Getting kids to make healthy food choices can be hard for parents who have limited time to spend on persuading them.
Nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin says with one in four children either overweight or obese it's vital to let kids know what foods help them grow strong and healthy as early as possible.
"We can't just put the onus on parents," she says.
Bingley-Pullin says there needs to be more emphasis in schools on what foods are the best for growing kids.
"I think it has definitely improved ... (with the) amber, green or red lighting system in tuck shops, that's a great start but it still needs to improve."
As part of a school resource program for Australian Avocados, Bingley-Pullin recently made a nutritional analysis of eight popular children's snack categories and found most contain a range of hidden sugars and high levels of saturated fat.
She says parents may be selecting the snacks - that include yoghurts, rolled fruit and puffed rice treats - unaware that they also contain a range of additives and preservatives.
The resource program that has been rolled out in childcare centres, Eating my Colourful Vegies and Fruit, has won praise from Bingley-Pullin for engaging youngsters on several levels.
"We had them cooking some little avocado treats and just to see how they looked to the fruit, looked what was on the table, associated the colour and you could just see their brains working."
The program, developed in 2010 by the growers of Australian Avocados, will soon be piloted in 10 primary schools nationwide.
Bingley-Pullin has some tips for parents who may be confused about how to encourage their kids to eat healthy foods, including starting as you mean to go on.
"If you're giving them white bread to begin with they're going stay with white bread and it's going to be very hard to transition them over to wholemeal and multigrain," she says.
She's also wary of associated sweet foods with treats.
"Because we're all very busy we tend to bribe kids with food nowadays," she says.
"It is important for kids to know that there are some foods that we just have to eat, that make us big and strong and healthy and give us great energy, and we have to eat them regularly."
Bingley-Pullin also urges parents to challenge their children's tastebuds by using different textures and temperatures.
"We know that the senses are what actually drive food choices," she says.
"It's just really trying to ignite those senses so that they are educated on so much more than a visual point of view."
She's adamant kids should be vocal about their likes and dislikes - after they've sampled the new tastes a few times.
"The thing is kids don't know what they do and don't like until they've actually tried something.
And she warns parents new tastes might take a while to get used to, but not to worry about it.
"The thing about a child is they're not trying to starve themselves."
Key Findings from Toddler Snacks Nutritional Analysis*
Children's Yoghurts - These yoghurts can be a good source of calcium and in some cases have added Vitamin D and Omega 3s which are beneficial for children. But surprisingly, some of these products were generally higher in sugars (added and from fruit) than some adult options. Be sure to check the nutrition information panel when shopping.
Rolled Fruit Snacks - While the fruit content in these products varies greatly from as little as one per cent fruit, it is usually processed and there are high levels of a range of sugars, additives and preservatives. They are not a substitute for fresh fruit.
Fruit-filled Baked Cereal Bars - Can contain a range of unnatural additives and are very high in energy, carbohydrates, sodium and sugar, both natural and added so read the ingredients lists. It would be better to eat small tubs of real fruit packed in natural juice.
Puffed Rice Sweet Treats - On average these products are high in energy and contain high GI carbohydrates, high in fat (some products have half the fat from unhealthy saturated fat), a range of sugars and sodium.
Cheese and Crackers Snack Packs - On average these contain processed cheese with a high saturated fat and sodium content. The biscuits are loaded with sugar, sodium and processed carbohydrates. A piece of low fat cheddar is a good alternative as a calcium-rich snack.
Sweet Nut Spreads - Hazelnut spreads tend to be high in added sugars and fats (some natural, derived from healthy hazelnuts) including a high percentage of saturated fat (around 30 per cent on average). 100 per cent fruit spreads look to be a better option containing less energy and saturated fat and natural rather than processed sugars. 100 per cent nut butters and pastes with no added fats, sugars or sodium are also a good alternative.
Savoury biscuit snacks - These products tend to have a very high salt content and are up to one third saturated fat. Some popular options also contain MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Fruit Juice Drinks - These drinks are high in sugars (natural and added) and are a dentist's worst nightmare as they can contribute to dental erosion. Water or plain milk are better options for toddlers. Flavoured milks provide a good source of calcium but are still high in sugars (natural and added).
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