The snacks that a child eats can have a huge influence on their overall health and dietary habits once they mature. A new study from the University of Florida shows that making a simple change to a child’s snacking habit has long lasting effects. In order to improve the diets of people of all ages, the study reveals that a person just needs to eat a handful of almonds each day.

In the study, 28 child-parent pairs were used as subjects. For a three week period, parents ate one and a half ounces of whole almonds per day, while their children ate either half an ounce of almonds or the same amount of almond butter. These almonds could be consumed at any time during the day. Some families ate them as snacks, while others added them to smoothies or oatmeal.

The diet quality of the families was analyzed once at the beginning of the study and once at the end according to USDA guidelines. At first, the average eating index score was 53.7, signifying a diet just two points above the USDA’s index score for a poor diet. The research study found that both parents and children significantly increased the quality of their diet. At the end of the study, the average eating index score increased to 61.4, which is far closer to the USDA score for a good diet. They increased the amount of protein consumed, and decreased their intake of processed snacks that were high in calories.

The researchers theorized that this simple change was so effective because almonds are a great source of protein and healthy fat. It left the families feeling full and satisfied, so they did not crave snacks throughout the day. Also, the almonds provided a savory, crunchy element that easily replaced cravings for potato chips or other salty snacks.

The findings of this research study are important for a few different reasons. In the past 20 years, children between the ages of three and six have stopped consuming nuts and seeds and starting eating more chips and pretzels. Many parents have rationalized this as the natural picky eating of young children, but eating these calorie rich and nutrient free snacks seems to have an overall negative effect on the health of children. The study showed that nuts are a definitive part of a healthy diet, and it proved that young children will willingly eat these healthy snacks, especially when they see their parents eating them.

Since almonds are easy to buy and require no preparation, adding almonds to your diet is very simple. As this study shows, it quickly improves people’s health, and the dietary habits that a parent encourages in their child’s early years has a lasting effect on how they interact with food. By starting healthy habits early and eating protein-rich snacks instead of processed treats, parents can work to ensure that their children remain healthy throughout life.