If you have a child like mine who doesn’t eat much at dinner time because most of what was offered was not on her “I like” list, then you might be familiar with the phrase “Ma can I have a snack before bed?” …and picky eating is just one of the reasons a child may ask for a snack at bedtime.
Reasons a child might want a bedtime snack
- They had a tantrum at lunch or dinner
- There was a long gap between dinner and bedtime
- They had an exciting day and skipped some snacks or meals.
- Their meals were not nutrient dense enough.
- They might be mixing up hunger cues with feeling sick or constipated
- They have recently stopped their bedtime glass of milk from their routine
- They are stalling for time because they don’t want to go to bed (its sometimes hard to tell: look out for signs of over tiredness or child refusing the snack you offer)
The right choices for bedtime snacks are preferably something that will satisfy their hunger while also help them get a good night’s sleep, which is important for a child’s growth and development. Try and plan this snack about 45 minutes before bedtime, so that your child has time to brush their teeth and follow their usual bedtime routine.
Don’t offer your toddler or child a snack to soothe them because they are upset. They might start associating eating with comfort and it might lead to emotional eating in the future. Also if your child refused dinner or rejected some of it, do not offer the rejected food as a bedtime snack as this could be a negative feeding practice.
What should a bedtime snack contain?
The same rule for snacks in general applies for bedtime snack, meaning keep it low in sugar and include fibre and protein to balance the sugars and keep them full for longer. Try not to make the snack too exciting and fun, otherwise your child may skip meals in favour of the snack, or might use the snack to stall bedtime. Offer one or 2 choices that are easy for you and don’t negotiate. A small quantity should be enough before bedtime, eating too much might actually have a negative effect on sleep quality.
Besides choosing food which is nutrient dense, and can keep them full for the night, choose foods which naturally contain melatonin, tryptophan, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin B6. Tryptophan is an amino acid which makes serotonin, which in turn produces melatonin, the hormone which regulates your sleep/wake cycle. For tryptophan to be converted into serotonin, the body also needs enough vitamin B2, B6, Iron and other micronutrients
Food sources of Tryptophan:
- Soya products eg tofu
- Seeds: chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, linseed
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts or nut butter: pistachios, cashews, almond, hazelnuts
- Dairy products: milk and cheeses
- Fish and shellfish that contain healthy fats and omega 3
Make sure to avoid foods containing caffeine such as tea, hot chocolate or cola. And to avoid foods high in salt or sugar.
20 Ideas for bedtime snacks
- Wholegrain bread with nut butter (protein)
- Fruit smoothie including some nut butter or yoghurt
- Yoghurt with fruit (protein, tryptophan)
- Apple and cheese (protein)
- Wholegrain crackers and cheese (protein)
- Small wholegrain sandwich with turkey (tryptophan)
- Oatmeal with milk (melatonin)
- Salmon paste (omega 3) on toast
- Protein bliss balls
- Fruit puree with yoghurt
- Cheese quesadilla
- Handful of pistachios (protein, Vit B6 and magnesium)
- Cherries (melatonin) or Strawberries (Vitamin C and B6)
- Banana (contains potassium which relaxes muscles) with some nut butter or yoghurt (protein, tryptophan)
- Chamomile tea (contains and antioxidant called apigenin that may help sleep)
- Egg on toast (melatonin) or hardboiled egg
- Pancake and kiwi (serotonin)
- Baby carrots and hummus (protein)
- Granola bar with a small glass of milk
- Wholegrain muffin