Drop it — breaking habits

Most of us enjoy chocolate bars, sweets and crisps every now and again – but there’s a difference between a treat and a habit.

It could be sweets on long drives, crisps at your desk, or sugary drinks at the cinema. Perhaps it’s irresistible offers on chocolate at the checkout, or comfort eating when you’re stressed.

Common pitfalls include:

For grown-ups and kids:

  • Using snacks to alleviate boredom when you’re not actually hungry
  • Having food within reach leading to unplanned/uncontrolled snacking - snacking when you’re actually thirsty, not hungry
  • Not eating regular and balanced meals, which could make you more likely to snack
  • Sometimes snacking or eating without realising what you are doing!

Especially for grown-ups:

  • Not sticking to your list and buying too many snacks when out shopping
  • Going to the supermarket when you’re hungry, making cravings hard to resist!

There’s lots of ways to cut down on snacking, have a look below for an option that suits you and your family

1. Track the snacks

Image of some cupcakes

This is a great solution for frequent snackers who might find giving up snacks completely a bit overwhelming. Write down what you and your family snacks on over the week and work out when and why you’re all snacking. A wall chart is a good way to do this. To start off with, try dropping just one of your regular snacks or sugary drinks. You might be surprised at how much more of your healthy dinner your family eats!

2. Make a shopping list

Before you do your weekly shop, why not make and take along a list? Your list should help guide you to only the aisles you need (and help avoid those with snacky foods!) Habit of forgetting lists? You could try online shopping to avoid temptation!

3. Out of sight, out of mind

You might find you snack less if you can’t see things to snack on. That’s why checkout chocolate is so tempting – you didn’t want it until you saw it! Keep crisps and biscuits in the cupboard, or even better, don’t buy them at all. Keep healthy snacks, like fruit, within reach instead.

4. Do something different

A lot of the time when we snack, we’re bored rather than hungry. When cravings hit, try to distract yourself – ideally with something that keeps your hands busy! Have a look at our ideas for both grown-ups and kids below:

Tips for grown ups

  • Go for a walk to the park or round the block, and if you’re at work go and get a glass of water or catch up with colleagues at the other end of the office
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Catch up with someone, phone a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • If you’re at home, sort through your wardrobe and donate unwanted clothes to charity
  • Get busy in the garden
  • Catch up with household tasks – tick something off your list

Tips for kids

  • Take a trip to the park. You could even turn it into a nature trail with lists of things for your child to look out for e.g. tall trees, bright flowers, bees and bugs or smooth pebbles
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Create an obstacle course in the garden or living room
  • Host your own Olympics with games like tig, 3 legged races or musical chairs
  • Play hide and seek, or ‘moving hide and seek’ where the hider has to move around without being spotted
  • Play ‘what floats’: fill a sink with water and help your child test a list of objects. Get them to guess what will happen first and keep a record of the results
  • Read a book together
  • Get creative by drawing, painting or colouring-in. Challenge your child to draw their favourite animal or cartoon character
  • Kids love cardboard boxes! If you have any spare, get your child to decorate one like a racing car, or a robot head. Turn shoeboxes into dolls houses or empty cereal boxes into rockets
  • Play drawing games like hangman, Pictionary or noughts and crosses
  • Create your own band at home with pots and wooden spoons for drums and jars of pasta as maracas. If you’ve got a phone you could record a video to watch afterwards
  • Make a den: drape sheets and blankets over chairs and tables. You could make your own signs and take books/games to read and play in the den

For more tips on entertaining and rewarding your kids without unhealthy treats, please visit Play, Talk, Read.

5. Drink water

A lot of the time when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. Keep a bottle of water handy at your desk or by the sofa – taking a sip now and then can often satisfy you as well as any snack.

6. Habits and associations

Sometimes we associate different activities with certain snacks, making these treats particularly hard to give up – for example biscuits with your morning coffee or tea. If this is the type of habit you think you’ll find the most difficult to shake, then an idea might be to start limiting it to just certain days of the week. Have fun with it - why not involve those around you to join you in a Treat-Free Tuesday or Snack-Less Saturday challenge?

7. Treats for kids

It’s hard, we often want to reward our kids for doing something well or for being helpful or kind, and less healthy snacks and treats seem to be the easiest option. Often the best way to reward your child is simply by giving them your time and attention. Head to ‘Swap it’ - treats and rewards for some practical ideas on how you can show your child how proud you are of them.

More on this topic


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The food you eat can make a big difference to your wellbeing.


Helpful information

There’s a whole world of help out there to make changing snacking habits much easier – from inspiration for things to eat to mobile apps.


The facts about snacking

Find out more about snacking and how it can affect you and your children's future health.