Parenting expert Colman Noctor.

New campaign to help kids cut down on the treats

We all love giving little treats to our kids, especially when they enjoy a bit of chocolate so much! We also know that kids really shouldn’t have too many treats either though.

New research with parents and guardians has revealed that while they want to reduce treats like crisps, chocolate and biscuits for children, they find saying no difficult. They also said they found saying no to treats had gotten more difficult during the course of the past year. Working from home and having children in the home more often had contributed to this.

The research was by the START campaign which aims to support families to take small steps to eating healthier food and becoming more active.

While pre-Covid research showed that foods like biscuits, crisps and chocolate were the second-most consumed food group by children, 50 per cent of parents and guardians believe this has increased in the last year. As a result, safefood, HSE and Healthy Ireland believe that this is an important time to refocus on decreasing the amounts of treats we give to children and to give them less often.

Dr Aileen McGloin, Nutritionist with safefood said: “Parents are aware that they need to say no to treats more often but they believe that encouraging treats in moderation feels much more achievable and realistic for them. It reminds them that it is okay to offer treats on occasion. While our healthy eating guidelines don’t include treats as being necessary for good health, if children are eating them, the rule of thumb is ‘small amounts and not every day’.

Sarah O’Brien, HSE National Lead on the START campaign added: “The recommendation from the Department of Health’s Food for Life guidelines, is to limit treat foods to small amounts once or twice a week for children over five and no more than once a week for children under five. This is so far from the norm in our society and the marketing of these types of products is so widespread that parents struggle to achieve it.

“Parents and guardians have told us that they want help with giving their children less treats. Children, and particularly small children, often need healthy snacks between meals to provide all the nutrients they need for their growing bodies. Simple options such as yoghurt, fruit, popcorn, cheese or peanut butter and crackers are all good choices.”

Parenting expert Colman Noctor added: “From the research, parents and guardians felt that it is important to discuss reducing treats together as a family. Rather than just saying no to treats outright, they wanted to be able to discuss the benefits of eating healthily with children and the long-term gains of doing so. They also wanted to be equipped with the relevant information they need to discuss this with children, as well as practical tips for how to broach the conversation. By making the decision to reduce treats together as a family, and making sure children understand why you are doing this, it will make you far more likely to succeed which will also help them to form healthier eating habits later in life.”

The latest phase of the START campaign began on Monday. The includes lots of information on how to help reduce treats, ideas for healthy snacks and videos from HSE parenting experts.