfast cereals are often very high in sugar, especially those coated in sugar or chocolate flavoured. Cereals are often fortified with essential nutrients such as iron and zinc children need, and choosing low sugar and low salt varieties will help to ensure the whole family gets a healthy start to the day.

Swap whole milk for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk

Swapping from whole milk to semi-skimmed or skimmed milk is one of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of saturated fat and maintain the level of calcium in a family's diet. However, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk should not be given to children under two years of age as they need the extra energy from the fat in dairy foods like whole milk. From two, if children are growing well and are good eaters, it's OK to give them semi-skimmed milk.

Swap butter for low fat spread

Butter contains high amounts of saturated fat. Swapping to lower fat spreads and vegetable oils in cooking is a great way to reduce the amount of saturated fat in a family's diet. Try choosing vegetable and plant-based spreads and oils such as olive oil and spread, nut oils, sunflower oil and spreads and vegetable oil as healthier alternatives.

Swap cheese for reduced fat cheese

Cheese is a popular snack food. Children aged one to two years should not be given low fat cheeses as they need the extra energy to grow and develop. From two, children can have low fat cheese like the rest of the family. Some cheeses (cottage cheese and mozzarella) are naturally lower in fat and salt, so check the labels when you're in the supermarket.

Further advice on reducing fat, sugar and salt in young children's diets is at where you can also find lots of fantastic healthy recipes and meal ideas.

For a free copy of the Children's Food Trust's Voluntary Food and Drink Guidelines for Early Years Settings visit

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