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What happened when I took the Sugar Swap Challenge

Amanda Whitley

Four weeks ago, I committed my family to the Good Habits for Life Sugar Swap Challenge.

Over the past month, we’ve been making small, positive changes by swapping sugary drinks, snacks and cereals for healthier options—here’s how we went, week by week.

Week 1

In hindsight, starting the challenge after a weekend of gorging ourselves on Easter eggs was a good decision for more than one reason: (1) we really needed to get back on track with healthy eating, and (2) it actually wasn’t hard to convince the kids to give chocolate a miss. We could hardly even look at a piece of coloured foil without groaning.

We decided to start the challenge by swapping dessert with healthier options for the kids and Mr HerCanberra (I’m not a dessert-eater), and diet cola for water for me (no, it doesn’t contain sugar, but some studies have linked it with weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes.) I’m not going to lie, when I first responded to the “can we have dessert?” cry with “yes, you can have some fruit”, it wasn’t pretty. But by the end of the week, fruit after dinner—sometimes a fruit smoothie or yoghurt ‘parfait’—had become the new normal.

Fresh fruit parfaits

Fresh fruit parfaits

The diet cola thing was a bit harder. I’d been having two to three cans per day for probably seven years (I don’t drink coffee, so it had been my caffeine fix) and had been saying for the last two years or so that I really needed to cut back. The challenge was the impetus I needed to make the change.

I started by cutting back to one can per day, and then—by the end of the week—had completely swapped it for water. The first couple of days ‘cold turkey’ weren’t easy, and I battled cravings for a good week or two afterwards, but once they’d settled down I realised just how much better I felt: I had more energy, my skin was clearer (no doubt partly because I was finally drinking enough water), and I wasn’t experiencing the usual 3pm energy slump.

Week 2

In week 2 we decided to tackle lunchboxes to establish some good habits in the last couple of weeks of Term 2. Now, I think I do pretty well in the lunchbox stakes—my kids always have a good mix of food groups—but when I took a closer look at what I was giving my kids, I realised there was still room for improvement.

Most days, I would give the girls either a muesli or oat bar; at lunch, I would offer some yoghurt-covered fruit balls as an extra to their sandwich or wrap. While these seemed ‘healthy’ sweet treats, they’re actually just as sugary as a chocolate bar.

A healthier lunch box for the kids.

A healthier lunch box for the kids.

For morning tea, we replaced the muesli bars with air popped popcorn or low fat cheese with grain crackers. The yoghurt covered fruit balls were swapped with blueberries and strawberries or sometimes mini apple-berry pikelets.

These changes were accepted with barely a whimper—if anything, the popcorn and pikelets were greeted with enthusiasm. Operation Lunchbox Makeover was a success, and my own snacking benefited from this healthy focus.

Week 3

Once we had the lunchboxes sorted, we turned our attention to after school snacks. We’d fallen into a habit of stopping for snacks at the supermarket on the way home several times per week and, despite my instructions to choose something ‘healthy’, more often than not, it was lollies the girls wanted to buy. More often than not, I didn’t have the energy to say ‘no’.

Prompted by a recent trip to the family farm where we often had ‘grazing’ fruit platters both for breakfast and afternoon snacks, I decided to try something similar for after school. Rather than stopping at the supermarket for a post-school ‘treat’, I let the girls know there was something yummy waiting at home. Based on Kate Freeman’s after school suggestions, I would whip up a fruit and vegetable tasting plate a few times each week, and the kids would tuck into them while doing their homework.

The usual post-school sweet treats were swapped with plums.

The usual post-school sweet treats were swapped with plums.

I’m lucky that the girls have always been good vegetable eaters (I’ve been giving them cut up vegies in their lunchboxes since they were three), and the ‘tasting plate’ was a great way to get them to try some fruit and vegies that they either hadn’t tried or had previously dismissed. Turns out Sophia loves red capsicum (who knew!?) while Liv can’t get enough raw green beans (or raw pasta, but that’s a whole other story…). Combined with some hummus or yoghurt based dip and a variety of fruits, it’s a delish and healthy after school snack that will keep them satisfied until dinner. Oh, and if your kids tolerate nuts, try some sliced apples paired with 100 per cent peanut or almond butter (I love it, too!)

Week 4

For the last week of the challenge we saved one of the trickiest (at least in our household) for last: breakfast. A typical breakfast in our house would be toast with jam, or some kind of commercial breakfast cereal—it’s what I had as a kid, too. It wasn’t until I stopped and really looked at what the kids were putting in their mouths at breakfast time that I realised it wasn’t how I wanted them to be starting their day.

Luckily, they love porridge, so it—along with a rotating roster of fruits (banana, pear, berries) and sometimes a little honey or maple syrup—became the new staple. The little one also loves eggs, and it wasn’t too hard to whip up a quick scrambled egg and sourdough toast for her in the morning.

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Sugary cereal was swapped with oats, pear and blueberries.

On weekends, the apple-berry pikelets would often have an encore performance, and both girls actually loved a breakfast of avocado, goats cheese and tomato on toast—it’s a great one for the whole family (Mr HerCanberra loves it with a poached egg or two!)

We also totally got into Kate’s rice cracker toppings, with our favourites being ricotta, blueberries and honey, and peanut butter, banana and flaked almonds. Noms.

The verdict

Going in to the Sugar Swap Challenge, I was a little apprehensive about how my family would react to the changes, as well as how much extra work would be required to produce low sugar options; but it has honestly been a fantastic experience.

We’re all eating a lot healthier, I feel better than I’ve felt in years (and the added energy has helped me get back into my fitness routine), and I find that it’s so much easier to get the kids to focus on their after school activities.

It’s also been a great way to explore new foods and tastes, to get the girls involved in preparing their own snacks, and to encourage them to think about healthy flavour combinations. That’s not to say that we never have sugary foods—but they’re now very much in the ‘sometimes’ basket where they belong, rather than on the ‘every day’ menu.

Want to take the Sugar Swap Challenge for yourself?

Simply sign up at www.act.gov.au/goodhabitsforlife and your family will receive:

  • The Sugar Swap Challenge Starter Kit – a great kit to help get the kids interested in swapping out the sugar. Make a game of it with the sugar cube tracker and build a ‘sugar mountain’ to help your family track how much sugar you’ve avoided. Plus there’s a nutritional numbers card that’ll come in handy when you’re shopping.

Free Mixing Bowl cookbook – full of delicious family recipes

This is a sponsored post but all opinions are the author’s own. Find out more information about our sponsored post policy here.

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

  • Shannon Spencer

    I used to do something similar, using the I Quit Sugar books as a guideline. Tell you what though, avoiding everything that has sugar in the ingredients and breaks down into 10% or less sugar was hard work! I’m doing something similar now, only using the 10% marker rather than the whole shebang. The effect on my weight isn’t as drastic, but it sure is easier to find food to eat!!