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Are your kids eating too many treat foods?

Treat foods provide calories, sugar and fat, but don’t provide a lot of nourishment for children. At the moment, on average, about a fifth of children’s food intake is made up of treats but the general guide is "not every day, maximum once or twice a week". You can see what that looks like here:

A big pile of junk food. A small pile of junk food

How to make the switch

Parents tell us that reducing treat foods is one of the biggest challenges when trying to eat healthier as a family. That understandable, because treats are available everywhere we go. But here are some simple swaps to healthy snacks that you could make:

  • Crisps for plain popcorn or vegetable sticks
  • Sweets for fruit, like grapes or berries                                        
  • Dessert-type yoghurts for a cracker and cheese
  • Sugary drinks for milk or water
  • Chocolate for yoghurt

Using other treats as rewards

Using food as a reward teaches children to connect food with a good or bad behaviour. Instead reward children with praise and encouragement. It can also help if you make a list of non-food rewards, so that when your child behaves, they know what the reward may be. These can be smaller incentives or ‘big ticket’ items they can achieve over time. 

Non food rewards:

Tips for getting started

  • Cut down on treat foods, but don't ban them. Banning them makes them more appealing.
  • Reduce the amount of treat foods eaten gradually, for example if treats are eaten every day reduce them to every second day, then every third, and so on.
  • Lead by example – make changes together as a family, children learn from the adults in their lives.
  • Keep portion sizes small – choose mini or snack versions
  • Shopping is a danger time – just buy treats sometimes and don’t have a supply at home. If they’re not in the house, they can’t be eaten.  
  • When you have sugary foods, eat them with a meal. It’s better for their teeth and means they won’t fill up on treats between meals
  • Say the kitchen is closed when mealtimes are over, but allow them access to healthy snacks such as fruit, chopped vegetables and water and then send them off to play.


In the long run, it's kinder to say "No" – don’t be afraid to say it!

© The Food Safety Promotion Board