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Time to give treats a break

Time to give treats a break

Almost half of parents say their children are eating more treats during the Covid-19 pandemic

START campaign encourages families to take a break from treats and re-start healthy habits.


05th May 2021

New research from safefood in support of the START campaign has found that almost 50% of parents and guardians said children are eating more treats since the start of the pandemic and that they are finding it difficult to keep the amount of treats their children eat to a minimum.

Research from 2019 has shown that prior to the pandemic foods like biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets were the second-most consumed food group by children and almost one quarter of all meals included food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). Given the recent increase reported by parents, the latest phase of the START campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland recognises that it’s time to give treats a break and parents acknowledged this too. The campaign focuses on the critical moment when a child asks for a treat and supports parents in taking a stand in saying no in order to re-start their kids on the way to healthier habits.

Chief Specialist in Nutrition with safefood, Joana Da Silva said: “This past year has not been easy for parents and has had a significant impact on what we eat and how active we are as families. We know that physical lockdowns, home-schooling and a lack of social contact have all contributed to this situation. But as measures are slowly eased, it brings the hope that parents we can re-start those healthy habits at home.”

“The START campaign is here to support parents”, continued Ms Da Silva. “It all starts with a plan, which will be different for every family; for those who might have treats every day, this might mean aiming for a treat-free day; or giving treats a break at one part of the day, for example after school. Once parents have set a goal, they’ll need to agree this with all the family. Everybody has to be in this together if it’s going to work.”

Margaret O’Neill, National Nutrition Lead, HSE continued:

“Parents and guardians have told us that they have been giving their children more treats, like crisps, chocolate and biscuits, than they usually would over the past year but they want to make changes. The time is right with lifting of restrictions and return to school routines to focus on giving treats a break and on restarting healthy snacking habits before the summer holidays. Remember children need 2-3 healthy snacks a day for growth and development. Healthy snacks provide, energy, protein and other nutrients children need to grow. Start with small changes and have a plan about the changes that will work for your family and remember to tell family members about your plan! It will be a daily challenge for a while but once the break is made, it will get easier. Making small gradual changes and taking breaks from treats will help you succeed in making healthy snacking become the norm at home. Remember small changes can make a big difference.”

Broadcaster Paula McSweeney continued

“As a mother of two small children, I know how difficult it can be to swap out treats for healthier alternatives, especially over the past year when we have all been at home. I am delighted to be working on this important START campaign which aims to inspire us all to find one daily win and healthier habits for us all.”

The START campaign aims to support parents to achieve small daily wins in adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle for their child. Parents can find support and practical tools, including videos from the experts on how to take a break from treats, on the START campaign website


For further information or to request an interview, please contact:

Sally McLoughlin, Wilson Hartnell
Mob: +353 87 972 2549
Email: [email protected]


Dermot Moriarty/Ciara O’Connor
Mob: +353 87 437 2080 (Ciara)
Mob: +353 86 381 1034 (Dermot)
[email protected]

Editors Notes:

Advice from the START campaign to help you with giving treats a break:

  • Avoid the treat aisle in the supermarket when shopping- if they aren’t at home it reduces temptation.
  • Get the children involved in planning healthy snacks - start a family challenge - use star charts for all the family to increase their fruit and vegetable intake.
  • Use non-food treats – like planning a trip to a new playground, the beach or other things your children enjoy.
  • Make healthy swaps: Offer crackers and cheese instead of chocolate biscuits, choose plain popcorn or breadsticks instead of crisps, offer a low fat yogurt or fruit straight after school instead of a chocolate bar.

The START campaign is a five-year public health awareness campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland. The campaign is encouraging families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children by supporting them with one daily win and to persist with the changes, no matter how difficult they become. To find out more about the START campaign and ways to make a healthy, positive start visit

In identifying the positive starts that parents and families can take, the campaign advertising focuses on seven key lifestyle habits:

  • Minimise intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Establish water and milk as routine drinks
  • Give appropriate child-sized portions to children
  • Include more fruit and vegetables across the week
  • Increase physical activity levels
  • Limit screen time
  • Increase sleep time

The campaign was developed using a ‘co-creation’ approach, which involves working with parents in particular and key stakeholders to ensure the campaign is relevant, realistic and can achieve results.


Of those parents surveyed, almost half (46%) said their child was eating more treats since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, 49% of parents said they found it difficult to keep the amount of treats their children eat to a minimum. *safefood/Ipsos MRBI Omnibus survey March 2021

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