Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Treat treats as treats and you'll see a difference

The occasional chocolate bar, slice of cake or bag of crisps will do us no harm but we've tipped the balance in favour of treats over healthy choices

IN HIS book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan’s rule number 60 suggests we 'treat treats as treats’. Although I am generally not a stickler for rules, I like this one.

:: The 80-20 rule

My philosophy about healthy eating and nutrition is one of balance – eat as healthy as you can most of the time, and enjoy treats every once in a while. Think of it as an 80:20 rule, rather than all-or-nothing. The occasional chocolate bar, slice of cake or bag of crisps will do our health no harm, as long as these snack foods don’t become an overindulgent part of our diet.

:: A trolley load of treats

Unfortunately it seems we have tipped the balance fair and square in favour of treat foods over nourishing, healthy choices. With families in Northern Ireland spending four times as much on treat foods as we do on fruit and vegetables, we have got it badly wrong and our health is suffering.

Obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are all too common in our society, but we have the power to radically change our destiny and literally eat our way to better health.

The research by Safe Food and the Food Standards Agency found that in 2016, households with children spent an average of £852 on “treats” compared with £317 on fruit and £205 on vegetables.

:: Make changes as a family

Let’s do something for the good of our health and that of our children and grandchildren. A wee ice cream here and a chocolate biscuit there soon adds up to the sum of a lifetime of poor health. Introducing healthier options to our weekly shop means there is always something in the fridge or larder to tempt us to make a more nutritious choice.

If we really want to see change, it has to be a team effort. Get the whole family involved. Talk to your children and grandchildren about food and the effects that healthy, nourishing food can have on their wellbeing. Ask them how they think your family could make changes for the better. Find out what fruit and vegetables they would like to try and get them into the kitchen to cook, and taste different foods. Even if it is beans on toast, it is a step in the right direction.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

:: If you eat treat foods every day, reduce their frequency to every other day. Try things like fruit kebabs with a selection of different fruits, or replace a chocolate bar with a banana.

:: Chop up some raw veg sticks and keep them in the fridge for a handy snack (eg carrot, red peppers, celery and sugar snap peas) with some houmous.

:: Nudge some more vegetables into family meals – try adding extra peppers to Bolognese sauce, some frozen spinach to curry or grated carrot into your usual chilli recipe.

:: If we get some sunshine, try making ice lollies by blending frozen fruit with yoghurt and freezing in ice-pop moulds.

:: Have some fruit at the end of a meal instead of a bar or a biscuit. Make a big fruit salad and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge. Sometimes chopped fruit is more appetising than just an apple or a pear.

These small, every day changes add up and will have a significant impact on the health of you and yours.


2 Apples cut into chunks

2 Bananas chopped

2 Kiwi cut into chunks

8 Strawberries cut in half

16 Red and Green Grapes, quartered.

8 Pineapple Chunks chunks

8 Wooden Skewers


Wash the fruit. Peel the banana and kiwi. Chop the banana, apple, pineapple and kiwi into eight bite-size chunks, cut the strawberries in half and quarter the grapes. Carefully thread the chopped fruit on to the wooden skewers.

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