HSE, safefood and Healthy Ireland urge families to go easy on treats for children

Press Release: 14th October, 2021                

Let’s go easy on the treats

Research by the START campaign reveals parents believe that talking to their children and encouraging moderation is the key to reducing treats for families.

New research¹ with parents for the START campaign, has revealed that while parents and guardians want to reduce treats like crisps, chocolate and biscuits for their children, they find saying no difficult. Parents also said they found saying no to treats had got more difficult during the course of the past year and with many of them working from home had contributed to this, with children in the house more often and demanding more from them.

While pre-Covid research² showed that foods like biscuits, crisps and chocolate were the second-most consumed food group by children, 50% of parents³ believe this has increased in the last year. As a result, safefood, HSE and Healthy Ireland believe that this is an important time for parents to refocus on decreasing the amounts of treats they 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 parents/ that it is ok 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 continued “The recommendation from the Department of Health’s Healthy 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 and would like additional information on healthier snack alternatives to 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. Parents will find lots of tips and advice on www.makeastart.ie”

Parenting expert Colman Noctor added “From the research, parents 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 their 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 their 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 begins on Monday 18th October and aims to support parents to talk to their children about treats, reduce treats and achieve moderation. The START website www.makeastart.ie provides steps for parents to help reduce treats, healthy snack ideas and videos from HSE parenting experts.


Last updated on: 14 / 10 / 2021