Are you wondering about serving your kids an evening or pre-bed snack? It can be confusing knowing if it’s necessary or appropriate, when to provide it, and what to serve.
I see a lot of the fear or confusion about evening snacks comes from the diet rule to not eat past 7 or 8 o’clock (or whatever random time someone decided).
Bodies don’t shut down over night! They’re working 24/7 and need the energy and fuel to do that. Especially with so much of adolescents’ growth and development happening overnight, eating before bed can be very necessary.
Are evening snacks necessary for kids?
Evening snacks are generally necessary for kids and teens. Because of their later bedtimes, there’s usually a long time between dinner and bed. Consider your family’s schedule; if there is a time gap longer than two hours your child would likely benefit from a pre-bed snack.
What food to include in an evening snack?
You may have seen advice to make this snack “a boring snack”. This is based on the belief that young kids may skip dinner to hold out for a better snack, but if it’s boring there’s no reason to wait. So they’ll likely eat what’s provided at dinner. There is some controversy if this is really necessary.
However, this advice is not appropriate for adolescents and teens, as their very schedule requires another satisfying and nourishing snack.
This eating opportunity should include foods with carbohydrates and fat or protein. It CAN include “fun” food like ice cream or cookies. It also CAN include fruit and vegetables. Help your adolescent chose food that is nourishing and satisfying. Combining foods from different food groups and with differing textures and flavors can make snacks more enjoyable. Read this post for more info on filling snack combinations.
Is snacking at night ever a problem?
Snacking at night is not a problem on it’s own. Some red flags may be raised depending on WHAT is eaten, and HOW it’s eaten.
Eating excessive amounts at night
I often see kids and teens who eat a large amount of their daily nutrient intake at night. This is usually an indication that they’re not eating enough throughout the day. They need to make up their body’s needs at night! We call this “backloading” – where eating at the “back end” of the day (night) helps meet their nutritional needs.
This is problematic because it usually means they’re not eating well throughout the day. Their energy may be fluctuating, body functions may get out of whack, and they’re essentially in a state of restriction.
Additionally, their eating behavior at night may feel out of control and cause distress, leading to further restriction the following day.
Sneaking or hiding food
When kids and teens feel shame or guilt for eating they often turn to sneaking or hiding their food intake. This is worrisome. We don’t want eating to be associated with negative feelings (like guilt) as that leads to problematic eating habits. Read more about sneaking food here.
Evening snack ideas
Here are some ideas for evening snacks. The amount needed for satisfaction will vary depending on time since dinner, activity level in the afternoon or evening, and amount eaten during the day. Allow your adolescent’s hunger to lead the way.
Cereal & milk
Popcorn & mixed nuts trail mix
Chocolate milk and PBJ sandwich
Dinner leftovers or lunch prep
Waffles and Nutella
Fruit & yogurt smoothie
Cinnamon bun, grapes, and yogurt
Peanut butter and banana
Cheese and crackers
Evening snacks are an important eating time for adolescents. They don’t have to be fancy, but they do need to be tasty and enjoyable. This can be a great time to hang out with your tween or teen and model eating as more than the nutritional content of food.
Watch out for signs of problematic behaviors, including eating excessive amounts or eating in secret.
And set the expectation that adolescents clean up after themselves! Many parents tell me they’re hesitant about their kids eating at night because of the mess left behind.
With modeling and discussion, you can help your adolescent enjoy a satisfying snack that sets them up for a good relationship with food and their body.