You’ve just wrapped up bathtime and all the dishes are still fresh from the dinner that your toddler didn’t eat and bam, they ask the notorious question: “Mom, can I have a snack?” And you’re thinking: “Seriously? We just ate dinner!”
If you’re wondering if you should just give them the snack or let them wait it out until breakfast tomorrow morning, you’re in the right place.
Because every family and situation is different, I’m going to walk you through how to decide if you should initiate the evening snack for kids or wait it out. In addition, I’ll provide you with eight healthy bedtime snacks for toddlers for when you do decide to offer up a bedtime snack.
Evening snacks for kids – why do they ask for them?
Sometimes kids want a snack because they didn’t like what was for dinner. Sometimes they want a snack because they’re truly hungry. And sometimes they want a snack because it’s something they can control and right now, they do NOT want to go to bed.
The last thing you want to do as a parent is to starve your child. It’s 100% okay to give your child a bedtime snack to tide them over until breakfast. But it’s also okay to have them wait until breakfast. So which is the right answer? Depends!
What to consider before providing a bedtime snack
Do you offer a bedtime snack to your kids? If so, why do you choose to offer the snack? Is it because it’s a part of your routine? Did they ask for one? Or maybe they just took it upon themselves to give themselves a snack?
No matter if you decide to give your child a bedtime snack or not, it’s important to have boundaries. You should always go back to The Division of Responsibility: you as the parent decide what, where, and when your child eats and your child decide if and how much to eat from what you provided.
So when it comes to a bedtime snack, you decide what’s available, where it’s available and when it’s available and it shouldn’t be five minutes after dinner. They can then decide if they’d like to take you up on your bedtime snack offer, as well as how much of it they want to eat.
Consider these questions when your child asks for a bedtime snack:
When was the last meal offered?
If dinner just got over and they chose not to eat what was provided because they didn’t like it, avoid giving them a snack right away. Wait at least an hour before providing a snack. To help them learn how to be more open to trying new foods read more here!
When did they last eat? If it’s been an hour since dinner and it’s almost bedtime, feel free to choose a snack for them. If the last meal just ended five minutes ago, let them know “the kitchen is closed.”
When will they eat next? Is your kiddo in bed asking for a snack? It’s okay to let them know the “kitchen is closed” and breakfast will be in the morning. It’s also okay to give them something quick that won’t make a mess while eating in bed. Sometimes I’ll offer a banana or a yogurt pouch to my own kids. There’s no perfect solution. You do what feels right.
When to offer a bedtime snack
Every family will eat dinner at a different time and every family may have different bedtimes. If you’re going to offer a bedtime snack, it’s important to try and make sure there is a break in between dinner and the bedtime snack to create space between meals.
Children thrive on routine and structure, that’s why sometimes they eat better at school than they do at home – because it’s filled with structure! Aim for your child to eat a meal or a snack every 2 – 3 hours and know that this won’t be perfect.
Now you’re probably wondering – “But we eat at 6 and they go to bed at 7:30. That’s only an hour and a half. Can I still offer a bedtime snack?” Yes you can. Let me explain why.
Bedtime snacks are the one time of day when I say it’s okay to break the mealtime structure rules and not wait the entire two hours. If this were the case, not many kids would be able to eat a bedtime snack.
Instead of pushing out bedtime just to get in a bedtime snack, I say it’s okay to wait an hour after dinner. This way there is still a defined break between meals when the “kitchen is closed” and the next meal.
Let’s be honest though, sometimes this rule is even broken. Especially on Friday movie nights, vacation, and other special evenings where we’re off schedule. Aim for consistency most of the time – key work: “most.”
When not to offer a bedtime snack
You just finished dinner and maybe they ate quite a bit, maybe they only ate a nibble, or maybe they completely turned up their nose at the entire dinner. Five minutes after dinner they request a snack. This is when you do not offer a bedtime snack.
It can feel uncomfortable to deny your child food or to hear them get upset when you say “no.” Boundaries are important and you can set these boundaries without withholding food from your child and also teach them it’s okay to be upset.
