Let’s beat the trend and encourage a higher spend on fruit and veg rather than treats for our kids

  • START campaign is encouraging parents to make a start”​ at making one daily win on healthy eating for their children.

Thursday 12 April, 2018. With the run in to the summer and hopefully being able to get out and about more, safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland are encouraging parents to reduce the amount of treat foods given to children.

Research reveals almost one fifth (19%)¹ of the average weekly family food shop is spent on highly processed "treat" foods like crisps, chocolates and sweets. This compares with only 10% spent on fruit and 7% on vegetables.

The research found that on average, families with children spent €1,037 last year on treat foods. In comparison, the spend on fruit was €521 and €346 on vegetables. Among treat foods, chocolate and sweets (€228); sugary drinks (€199); biscuits (€161) and crisps (€129) accounted for almost ⅔ of the annual spend on treat foods. The research only includes supermarket shopping trips and doesn’t account for purchases in outlets such as garage forecourts, cafes, cinemas etc.

The research was carried out to coincide with the latest phase of START, the 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 to start with one daily win and to persist with the changes, no matter how difficult they become.

Minister for State Catherine Byrne TD commented “This research confirms the need for parents and all those who care for children to work together to improve children's eating habits. Not only are these so-called treat foods and drinks mostly high in fat, sugar and salt and contribute to overweight and obesity but equally important is the fact that if children fill up on these foods, they don't have an appetite for the nutritious foods they need for good health and wellbeing. The healthy eating message from Healthy Ireland is that these foods should not be every day foods but maximum once or twice a week foods and in small amounts. Eating vegetables, fruit and salads are healthier choices and lay down the foundation of good eating habits for life. This campaign is by parents and for parents, and the motto is try and try again - parenting is tough but we know parents are tougher.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continued;

These foods which are full of empty calories are now a staple in our weekly shop. We accept them as the norm in our children’s daily diet and they are not seen as a real treat any more. The balance is all wrong and we’re under-consuming the vital nutrients in fruit and vegetables. Undoubtedly this level of consumption by families is contributing to our dangerous levels of overweight, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”

“These highly processed foods are everywhere, at all times of the year and are so cheap - it’s no wonder that we are finding it difficult to not overindulge our children and ourselves. Regarding being healthy as a family, 40% of parents² cited trying to cut back on sweets, ice-cream etc. as the number one barrier to healthy eating.”

Sarah O’Brien, HSE national lead on the START campaign continued: “We all love to treat our children or grandchildren. And many of us do it with these types of snacks and sugary foods knowing in our hearts that it would be better not to. Our research² with parents shows that almost half (49%) give treat foods at weekends, and of these more than one in four (27%) use them as reward during the week. But on a very positive note it also shows that almost half of us parents have tried to change our children’s eating habits and better again 88% of us have persisted with that change. So when it comes to treat foods together we can make that change and ensure our families lead healthier lives.”

The “START” campaign has been built on the realities of daily parenting and has been created to help parents get started and build momentum by achieving one daily win for example, having fruit after school as a snack. Not buying treats in the weekly shop means there’s less of them to have at home. And by linking treats to real occasions like family birthdays and events helps children to understand the value of what is a treat and that it’s not an everyday thing.

To find out more about the START campaign and ways to make a healthy, positive start visit www.makeastart.ie.

infographic showing the amount spent on treats

- Ends -

For further information or to request an interview, please contact

Emma Walsh / Amy Pilgrim

Wilson Hartnell

Tel: +353 1 669 0030  

Mob: +353 87 317 0897 (Emma Walsh) / +353 87 261 3300 (Amy Pilgrim)

Email: emma.walsh@ogilvy.com / amy.pilgrim@ogilvy.com


Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll


Tel: 00353 1 448 0600

Mob: 00353 86 381 1034 (Dermot) / 00353 86 150 3047 (Julie)


Editors notes

¹The research is based on purchase data sourced from Kantar Worldpanel Ireland. The analysis looked at the spend in Euro (€) the percentage of overall spend on food / drinks purchased in the supermarket for the period of March 2017 to February 2018 for households with children under 18 years and for households with no children.

There are 5,000 households on the panel that reflect different household types in Ireland. The panel is nationally representative in terms of age, region, social class, household size and presence of children. As part of the task, panel members scan all food and non-alcoholic drink brought into the home, using bar code scanner technology.

²IPSOS MRBI / safefood November 2017. Survey of 971 parents on the island of Ireland; In-home, face-to-face interviews.

About the START campaign

The START campaign is a five-year public health campaign to set families on the path to a healthier future. Developed with the input of parents, health professionals and community leaders, the campaign 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 involved working with parents in particular, and key stakeholders to ensure the campaign was relevant, realistic and could achieve results.

According to recent research*, only 23% of children eat fruit more than once a day while only 22% eat vegetables more than once a day. 13% of children report drinking soft drinks daily or more. 13% of children report never having breakfast during weekdays.

*Gavin A, Keane E, Callaghan M, Molcho M, Kelly C, Nic Gabhainn S. The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study 2014. Health Promotion Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway & Department of Health, 2015.