The second it’s time for bed kids are suddenly starving (convenient!), but some snacks are better than others
“Honey, it’s time for bed.”
“I’m hungryyyyy! Can I have a snack?”
Every. Single. Night.
So you rummage through the fridge or pantry, looking for something that’s easy to prep and quick for your kid to scarf down. Whether they’re genuinely hungry or just stalling, kids will often ask for a small snack before they head off to bed, and there’s nothing wrong with giving them one. But according to experts, some options are better than others. Here are some bedtime snacks to avoid.
Packed with vitamins and nutrients, a glass of milk or a bottle of drinkable yogurt are healthy snacks and, as a bonus, they also provide some hydration for those stubborn kids who resist drinking water. But chugging milk or yogurt drinks before bed isn’t ideal for littles who are still perfecting nighttime potty training. “If they are out of diapers and may still wet the bed occasionally—if the urge to pee doesn’t wake them up yet—then it’s wise to avoid a large drink before bedtime,” says registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom.
Snacks that contain caffeine
As most parents know from our essential morning cup of coffee, caffeine is a stimulant, which means it makes you feel more awake. So it makes sense that too much caffeine can lead to insomnia (trouble falling asleep) for kids and adults alike, says Rosenbloom. That’s one reason why pediatricians advise against any caffeine for kids under the age of 12. So, off the table for kids’ bedtime snacks (or even daytime snacks) are cola, iced tea, and energy drinks (like Red Bull or Prime Energy).
But what about foods that contain caffeine? Chocolate is the main culprit here, thanks to the caffeine which occurs naturally in cocoa beans. But it has much less than caffeinated drinks like coffee or brewed iced tea. For example, one cup of coffee has 135 mg of caffeine, iced tea has 30-50 mg, and a can of cola has 40 mg. On the other hand, an ounce of milk chocolate has 7 mg. “It may be a surprise that chocolate contains caffeine, but the amounts are relatively low compared with coffee and energy drinks,” Rosenbloom explains. Here’s a bit of a shocker from the dietitian: “A bit of chocolate [before bed] is fine for kids.” But just a bit!
Cake and candy (but not for the reasons you might think!)
Think back to the last kids’ birthday party you attended and you’ll probably remember the excitable, sometimes uncontrollable behavior that seems to explode right after the kids eat sugary foods like cake or candy. But here’s a bit of a surprise: Researchers who study the link between sugar and hyperactivity haven’t found a strong connection. Believe it or not, most experts believe that the idea that sugar makes kids super-active is largely a myth! Rosenbloom says when kids seem to perk up when eating sugary foods, it’s more likely due to the exciting environment, the caffeine in sugary soda, or certain food colorings.
And here’s some more myth-busting for you: sugar doesn’t affect sleep quality. “There are no studies to support the idea that sugar is linked to poor sleep or bad dreams in children,” says Rosenbloom.
But that doesn’t mean candy is a solid bedtime snack. It isn’t filling, and it can get stuck in kids’ teeth (especially gummy candy) and resist brushing. “Plus, too many sugary foods and beverages may also displace more nutritious foods in the diet, so kids get fewer essential nutrients,” says Rosenbloom.
Best bedtime snacks for kids
The ideal bedtime snack for kids is “smaller portions of nourishing mealtime foods,” says Rosenbloom. (Bonus points if that dinner they rejected two hours ago is still sitting on the table ready to turn into a snack!) Examples of great mini-meal options include:
- Fruit and nut butter
- Noodles or crackers with cheese
- Cereal with milk (skip this one if you’re potty training!)
- Vegetable sticks with bean dip
- Toast with chopped egg
- Rice and beans
When it comes to bedtime snacks that are kind to teeth, the Canadian Dental Association recommends options such as plain milk or buttermilk (again, not for while you’re nighttime potty training), as well as fresh fruit and raw vegetables. Plain yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are also excellent choices, along with hard-boiled or deviled eggs, nuts, or sunflower and pumpkin seeds. It should go without saying that no matter what kids eat before bed, their teeth should be thoroughly brushed afterward.