Making simple food swaps for your family (with 9 ideas to get you started)

Whether you’re a parent wanting to feed your kids ‘the right stuff’ or if you’re keen to establish habits that will see you healthier in the long term, recent findings from an international study may hold the answers.

Our Health and Wellbeing Queensland Chief Executive and Registered Dietitian, Dr Robyn Littlewood and Research Fellow, Dr Li Kheng Chai were part of an international review looking at effective strategies for improving eating habits of children.

They found small simple food swaps could help families create healthier eating patterns, and lead to lasting and improved nutrition-related health and wellbeing. We just need to make the swaps and keep them up.

Eating more vegetables and fruit or cutting down on sugary drinks are examples of the simple ways we can ‘swap in’ healthier food and drink options and portion sizes. These actions help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight as well as provide the nourishment our bodies need to grow and develop, helping prevent long-term chronic disease too.

It sounds simple but to make these changes while juggling a busy life has been a challenge to many. The key is to take it one step at a time.

It starts with a simple step

Focus on one food group at a time – if you need help, look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines for food and drink recommended as part of the core five food groups. Just keep sticking with it.

The research found starting small and making one or two changes at a time can be an effective strategy to achieve long term dietary changes.

Needing help? There are so many ideas and tips available, but we’ve pulled together 9 simple swaps to get you going. Just make sure they fit with you and your family’s lives and continue with them for the long-term. If you stray, don’t panic – stop, consider, and try again! It’s about everyday changes, without losing what you love and crave!

Dr Robyn Littlewood
Dr Li Kheng Chai

9 food swaps to get you started


Swap Out
Sugar sweetened drinks e.g. cordials or soft drinks, or fruit juice

Swap In
Water. And add a flavour, such as mint or orange

HINT: Serve with ice to make a refreshing drink during hot days! Try these 5 ways to make water more colourful.


Swap Out
Bar of chocolate

Swap In
Handful of trail mix, including nuts and/or dried fruit, or fruit

HINT: Make your own trail mix (add a few small chocolate drops to surprise your kids!)


Swap Out
Dairy desserts

Swap In
A small or mini tub of yoghurt, or a fruit platter, or a small tub of reduced fat custard

HINT: Try adding chopped or defrosted frozen fruit into natural yoghurt for a change, or try this Berry and yoghurt parfait!


Swap Out
Flavoured savoury snacks or crisps/chips

Swap In
Crackers with a small cube of cheese or avocado, or chopped veggie sticks with dips, or plain homemade popcorn

HINT: Try mature cheese – which will give you the maximum flavour in a small amount!


Swap Out
Sugar coated breakfast cereal

Swap In
For wholegrain breakfast cereal like porridge or wholegrain wheat cereal

HINT: Try this recipe for Bircher Muesli and Poached Pears


Swap Out
Big plate

Swap In
Smaller plate

HINT: Simple maths – less plate to fill, smaller serve sizes. Learn more about serves.


Swap Out
Creamy or cheesy sauces

Swap In
Tomato or vegetable-based sauces for pasta, meat and fish dishes

HINT: Boost your veggie intake by grating zucchini and carrots. Try this veggie loaded spaghetti bolognese.


Swap Out
Cakes and sweet biscuits

Swap In
Fruit toast, homemade pikelets or muffin

HINT: Keep fruit toast in the freezer, as an emergency filler for your kids after school – spread ricotta on for a healthy alternative.

Try this savoury muffin recipe.


Swap Out
Canned vegetables or canned fruit in syrup

Swap In
Frozen or reduced salt canned veggies, and try frozen or canned fruit in juice

HINT: Try different recipes that may include frozen veggies.

For more recipe inspiration and ideas, check out our nutritious and delicious recipes.