By Clodagh Finn
THERE’S no need to be spooked by the annual sugar splurge at Halloween, says award-winning parenting blogger Cliona O’Connor. The trick is to let them have their treats, then return to a routine of healthy snacking before the saturated fats come back to haunt you.
As the mother of four so wisely puts it: “There are lots of sacrifices that need to be made in life. However, chocolate is not one of them. Everything in moderation, I always say.”
That line is typical of Cliona O’Connor’s light-hearted take on life which is dispensed with wit, humour and searing honesty on leanmeanmomma.ie, a blog that charts the day-to-day ups and downs of a mother with a houseful of “loud, lovable rogues” who are all under 10.
In fact, trying to cope with the pressures of working as a pharmaceutical rep and being a parent was what put her on a new path as a wellbeing ambassador and blogger. After her third child was born four years ago, she knew something had to give.
“I thought it would be easier. I was lying in bed wondering if I would ever feel like myself again,” she tells Feelgood.
When exhaustion took hold, she started to recall the nutrition she studied as part of her PE and sports science degree and to introduce changes. She invested in a blender and began, step by step, to cut down on refined sugar and avoid the bad fats that are in processed foods.
“I was so tired that I had to give myself every chance to feel well. It was never about losing weight, it was about how I felt inside.”
She still had her treats but began to live by new guidelines: “If you have to unwrap it, you probably shouldn’t be having it, but if it is swims, runs or grows, then it’s probably fine.”
When her fourth child was born two years ago, she gave up the rep job and began to focus on applying her own health eating tips to her children’s diet and then sharing her successes – and failures – with the wider world on her blog.
One of the first challenges was keeping her children — Caoilinn (nine); Fiadh (seven), Ollie (four) and Jacob (two) — in healthy snacks.
Children, she says, and in particular younger children, don’t have three meals a day. They need lots of snacks, but it’s vital to give them healthy ones.
Snacking, however, is not just for children. Over 70% of Irish people snack every day, according to a SuperValu survey released earlier this year. The study also found that just a quarter of people under 65 eat at dedicated meal times while two in five of us have at least two snacks a day.
The so-called fourth meal — or propensity to snack — was identified as the biggest food trend of 2018 and Cliona O’Connor thinks it’s here to stay. She says part of it is due to our busier lifestyles and the increasing range of hunger-inducing extracurricular activities for children.
That is why it is more important than ever to snack well, she says. She has teamed up with SuperValu, which stocks over 1,000 healthy snack products, to focus attention on the importance of healthy snacking.
“As a mum, we can all wax lyrical about going to four different supermarkets for our products and to the Outer Hebrides for the sauces, but we have to be practical too,” she says.
At the same time, people must make a conscious decision to eat well. “It is still much easier to reach for the bad stuff when you are tired, but you won’t feel well,” she says.
Her top healthy snacks include:
- Smoothies: Replace some of the fruit with veg as you have to pay attention to the natural sugars as well as the refined ones. Add some frozen spinach and call it Jungle Juice. Two bananas (frozen is even better but fresh perfect too),10-15 almonds,1 tsp cinnamon,1 tsp honey (optional) or 3-4 dates,4 tbsp Greek-style natural yogurt, 400ml Mór Milk
- Fruit bowls
- Yogurts, but check the sugar content
- Pancakes made from milk, ground oats, eggs, vanilla extract and coconut sugar
- Hummus with carrots, celery sticks or red peppers
- Fruit and veg chips
- Madegood granola bars, which are organic, vegan and gluten-free
“I always keep trying them with stuff. Once you stop, the game is truly up. You have to try something 12 times, I think, before it catches on.”