Many parents are confused if it is okay to offer a snack just before bed. Does snacking before bed hinder sleep or start new patterns that ultimately affect sleep.
Should you offer bedtime snacks to children?
The short answer, it depends on what the situation is.
Let’s dive into the many reasons why your toddler may be asking for a snack and then you can decide how to tackle it.
Snacks as a tool to stall bedtime
As children grow older they will challenge bedtime and if you observe a trend of asking for snacks just to delay bedtime it is time to lay some boundaries. Explain at dinner that the kitchen is closed after dinner/dinner is the last meal of the day, and that they can have food now or wait until breakfast the next day.
Not enough calories eaten at dinner/Picky eater problems
If your child is a picky eater most probably he/she didn’t eat enough at dinner and needs more food by bedtime. In this case, ensure that there are at least some safe foods for your toddler to fill up on during the last meal while ensuring continued exposure to new foods.
For eg. if there are 3 foods on the dinner plate make sure that there are at least 2 you know your toddler can enjoy and fill up on until bed. With picky eaters the more calorie dense the food the better it is, this way we ensure they get nutrition in every bite.
Wondering what to feed your picky eater? Read my tips in this post.
A gap of more than 2 hours between the last meal and bedtime
If your routine is such that the time between dinner and bed exceeds two hours your toddler probably needs a snack before bed. Keep bedtime snacks simple and boring, something you know your toddler will happily eat and not something like say, cookies that the toddler will want to skip dinner and wait for instead.
Addressing the question,
Should I give my toddler a snack before bed?
Assess if the need for a snack is real hunger or a tool to stall bedtime.
If hunger is the issue, address it at dinner itself by building more energy dense meals or tweak your routine to maintain a shorter gap between dinner and bed.
Toddler years are the first time the child is aware of his routine, trying to assert his role and getting used to the many details that come along.
Our job as parents is to respond to our child’s needs and provide a sensible structure for the child to be able to assert himself within our loving limits.
What foods will help my toddler sleep?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) and children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Good sleep is crucial for both physical and mental well-being. If your daily routine includes a gap of more than 2 hours between the last meal and bedtime a filling snack before bed will help your child get a good night’s sleep.
Here are some points to keep in mind as you build a bedtime snack for kids.
- Avoid foods with added sugars and caffeine right before bed. These include all ice-creams, chocolates, cookies, chocolate milks and other such foods.
- Incorporate foods that are rich in melatonin like pistachios, almonds, walnuts, milk and eggs. Melatonin has been reported to improve sleep efficiency and eating melatonin-rich foods could assist sleep.
- Other than these sources, foods rich in tryptophan are converted in the body to serotonin and melatonin Both of which aid better sleep. Examples of tryptophan-rich foods are turkey, soybeans, eggs, low-fat cheese, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
- Magnesium rich foods also help with sleep by reducing the stress hormone cortisol example banana and almonds.
- Keep the hunger crushing combo of fiber+protein+healthy fats in mind as you build snacks. Examples of combinations given in the list below.
- But most importantly, we don’t need to make a big fuss about building special snacks or mini meals before bedtime, even leftovers from dinner will do.
Easy and healthy bedtime snacks for toddlers
- Peanut butter and toast
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Hummus and crackers
- Whole boiled egg
- Nuts and seeds (for example : almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pumpkin seeds. Do not offer whole nuts to toddlers, instead crush and add to porridge or offer in form of nut butters.)
- Oats porridge with nut butter and honey
- Cream cheese and bagel
- Banana boats
- Leftovers from dinner
Pin the list of bedtime snacks for toddlers for future reference.
As I mentioned earlier in the post if the gap between bedtime and dinner is adequate there is no need for bedtime snacks and it should definitely not be something that should be encouraged as a routine.
Our focus should be on helping our children develop a healthy relationship with food with an understanding of their own hunger and fullness limits.
Boredom eating, eating to delay bedtime and eating without meaning should be avoided. In such cases, focus on establishing house rules and proper boundaries instead of promoting mindless eating.
What snacks do you offer at bedtime?