Every parent knows the struggle of getting their child to bed. No child is ever as hungry or thirsty as a toddler at bedtime. Are they really hungry or are they stalling? While not necessary for every child, a bedtime snack can be an easy way to ensure that your child isn’t hungry and is really just avoiding bed.
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Does my child need a bedtime snack?
Maybe. This really depends on your schedule. If dinner is usually more than an hour or 2 before bedtime, it can be helpful to have a snack. If dinner is really close to bedtime, you probably don’t need one.
While you don’t need to have a rigid schedule with mealtimes at the same time everyday, it can be really helpful to have a flexible routine to guide your days. As the adult you are in charge of when meals/snacks are offered, so it’ll be up to you to determine a routine that works best for your family.
What if my child doesn’t eat dinner?
As much as possible, we want to avoid the conditional snack. Sometimes routines change and dinner will be earlier than expected or bedtime will be later. In these cases, a snack can make sense.
What we want to avoid is offering a snack when our child doesn’t eat much at dinner. As long as you are offering at least 1 food your child normally likes with the meal, you should be able to trust that they are eating as much as their body is telling them to. When we offer a snack only after meals where the child doesn’t eat as well, the child may learn that if they don’t like a meal, they can hold out and get a snack after. This can make picky eating worse.
Instead, either try to make the bedtime snack a part of your routine or skip it. Don’t make it conditional on whether or not your child eats. If your child doesn’t eat much at dinner, remind them that there will not be food until breakfast (assuming no snack), and move on. Many kids frontload their calories and eat big breakfasts and small dinners naturally.
What kind of foods should I serve for a bedtime snack?
This is up to you. I usually recommend trying to offer an iron-containing food, a fruit/veggie, and a high energy food with most meals and snacks and this can be the case with a bedtime snack as well. You don’t need to offer a food from each category, but you can keep them in mind as your choosing foods.
Many parents prefer something very simple so that they don’t have to deal with much preparation or clean up at the end of the day. Some easy ideas that contain at least 2 out of 3 of the categories include:
- cereal with milk and a side of fruit
- string cheese and a piece of fruit
- veggies and hummus
- crackers and cheese with a side of fruit
- applesauce pouch and a granola bar
- veggies and ranch
- pretzels and hummus
Take Home Message
You can serve a bedtime snack if it works for your family, but if it doesn’t your child doesn’t need it. It will really depend on when you offer dinner and when bedtime is. As always, what works best for your family IS best for your family.
If you are looking for more support, make sure to check out my Family Meals Made Easy Course where I help you take away the stress from mealtimes. Or join my newsletter where I give away resources for free as well as practical feeding tips that you can implement with your family.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.