Healthy boost for disadvantaged families

Healthy Start vouchers can now be used on products such as frozen peas, spinach, carrots or frozen berries

Low-income families can now choose to buy frozen fruit and vegetables as part of the Healthy Start scheme, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.

The scheme supports over half a million pregnant women and low-income families by giving them vouchers that until now could only be spent on fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.

Mr. Lansley said: “Feeding a family on a limited budget can be a challenge. The addition of frozen fruit and vegetables is a boost to the Healthy Start scheme to help low-income families eat more healthily. Plain frozen fruit and vegetables count towards your 5-A-Day. Frozen goods are often cheaper than fresh and they can last longer so there is less food waste too.

“Pregnant women and parents with young families on low incomes will now have access to both fresh and frozen produce all year round to give their children the best start in life with an added incentive to achieve their five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.”

The Department of Health and devolved administrations conducted a joint UK – wide consultation on adding frozen fruit and vegetables to Healthy Start which ended in December 2010. Ninety per cent of the respondents were in favour of adding frozen fruit and vegetables to the scheme.

Low-income families on Healthy Start will now be able to use their vouchers on products such as frozen peas, spinach, carrots or frozen berries. Frozen products with added fat oil, salt, sugar or other ingredients such as oven chips or ready meals are excluded.

Parents can confidently cook with frozen fruit and vegetables because the nutritional value can be at least as good as fresh. Top celebrity chef Aldo Zilli fronts the ’New Ice Age campaign’ that encourages people to use frozen foods more in cooking and highlights their nutritional benefits.

Mr. Zilli said: “Since my wife Nikki started cooking using frozen fruit, vegetables and herbs, we’ve noticed significant savings in household bills. Feeding a family on a budget can be a challenge so I’m very pleased to hear The Department of Health is incorporating frozen into their Healthy Start Scheme and helping low income families eat more healthily and ensure they get their 5-A-Day.”

Retailers and shops play a very important role in encouraging this public health scheme. Around 30,000 retailers currently accept Healthy Start vouchers.

British Retail Consortium Food Director Andrew Opie said: “Including frozen fruit and vegetables will give more people better access to nutritious fruit and vegetables.

“Frozen produce has all the nutritional benefits of fresh. There’s no reason why it should be left out. Including frozen will also help customers manage food and reduce food waste in the home.”

Pregnant women, new mothers, and children under four years old in families can qualify for Healthy Start if they get: Income related benefits (Income support, Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance, or Income-related Employment and Support Allowance); or Child Tax Credit but not Working Tax Credit (unless the family is getting Working Tax Credit run-on only) and an annual income assessed for tax credits of £16,190 or less.

It is also available to any woman under 18 years old during pregnancy.

Babies under one year old get two Healthy Start vouchers per week (£6.20) to spend on Healthy Start foods. Pregnant women and other children get one voucher a week (£3.10). Vouchers are posted every four weeks and can be spent on milk, fresh fruit and vegetables or infant formula milk.

To find out more about Healthy Start, please check the website: http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/