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Ashley, Single mum, Westmeath

Kate is 15 and Alex is 12. They’re pretty active outdoors but that gets harder during winter. They do both like their crisps, chocolate and biscuits. I try to say no but sometimes it’s easier not to. My goal is to get the kids to eat properly at mealtimes and to cut out the sweet snacks between meals.

Day 1

Week 1, Monday

Kate was not happy that I wouldn’t allow her to take crisps to school (she likes to put them in her cheese roll) but I’ve allowed them both a bar of chocolate. Weaning slowly to reduce backlash! Alex’s school does not allow crisps so both of them have taken a bag of popcorn instead.

They’ve also got an apple each, though these often don’t get eaten. Alex gets only a short amount of time to eat before going outside to play. Kate gets plenty of time, but talks too much! Over the summer dinner has tended to be late (8pm) but I want to move this forward, so today I gave them a small snack when they get home (brown bread and mackerel paste) and served dinner at 7.

Brown bread sliced

Day 2


Tackled Kate’s room while she was at school. Lots of junk wrappers stuffed at the back of the sock drawer again! I also found her ‘stash’ – confiscated. I expect war upon discovery. She gets €2 for the bus home every day, but sometimes she walks with her friends instead, so they can stop at the shop on the way. This will be hard to curtail. I decided not to give them a snack when they came in today, and to serve dinner early, because they had guitar at 7. They held out till 6, just about, and ate well. I gave them dessert of ice cream and strawberries and warned them they would get nothing else before bed.

They did come looking for munchies at TV time but when I said no there was no fuss. Strange!

strawberry ice cream

Day 3


To reduce the amount of chocolate in their lunch I have bought the giant bars of Dairy Milk and give them 2 rows (6 squares) each. The squares on the giant bar are smaller than on a standard bar so the reduction is less obvious. I have given them grapes instead of apples, better chance they’ll get eaten.

Alex was hungry when he came home from school and asked for biscuits. I gave him Koka noodles. Dinner at 6. They have athletics training at 7.30 and are always hungry afterwards, so I save dessert till after.

Day 4


Today I gave them no chocolate in their lunches. I have some ,but I pretended I ran out. Both were looking for sweets (crisps, biscuits) when they got home from school. I said no. Kate then discovered her stash was gone and was, er, not happy. Major tantrum ensued (she is very sugar sensitive - an addict, if ever there was one).

She refused to eat dinner in protest, so missed out on dessert (chocolate cake and raspberries), which restarted the tantrum. Alex had soccer practice so I left Kate stomping around the house and took him. When I got back, Kate had calmed down and was studying. But she was still complaining bitterly at bedtime. A long day.

Day 5


I have bought wholemeal rolls instead of white. Kate is fuming. She is a VERY fussy eater – literally, down to the brand of cheese, the freshness of the bread, etc. She has insisted she would “rather STARVE than eat THAT”, but I made her take it to school anyway. If it doesn’t work after a couple of days, I will have to decide whether to go back to white rolls or allow her to bring crisps with the wholemeal until she gets used to the taste. She is like a bear when she doesn’t eat properly. Maybe I’m going too fast?

Alex had basketball at 5 today and his friend Paul, who plays as well, always comes home with him after school. They asked to go to the shop, as usual, so I allowed them. I was impressed when Alex came back with only a couple of jellies and a bag of onion rings. Paul got a huge bag of mixed sweets. Kate has walked home so has bought junk as well. Crisps and a bar of chocolate. Not too bad. But she didn’t eat any of her lunch roll. I let it slide; will have to tackle this further next week, but TGIF.

Day 6


Kate and Alex go to visit their Dad overnight so I’m off duty, a chance to regroup. He’s pretty strict about junk food so I know they won’t be pigging out over the weekend.

All in all, it’s gone better than expected, although everything happened at once at the end of the week, which wasn’t quite what I had planned. But hopefully the worst is over!

Comment from John Sharry, Psychologist and parenting expert:

Dear Ashley

Well done on getting started and making steps in tackling the unhealthy treats. It is a clever idea to reduce the portion size of treats if you don’t cut them out altogether. The trick is to make them as small as possible - one square of chocolate  can be enough rather than a whole bar. Interestingly, once they get used to it a small treat can be just as rewarding as a big one.

