Almost 50% of children are eating more treats since the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Safefood Ireland.
Research from the group found that 46% of parents surveyed said their child was eating more treats since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, 49% of parents said that they found it difficult to keep the amount of treats their children eat to a minimum.
Data from 2019 showed that before the pandemic foods like biscuits, crisps, chocolate and sweets were the second-most consumed food group by children.
It also found that almost one-quarter of all meals included food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar.
Given the recent increase reported by parents, Safefood is urging parents to give treats a break.
The latest phase of the START campaign from Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland will focus on re-starting healthier habits with children.
“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,” said a statement.
The five-year START campaign was first launched in 2017 with the aim of maintaining a healthy weight in children.
Safefood has acknowledged the difficulties of the pandemic for parents but said that as measures ease, now is the time to reintroduce healthier habits.
“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,” Chief Specialist in Nutrition with Safefood, Joana Da Silva.
“We know that physical lockdowns, home-schooling and a lack of social contact have all contributed to this situation.
Ms Da Silva said that the START campaign is there to help parents but planning is key.
“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 on this with all the family. Everybody has to be in this together if it’s going to work.” Margaret O’Neill, National Nutrition Lead for the HSE added children “need 2 to 3 healthy snacks a day for growth and development. Healthy snacks provide, energy, protein and other nutrients children need to grow.”
Ms O’Neill added that even small changes can make a big difference.
Safefood has the following advice to help parents in 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.