Northern Ireland families spending more on ‘treat’ foods than fruit and vegetables

treat foods

©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

START campaign encourages Northern Ireland parents to rebalance what they spend on fruit and vegetables compared to ‘treats’

Northern Ireland families are spending over £850 a year on ‘treat’ foods in the average weekly food shop, over four times as much as they spend on vegetables.

Data revealed by the Food Standards Agency and safefood states that almost one quarter (24%)¹ of the average weekly family food shop goes towards purchasing highly processed ‘treat’ foods such as crisps, chocolates and sweets. This compares with only 10% of the weekly spend going on fruit and just 7% on vegetables and prepared salads.

The data, from Kantar Worldpanel, found that on average, families with children spent £852 on treat foods in 2016, compared with £317 on fruit and £205 on vegetables.

Chocolate and sweets (£191); sugary drinks (£190); biscuits (£125) and crisps (£111) accounted for almost three-quarters of the annual spend on treat foods.

This only includes shopping taken home from the supermarket and doesn’t account for convenience / on-the go purchases in outlets such as garage forecourts, cafes, cinemas etc.

The data has been released to coincide with the latest phase of START, the five-year public health awareness campaign from safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.

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 small changes, even if this is challenging.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: “While we all love to treat our kids and grandkids, highly processed foods such as crisps, chocolates and sweets, which are full of empty calories, have become a staple in our weekly shop. Unfortunately they’re a norm in our children’s daily diet and they are not seen as a real treat any more.

“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 not to 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. But it can be done. Half of parents have tried to change their kids eating habits and 8 in 10 have persisted with that change.”

Sharon Gilmore, Head of Standards and Dietary Health, Food Standards Agency said: “These foods and drinks are mostly high in fat, sugar and salt and we recommend eating them less often and in small amounts. We should all aim to eat a varied and balanced diet based on the Eatwell Guide, which includes at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This will help children feel their best and make a big difference to their long-term health.”

Mary Black, Assistant Director for Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the Public Health Agency, said: “Changing the way that we and our children eat can be difficult, but over time by making small daily changes, you can have a positive impact on your health. For instance, swapping a surgery drink for milk or water, or instead of reaching for the crisps, try some plain popcorn as a snack.

“In addition to making healthier snack swaps, it’s also important to recognise that children only need kid-sized portions. At meal times, using a smaller plate for children is a good way of making sure you don’t serve up too much. Small changes like these, combined with being more physically active can help us better manage our weight.”

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 you can help children to understand what a treat is 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

treat foods

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