You also had put up with a tantrum from Kate – in many ways you are right to see her reaction as like the ‘withdrawal symptoms’ of a an addict (addicted to sugar). This means you should try to be supportive as she gets through her cravings and learns to adjust. To make more progress I would suggest you sit down with your two children and try to get agreement about the new healthy approach. Take time to explain the concerns to them (maybe read some of the safe food literature together) and ask them for their opinions and ideas. Try to agree a new ‘Family goal’ for a healthy lifestyle that includes you as well as them. Come up with some healthy family rewards (family trip, watching favourite movie etc)  for all you that you can award yourself once you make progress.

Day 7

Week 2, Monday

Had a chat with Kate last night about, well, food! Seemed to make some progress. After school today we went to the supermarket and she picked out wholemeal rolls she was willing to try – and then she asked for wholewheat pitta breads as well! On to the fillers; she selected Cajun chicken pieces, houmous, and even agreed to try smoked salmon one of the days. I nearly passed out.

Dinner was a little late due to the shopping trip (I usually go on my own, it’s quicker in the morning or later in the evening) but overall dinner is working well, eating at a reasonable hour and no snacks between dinner and breakfast.

Day 8


I got up early today to make salads for the kids to take to school. Both of them prefer raw veg to cooked, as do I. The local shop had plastic salad containers with separate dressing holder, so I picked up a couple of those and today we’re going to try them out. Kate and Alex both made very healthy sandwiches today without prompting, with chicken, mayo, red peppers, olives and lettuce. Both came home with empty salad containers, though Alex said his dressing container was empty when he went to pour it, and Kate said her main container spilled inside her bag (great!) after she’d eaten it – there were some juices left over.

So, the idea is great but the containers are terrible. Will have to keep an eye out for better ones.

salad container flask

Day 9


Healthy lunches continue with houmous, red peppers and rocket lettuce on pita. Later Alex informs me that red peppers don’t go well with houmous – but he still finished it. I wonder what does go well with houmous – cucumber, maybe? Checked Kate’s room for stashed junk. Found one empty m&m’s packet but nothing else. Not too bad!
Day 10


There’s a lot of salad ingredients left over that need to be eaten, so this evening I chop them all and leave them on the chopping board while I prepare dinner. Cucumber and peppers disappear while I cook, the rest goes into a salad with dinner. For the first time all week, the kids ask for dessert – I have some in, but haven’t offered it; I was curious to see when they’d start to miss it. Things are going too well…

Day 11


It poured rain all day so neither Kate nor Alex went to the shop for sweets after school today. We were supposed to be going camping for the weekend but because of the weather will stay home tonight and review in the morning. Kate has a cold coming on, so I went to the pharmacy and got them both a course of multivitamins. I’ve also had a series of calls from clients over the past 2 days, all looking for me next week, so things are about to get hectic. Will have to get the shopping done on Sunday night if possible.

ingredients ready on a table

Day 12


Beautiful sunny day so we decide to go camping after all. Probably the last chance for this year. Provisions are more basic / less healthy than during the week and we’ve already decided we will order Chinese takeout for dinner tonight. 3 other families are coming camping as well, last minute due to the weather, so Kate and Alex will most likely be offered a variety of junk over the weekend. At least we will be hiking during the day so that will burn some of it off. Basically, I’ve written today off from the health food point of view.

Strangely however, they only end up having a packet of crisps each, which, Kate tells me, taste pretty boring compared to what she’s been eating all week. Is this a breakthrough?!

Day 13


Another beautiful day. We spent the morning kayaking; after lunch it was time to empty the camper for winter storage, so the kids headed across the fields to bother the cows, and I got busy.

Mid-afternoon I got a call from my sister, who is on holidays in Italy. Our mother has had a fall; she is not badly hurt but her daytime carer is off tomorrow, can I go get her? I finished packing up, emptied the car in the front door at home and headed off to collect my mother (1 hour drive). So, takeout again for dinner; no shopping possible, and house upside-down with camper stuff. Great start to the week!

Comment from John Sharry, Psychologist and parenting expert:

Dear Ashley

I think you have indeed made a breakthrough! By sitting down with your children and getting them on board with the family healthy eating goal you have made success much more likely. Involving your children in the shopping and preparation of food, learning about healthy foods and recipes together is not only the key to making progress, it can also become an enjoyable family project that you do together ( rather than a source of stress). Even if there are some "write off" days when the healthy eating is abandoned such as going to parties or trips away (when other people are managing the food), once these are the exception rather than the rule and once a largely healthy routine is set during the week, then you are home and dry!

