DISADVANTAGED families and pregnant women can make up their five-a-day with frozen fruit and vegetables as part of the new Healthy Start scheme.
When first launched, the project, which gives vouchers to more than 3,000 pregnant women and children in Sunderland Primary Care Trust area, could initially only be spent on fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.
But now families on Healthy Start will be able to use their vouchers on products like frozen peas, spinach and carrots.
Frozen products with added fat, oil, salt, sugar or other additives like oven chips and ready meals are excluded.
Gillian Gibson, consultant in public health at NHS South of Tyne and Wear, which covers Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust, said: “Frozen fruit and vegetables are at least as nutritious as fresh and they often cost much less, which makes them the ideal healthy choice for families on a budget.
“It’s also a convenient way to make sure you get your five-a-day, as you can keep a variety of frozen fruit and veg in the house, because they keep fresher for longer.
“I would encourage all families who are eligible for this scheme to take advantage to help get their children off to a healthy start.”
Asda is one of the shops which accepts the vouchers.
Amanda Mitchinson, service section leader of Asda at Leechmere Industrial Estate, said: “Frozen fruit and veg last longer so it’s great that they are part of the scheme now.
“We’ve already had a really good response from the people using the vouchers. I think it will prove a big success because people can keep them in the freezer and just take bits when they need them.
“They don’t include all frozen products, which I think is a good thing, it’s only fruit and veg, things like chips we can’t accept.”
The changes to the scheme come after the Department of Health and devolved administrations conducted a joint UK-wide consultation on adding frozen fruit and vegetables to Healthy Start with 90 per cent of respondents being in favour of doing so.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “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.”