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Persuading children to eat the right things (or eat at all) can be a challenge for parents. Research shows our eating patterns become established as early as age two, so the sooner you help kids make healthy choices, the better.

Children aged between 1 and 13 get around a quarter of their daily calories from snacks – that’s the equivalent of lunch or dinner. That means influencing their snack choices is crucial.

Here are four bite-sized snacking strategies designed to keep snack time fun while also boosting nutrition.

Start as you mean to go on

The point you start weaning your child onto solid food is a real milestone – and you’ll shape their future snacking habits by introducing healthy options from day one.

mother feeding toddler 

Priming infant snacking habits with nutritious options from six to 12 months is particularly important.

Iron-fortified infant cereals are ideal first foods, followed by single fruit and vegetable purees.

Once these have been introduced individually, you can get creative with combinations of flavours and finger foods to maintain your child’s interest.

By the time of their first birthday, around 95% of children are having at least one snack per day, so when you’re ready to offer snacks, make sure they’re healthy ones.

Small changes make a big difference

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t lose heart if you’re not making as much progress as you think you should. Every small, positive change counts.

girl eating apple 

In fact, perhaps the best advice for parents who are trying to improve their child’s eating habits is to start small. For toddlers and older children, you can encourage small changes over time with healthier swaps.

For example, swap potato chips or crisps and dip for wholewheat pitta and hummus, or offer alternative sweet treats by swapping some fresh fruit and yoghurt in instead of cookies or cake.

Have fruit and veggies ready

All your good intentions can be undone by an empty store cupboard. Running out of fresh food is inevitable, so make sure you’ve got some longer-lasting alternatives squirrelled away, just in case.

nuts snack in hands 

All forms of fruits and veggies count towards the five-a-day goal – fresh, frozen or dried.

Keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruit ready for making smoothies and, if you’re on the go, have portions of dried fruit and nuts ready to take with you.

You can also stock fresh veggies in snack-ready form like carrot sticks, celery sticks and cucumber slices, and keep portable whole fruits that your kids enjoy like bananas, apples, oranges or grapes.

Get creative with good-for-you snacks

You were probably told not to play with your food, but that doesn’t mean that snack time needs to be boring.

From vegetables to sandwiches, grab the cookie cutter and make regular snack foods more visually appealing.

Mix up shapes and colours wherever you can to keep things stimulating.

veggie sticks with yoghurt dip 

Experiment with pairing fruit and veggies up with tasty dips like hummus, avocado dip or yoghurt dip.

Smoothies are a great way to transform healthy food into an equally healthy snack; same nutrients, different eating experience.

If you really want to make snack time engaging, create a ‘build your own’ snack bar with a range of toppings and fillings for sandwiches, pizzas made with pitta bread, or fruit-filled yoghurts.

Read more about Nestlé for Healthier Kids, our flagship initiative to help future generations eat better foods and beverages, and to move more. The program aims to help 50 million children lead healthier lives by 2030.

Tips first published on Nestlé USA’s Medium.com page.