Health check: a healthy start

Fathima in a supermarket with salad and vegetables on the shelves behind her, holding a punnet of strawberries and shopping basket

Local mum Fathima on how the Healthy Start fruit and vegetable voucher scheme has supported her to make healthy choices for her young family

Nutrition during the early years, including pre-birth, is a vital building block for a healthy and happy life. Eating well contributes to a healthy pregnancy for mothers and reduces the risks of health complications. A mother’s diet during pregnancy can also have long-term effects on her child’s overall health and wellbeing.

If you are more than ten weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you have low or no income, you can apply for a Healthy Start prepaid card from the NHS. The NHS Healthy Start scheme helps parents buy milk, infant formula, fresh, frozen, and tinned fruits and vegetables, and pulses. Parents are sent a prepaid card with weekly top-ups which can be used like a debit card at any shop that accepts Mastercard.

Currently, 1,800 people are signed up to the Healthy Start scheme in Islington, but there are almost 600 people who qualify and haven’t applied. Also, in Islington, all families with children under four years old, women trying to conceive, pregnant women and new mums can pick up free vitamins from children’s centres and health centres across the borough, whether they are on a low income or not. We spoke to Fathima, mum of two, about her experience with the scheme.

How easy was it to sign up?

I’ve been using Healthy Start for about six months now. I first applied for it when I was pregnant. It was pretty straightforward – I applied online for the card and when it came through, there was a letter with clear instructions on how to activate it.

How has the Healthy Start scheme helped you?

I love the card because it allows me to buy fresh fruit and vegetables every few days, which means that I can manage my budget better and give my children nutritious meals. I use it at Sainsbury’s, because they’ve got the Sainsbury’s Healthy Start top-up scheme. This gives me an extra £2 a week, on top of the £8.50 I get from the NHS.

What would your advice be to other parents?

All eligible parents should apply for Healthy Start, because you can use this card to make sure that your kids are given healthy food. The Healthy Start card will help you to stop worrying about the cost of it.

Islington families can also pick up free vitamins. Do you make use of those, too?

I didn’t know about the free vitamins until a month after my youngest was born. I found out about it in one of my parent champion meetings and then was reminded by my midwife after I had my baby, when she did a home visit with the red book. She already had my vitamins card registered, which was amazing. In the past, I bought vitamins for my eldest son and they were very expensive. It’s great to know that they’re free now for my youngest until he’s four.

Vitamins can be expensive, especially with the current economic climate. Inflation has made it quite difficult for parents to think about anything extra, as some families are only managing to do the essential, like putting food on the table and paying their bills. Some may see the vitamins as a luxury, so for it to be offered free for the kids and mothers is a really nice contribution to a healthy lifestyle.

Apply for Healthy Start vouchers on the NHS website.

Find out about free vitamins

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