If you provide your child with a snack five minutes after dinner is over, or even fifteen for that matter, they start to learn that something else is available shortly after dinner so if they don’t like what’s for dinner, they’ll just hold out for a snack.
Instead of just flat out telling them “No, you can’t have a snack. We just ate dinner!” You can respond with one of the following phrases that help acknowledge and redirect:
“I know you would like a snack right now. The kitchen is closed. Let’s get your PJ’s on and watch a show and then we can have a snack. Would you like to watch X or Y.”
“I hear you asking for a snack. Is your belly full or hungry? Do you think you ate a little, a lot or just the right amount at dinner? What should you do next time to fill your belly so you’re not hungry so quickly?“
“Sounds like you’d like a snack right now. The kitchen is closed until tomorrow when we will eat breakfast. Should we have pancakes or waffles tomorrow?”
Should you offer a bedtime snack every night
If you’re going to offer a bedtime snack, your best bet is to keep it consistently within your child’s schedule. It’s certainly okay to throw in a rogue bedtime snack, but again, children do best with consistency and structure. Offering a bedtime snack will greatly depend on your family’s schedule.
What to offer as a healthy bedtime snack for kids
Bedtime snacks are a tiny bit different than the regular snacks you may offer throughout the day. They’re a bit more simple, and honestly should be pretty boring. Something quick, and easy and doesn’t require a ton of slicing and dicing – because no one has time for that at the end of the day.
For regular snacks offered throughout the day, I recommend following my super simple snack strategy:
What’s a snack group? It’s essentially like a food group, but for snacks. I break it down into four categories instead of the typical five.
Snack groups: fruit, vegetables, protein/fat, and grains
When it comes to evening snacks for kids, try these simple tips:
- 1 – 2 snack groups
- Simple and boring
- You decide
- Take it out of the package
- And honestly, sometimes it’s a cookie or ice cream that you enjoy together!
If you’d like more super simple snack ideas, grab my Super Simple Snack guide with over 50 snack combinations, 48 packaged snacks that are dietitian and kid-approved, and so much more on how to handle snacks for your toddler.
Kids snack ideas for bedtime
Apple Slices & Yogurt
Sliced fruit is way easier for kids to eat. Try adding cinnamon and honey to plain yogurt!
Cheese & Crackers
This is an option they likely won’t turn down. It may not have fruit or veggies, but that’s okay!
Carrots & Hummus
Kids love to dip so try a nutrient-dense option like hummus with carrot chips.
Pretzels & Ranch
Dips don’t always have to be nutrient dense. You can certainly use just plain old ranch too.
Banana & Milk
This is a classic example of a simple and boring bedtime snack that’s loaded with nutrients.
Cookie & Milk
I know I said to keep it boring, but a healthy life includes a balance of different foods!
Boiled Egg & Berries
Another boring, but nutrient-dense option to tide them over until breakfast.
Naan and Guac
Naan dippers are my favorite because they’re super cute and they’re perfect for little fingers!
Other quick and easy bedtime snacks for toddlers:
- Nut butter toast
- Berries and Greek yogurt
- Graham crackers and banana
- Orange slices and cheese stick
- Fruit & veggie pouch with animal crackers
- Applesauce and animal crackers
- Celery and nut butter
- 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Nut butter and crackers
- Frozen banana popsicle
- Stonyfield Organic YoBaby yogurt pouch and banana
At the end of the day…
You know your kids best. If they’re saying they’re hungry and asking for a bedtime snack and you want to give them something, go for it! But remember to consider the big picture and ask yourself these questions:
- When was the last meal offered?
- When did they last eat?
- When will they eat next?
When offering a bedtime snack, keep it simple, boring, and balanced with something you provide, with their preferences in mind. Then they can decide if it’s something they want to eat and how much is up to them too.
Grab my Super Simple Snacks guide to make snack time easier and healthier, with over 50 snack combinations ready for you and 48 packaged snacks I feed my family.
If you’re looking for snack ideas for your baby, grab some ideas here!
For more tips on choosing a healthy snack for your toddler, you can also check out Healthychildren.org