Using the Bedtime Snack To Your Advantage

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One of the most common questions I get asked in my practice is if parents should be offering dessert after dinner. Some parents offer dessert as a “reward” for eating dinner, others are confused about how often they should be offering sweet foods after dinner, and still some want to provide a snack after dinnertime if they feel their child has not eaten enough.

Most of their problems are solved with a simple solution: the bedtime snack.

What is it?

Pretty self explanatory, right? The bedtime snack is a snack that is offered after dinner but before bed. Although I usually recommend children eat every 2-4 hours, I break this rule with the bedtime snack. Most of the time we don’t have 2 hours between dinner and bedtime.

Doing the bedtime snack properly

  1. The bedtime snack should be offered nightly. It should be offered regardless if a child eats a large or small portion of their dinner. They should be provided with the bedtime snack either way.

  2. Although children are offered the bedtime snack, that does not mean they get to tell you what they want. Go back to the division of responsibility: YOU (parent and caregiver) are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding) and children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating. With the bedtime snack, YOU decide what’s on the menu.

  3. You (parent or caregiver) figure out what you want the bedtime snack to look like. You may decide once or twice a week it’s something sweet like cookies or ice cream, you may decide other times it’s crackers and hummus, and still others it’s fruit and veggies, maybe other times it’s a glass a milk or leftover dinner.

  4. Find a time that works best for this snack. If you eat dinner very close to when you go to bed, this snack may not be right for you. Maybe offering an earlier snack (before dinner) will work better. Stuck on where this snack may fit? Contact me. I can help troubleshoot.

What are the benefits?

Dinner can be a challenging time of the day. Many children have been at school, daycare or had a long day doing whatever it is that young children do. When dinner time rolls around, it can be challenging to sit with the family, and follow the rules you have established for sitting at the table. Offering a snack a little later on takes the pressure off of dinner and gives children another opportunity to eat before they go to bed.

By offering a bedtime snack instead of dessert, you are putting sweets in the same category as other foods. We are leveling the playing field. We are not making sweets seem like the “reward” food and other food seem like the “punishment” food. Food does not have a moral value. Food is food is food. And if we want to instill a healthy relationship with food in our children, we need to remember this. Yes, I do offer sweet foods. When people hear I am a dietitian AND that my children eat sweet foods like candy, cookies and ice cream, some are shocked. Yes, my children eat (and enjoy!) these foods. Why?

  1. We all have an innate preference for sweet food (have you ever tasted breastmilk or formula?).

  2. It is not the only food I serve. We are blessed with an abundance of fresh produce and other options, and a healthy relationship with food is about balance.

  3. Children must master this skill as they do others: practice. Our current food system makes these foods readily available. While many families , ur children need to know how to handle these foods and they learn by having them. For more on how we handle sweet foods, see my post on Halloween candy.

  4. As parents, we must also master our role in the division of responsibility. I acknowledge that the bedtime snack approach requires you to learn, as well.

Some common questions I receive about this strategy:

  • IF I offer my child a bedtime snack, they just won’t eat dinner.

    • What are you offering for bedtime snack? Is it something they really like and will “hold out” for? Vary the bedtime snack. Sometimes offer leftover dinner, sometimes a glass of milk.

  • I have to add in ANOTHER time to feed my child? It’s too much.

    • Keep it simple. Again, offer leftover dinner, a glass of milk, cheese and crackers, fruit. Remember, you are not letting your child dictate what they are offered, YOU are responsible for the WHAT.

Do you offer a bedtime snack? Let me know how it goes!