Eating healthier doesn’t necessarily mean doing without some of your favourite foods… even small changes can have a big impact on your health.

That’s the ethos of the TuckIN programme, which has seen 50 food outlets in Luton band together in an effort to create a ‘healthier high street’ and offer healthier options in the local area.

The businesses taking part range from restaurants, cafes and chicken shops, to street-food stalls and mobile kebab vans – all very different in the food they serve, but all united in a commitment to offer their customers healthier choices.

Changes to menus include reducing the amount of sugar, salt and fat in food, to managing portion sizes and offering healthier alternatives to popular dishes. 

The success of business engagement with the TuckIN programme, with over 143 individual pledges made, means that over 149,000 meals a month served by local food businesses in Luton will be making a positive contribution to the local population’s health.

In some places, only low-sugar drinks have been offered on draft, with the full-sugar versions available only in bottles. 

Despite the changes, diners are happy according to Gabriel Ledgerd, who oversees the Garden Cafe at Stockwood Discovery Centre and the Dining Room at Wardown House.

“The majority of the customers haven’t noticed any difference, and there have definitely been no complaints.

Down at Luton Indoor Market, Ali from Ali’s Cuisine likewise hasn’t experienced any negative feedback and is proud to be taking part.

“No one has noticed any of the changes we have made to our food, but many customers have noticed our TuckIN window sticker, asking what it stands for. 

“This is good as it gives us a chance to explain about the pledges we have made and why we have made them.”

Meanwhile Anna from the Crunchy Falafel Van on George Street has been busy reducing the amount of salt in her food, introducing low sugar drink options and has even started monitoring the heat of the oil she uses to make sure she’s frying at the optimum temperature for health.

Anna explained her mother only cooked healthy food when she was growing up and it made her frustrated seeing the lack of healthy choices on the high street for people wanting to make positive lifestyle changes. 

Hence she leapt at the chance to sign up to TuckIN and is encouraging more businesses to get involved.

“We’re really keen to help people think about what they eat and help change the trend towards more overweight people.”

Anna is now planning to introduce a grilled option to her menu.

As well as the health benefits, some outlets have also reported an increase in sales and a decrease in costs. Luton Culture buys rapeseed oil, rather than vegetable oil, at a reduced cost and is able to get even more money back by recycling the used oil. Savings have also been made by changing to low sugar drink mixes.

All 35 businesses involved who use oil for cooking are now using only healthier rapeseed or sunflower oil; 25 of these switching from vegetable, soya or palm oil and 10 committing to continue using only Rapeseed. 

The TuckIN initiative is part of the Luton Food Plan which has seen the council’s Public Health team commissioning PWLC Projects to engage with local food businesses in an effort to support healthier lifestyle choices.

Initially created by Essex County Council, TuckIN is an award-winning food improvement programme which seeks to encourage businesses to make small changes in the way they prepare, cook and advertise their food. 

In exchange, businesses have received free marketing tools including website placement, advertisement on TuckIN’s social media platforms, a free online nutritional training course for a member of staff, and a unique selling point by being part of the TuckIN programme that sets them ahead of their competitors.

Momentum is gathering, with the work being done highlighted through blog and news articles and was picked up by the BBC News in their local programming.

Over the next six months, the TuckIN team will continue to work with the 50 businesses to build on the success of the programme in Luton, spreading the word about how to access healthier tasty food via the TuckIN website, ensuring that more information is made available to businesses and the public about healthier eating options – increasing the impact of both TuckIN and the Luton Food Plan.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved, contact Lindsey@pwlcprojects.com.

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