Swap it — treats and rewards

As parents, rewarding our kids for good behaviour is a great way of helping them grow and learn.

Whether it’s good behaviour on a long and boring car journey, doing well at school or doing something kind or helpful, we all need ways of saying ‘well done’ every once in a while.

However, rewarding our children with food, particularly sweets, ice creams and other junk food, teaches them to link less healthy food with good behaviour, which can cause bad health later on in life. It makes them associate food with rewards, rather than something we need to keep our bodies working properly.

Common problems include:

  • Using sweets to reward good behaviour. Sweets should not be a regular part of children’s diets, and associating sweet treats with ‘being good’ can lead to bad eating habits later on.
  • Distracting bored kids by giving them a snack too soon before a meal means they might have less of an appetite for proper food. They’ll probably also be less willing to try new foods.

These problem habits are fixable by swapping food for time and attention. This will help your family bond and help children develop a healthy attitude towards food.

Rewards and treats inspiration

Match the reward with the behaviour

Rewards work best when they suit the occasion and are consistent. For example, instead of giving sweets in exchange for good behaviour on a train journey, why not try a colouring book or a comic to help stop kids from getting bored? In the car you could also play games like I spy, hangman, or do some drawing or listen to a story or their favourite songs.

No treats in exchange for veg

Lots of parents are so keen to get their kids eating healthy food that they’ll offer unhealthy food as a reward. Not only does this undo your hard work, non-food rewards work much better – such as stickers or games.

Summer holiday blues

Sometimes the holidays can feel endless. The kids get bored and it feels like they constantly need food and attention. Plan your days out with fun things to do and make sure you take healthy snacks and water with you. They won't remember sweets in the future, but they will remember the time spent with you.

Pre-dinner distractions

If your kids say they’re hungry right before a meal, get them involved with cooking or laying the table. They can help you prepare ingredients, and maybe even have a little taste. That way they won’t spoil their tea by filling up on snacks, and they’ll be more likely to try new things if they helped make it.

Looking for more ideas?

Head to our page on helpful information and links for more inspiration.

More on this topic


Managing health issues

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.