Be prepared that there will always be set backs and breaks to routines – in those instances you just  move on and start again the next day on the healthy routine

Day 15

Week 3, Monday

Got up early this morning to try and put some shape on the mess before the rest of the house got up. Mum wants to be back in time for dinner at five, which means leaving as soon as Kate gets home at four - and I’ve a work appointment at six; when am I going to fit in dinner? Do not want to go for takeout three days in a row and my freezer supply is used up. I put in a couple of hours on work stuff, then a quick local shop for lunches, to get the two out to school. Mum is happy enough to read the papers for a bit so I get a bit more work done and manage to re-schedule the evening appointment. Crisis averted! But I need to re-stock the freezer. Batch cooking for the week.


Day 16


Lunches are going really well but I’ve noticed that breakfast is now going half eaten, so they are still coming in hungry from school. This morning I cooked pancakes, which went down a treat (they are, since Kate and Alex like them best with lemon and sugar). Not the healthiest option but they’re obviously bored with cereal and toast. I will have to find better ways to sweeten pancakes.


Day 17


This morning, as well as cereal and toast, I’ve put out fresh orange juice, yoghurts and chopped fruit. They’re definitely eating more and I think the bit of colour on the table makes it all look more appetising. Cereal and toast are very brown and drab! They are still looking for snacks when they get in from school, but I am refusing. I want them to eat at mealtimes – they’re too big for snacks at this stage.


Day 18


I cooked up a bit of bacon, egg and mushrooms this morning, but failed to persuade either of them to touch the mushrooms. They don’t know what they’re missing. I’ve been batch cooking dinners all week, one for dinner, three for the freezer, and have made a batch of vegetable soup as well, which they have before main course. They won’t eat a big plate of main course, I guess it gets boring, so instead I’ve added appetisers to that meal – soup, carrot sticks and hummus, crackers with mackerel, and so forth. It’s working well; dessert is a rare event.


Day 19


I’ve run out of ideas for breakfast, so they have the same as Wednesday. This is going to be a problem, as they get bored of food very quickly, even if they like it. Today I’ve told Alex that if he skips sweets after school, he can have lots of dessert after dinner, and sweets after that. It worked! He and Paul went to the shop after school as usual, but Alex kept his loot until after dinner. I’m quite surprised – Paul was wolfing through a bag of sweets right beside him! Kate went into town with her friends after school and was late for dinner. She had chocolate pancakes and a fruit smoothie in town, so didn’t eat much dinner, and got no dessert. There was no fuss – she understands she had enough sweets today already.


Day 20


Kate and Alex are at their dad’s again, so I only have to provide breakfast Saturday and dinner Sunday. On Sunday afternoon it was pouring rain so I decided to watch a movie, and found a box of Celebrations from last Christmas in the cupboard, so had a few of those. I forgot to put them away before the kids got back, so I did not succeed in saying no when they asked for some as well. I did try, but was accused of being selfish, unsharing, etc. - and pretty much every preachy thing I’ve said about healthy eating over the past 3 weeks was hauled out and given right back to me. They really are very funny when they ‘do’ me. So, I gave in. Luckily, I’m not much of a sweet eater myself, so it’s not likely to happen very often. But we did have a good laugh!


Comment from John Sharry, Psychologist and parenting expert:

Dear Ashley,

You are absolutely right to concentrate on breakfast – a full healthy breakfast sets the right tone for the day and means children aren’t starving later and thus less likely to snack unhealthily. You have shown lots of creative options for breakfast which is brilliant. To go further I would suggest you involve the children in the selection and preparation of the breakfast. Could you do up a weekly plan with them? Brainstorm with them all the healthy options they could have and try to map out the week ( the only rule is they have to be healthy and filling). The ideal of course is that you agree with them to share out the preparation. Perhaps one child could take responsibility for preparing Monday and the other for Tuesday etc and you could all go out for a family trip to buy the ingredients. The more you get them involved the more successful you will be and you will also teach them new independence and skills.

I also like your idea about preparing a few dinners in advance and freezing them– this is an excellent way to ensure you have several healthy dinners ready as a busy parent.

Finally, I would not worry in the slightest about giving in and giving out a few sweets on Sunday - one or two sweets is not going to be a problem and can be a nice rewards ( as with all unhealthy food treats, once they are infrequent and small they are no problem).

Well done,




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