Are Your Kids Eating Too Many Treats? How to Cut Down

A press release from Safefood arrived in my inbox yesterday morning  as I left the house for work, another chapter in their campaign against childhood obesity.

“New safefood research reveals giving treats to children still a daily habit” was as much as I read initially. I thought about it on my hour-long drive.

It really didn’t surprise me, a daily habit, surely meaning one treat a day isn’t outside the realms of the reasonable is it?

I spent the hour-long trip to work thinking about treats  (this isn’t uncommon for me, I often spend hours at a time thinking about treats, but that’s for another post) and how much “treat food” my kids actually eat.

Despite all my healthy-eating obsessiveness when I step back I realise that they do get some class of a treat most days, be it a yogurt, an ice-pop,  a biscuit, bun or a banana cookie in their lunchbox to eat at their childminder’s or the much-loved dessert at the weekend. The guilt set in.

Later, I got a chance to read the full article and some of the findings did surprise me greatly, like this one:

“73% of Irish parents surveyed didn’t consider things like crisps, chocolates and sweets given on a daily basis as ‘treats’.”

Crisps and chocolate not a treat, surely that couldn’t be true? Aren’t they the definition of treats? If they’re not a treat then what is?

And here’s another that got me thinking:

“Among children, those aged 5 and under were given the most treats, with 50% getting a treat ‘at least once a day or more’.”

I can absolutely reconcile this, here’s my logic-  most schools these days have healthy lunch policies so the older kids don’t have access to treats while at school, but the younger kids who are at home/creche get more treat food into their little bodies. Reading that statistic will definitely make me more mindful of what my small girl gets while the others are in school.

I heard  Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan (Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood) interviewed on Morning Ireland (listen here) and was waiting for the preaching to start, but I’m still waiting. I was really so very pleasantly surprised by her realistic and down to earth approach. She wasn’t scaremongering, she was disappointed by the results but concentrated on getting the message across.

Her key point was that the the problem is that we’re not recognising what a treat is. We see treat foods like chocolate, crisps and sweets as part of daily staples, but they’re not they’re empty calories.

I couldn’t agree more. By giving our kids something every day we create the expectation in them that they will have them every day. A treat, by definition, is an indulgence, something occasional. It doesn’t have to be edible, and Foley Nolan suggested time playing outdoors after dinner or some screen time as alternative treats.  


How to reduce your kids' treats intake


It got me thinking and I decided to put together a list of practical steps that you can you take to reduce your kids’ treat intakes.

  1. Cut DOWN on treats. You don’t need to cut them out, just cut down. Here’s some good advice on how to spread treats out during the week.
  2. Call a treat a treat. Kids are very susceptible to marketing, so I make a point of calling treat foods treat foods, so it goes like this “yes, you can have a biscuit, but that’s today’s treat so you won’t get dessert” usually results in requests for toast or healthier snacks
  3. Remember that not all treats are edible. Days out, staying up late, screen time, playing a board game could take the place of edible treats, the kids can take some brainwashing on this though, again, use the treat word to reinforce!
  4. Instead of losing the rag with relatives who bring too many treats talk to them and ask them to bring smaller or fewer treats, and don’t give your kids treats yourself when those relatives are visiting.
  5. Try to limit treats to the weekend or every second day
  6. Reduce the size of treats, share a packet of crisps, buy a smaller bag of sweets or bar of chocolate. Go for a Freddo rather than a bigger bar of chocolate
  7. Redefine treats. Juice/Cordial is now a treat in our house, after some scary dental visits last year. Before then it was consumed several times every day by each child. Small fromage frais yogurts have been reclassified too, they’re no longer considered a part of lunch but a dessert.
  8. On Wednesdays I buy a favourite fruit that isn’t part of the weekly shop- raspberries, strawberries or pineapples and have that as our after dinner treat, often with Glenisk vanilla yogurt, or blueberry greek yogurt. I make sure to remind that kids what a big treat it is to have a whole punnet of strawberries. (This only works if you don’t buy them regularly though.)
  9. Substitute: Biscuits are a treat. We’re conditioned from giving rusks and Liga to moving to biscuits, try ricecakes instead (my children recommend the raspberry baby sized ones in Aldi) or these banana oat cookies that only contain porridge and bananas (and a few chocolate chips if you like) and are so simple to make.
  10. Don’t stock up on treats, if there aren’t many in you won’t be tempted to eat them or give them to the kids.
  11. Have Healthy Snacks available so you don’t fall to the handy biscuits or crisps- check out my 19 Healthy Snack Ideas





There are loads more ideas and support tools on

*This isn’t a sponsored post, I just feel strongly about childhood obesity and treats.


11 thoughts on “Are Your Kids Eating Too Many Treats? How to Cut Down

  1. I’m torn on this one.
    I didn’t use the word ‘treat’ for my gang growing up, but I did call them ‘something nice’ so perhaps there was no great difference there. I was trying to reduce the ‘guilt’ feeling my friends seem to have about eating a bar of chocolate or some other ‘treat’ and also as you say a ‘treat’ is a reward. I didn’t like to see food as a reward.
    I didn’t put a lock on the sweet press but I pushed the six hits a day for their teeth including breakfast, dinner and lunch. I also tried to instill the ‘everything in moderation’ so there is no bad or good just too much.
    My gang are all fairly old now and seem to have a good relationship with food but one day as I was congratulating myself on the wonderful job I did on them one of my kids told me that the reason she doesn’t eat too many sweets or ‘treats’ is because she is paranoid about her teeth decaying. So maybe I was not so perfect after all.
    I am amazed though at how some children seem to have a ready supply of ‘treats’ with little policing and the number of very young children I see who are overweight. Advice and campaigns such as this one are definitely needed.

    1. I really like the idea of not too much, and agree on the guilt. My lads are obsessed with how much sugar is in things and it’s my fault and driven a lot by dental challenges we’ve had, but I really want them to have a healthy attitude to food. I do try to limit treats but I let them have most things, except fizzy drinks and that’s probably going to slip with my eldest this summer. I grew up with lots of treats and I’m desparately addicted to sugar and a sweet hit (but I’ve no desire to cure this affliction either!!)

  2. Great advice on how to Change the perspective on treats!!
    I picked my son up from soccer end of Season…. And they were all given ä couple of bottles of Coke.. Multiple bars and cheap Sweet and ä couple bags of Crisps!!!!
    I think we have our heads a Little in the sand in ireland about the amount of processed ‘treats’ we allow the kids to have.

    1. That drives me crazy- why they feel the need to give so much crap at once. Party bags are similar too. I’m starting to keep an eye now on how much they get in a week.

  3. I recently got those little boxes of raisins from Lidl and now they are seen as a treat. It’s as much the box than anything else.

    My little one now associates going to the shops with getting a treat (usually a kinder egg – pester power!), so really want to stop that!

    Overall I don’t think we are that bad – crisps and any soft drinks are unheard of in the house. And the ubiquitous kinder egg happens at the weekend! The damage is done over in Granny and Grandad’s – chocolate fingers madness! But to be honest that simply doesn’t worry me too much.

    1. The smallest here accepts that, my seven year old is not impressed though! Pester power is a killer. We get kinder eggs here if Daddy goes away with work, it’s the buns and biccies that mine would wolf non-stop.

  4. I downloaded the Sugar Smart app to my phone (it’s part of a Public Health campaign in the UK) … it measures the amount of sugar in products by scanning the barcode. It really made me think about how many treat I have allowed my children lately.

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