Is a bedtime snack okay for picky eaters? This article will share factors you can consider to decide if offering a bedtime snack can help or make eating even harder for your picky eater.
I’m sure you’ve been there. It’s bedtime. Your child has their pajamas on. You’re a few minutes away from finishing your bedtime routine, turning off the light, and saying goodnight when they share: “I’m huuungry.”
It’s not dinner time! Dinner was 2 hours ago and your child didn’t seem so hungry then. They didn’t eat much at all, actually.
So now you’re wondering, are they really hungry or do they just not want to go to bed? You just want someone to tell you: Is a bedtime snack okay for picky eaters?
The question of whether or not to offer a bedtime snack comes up every single week with the parents I work with to help their extremely picky eaters.
Here are some of the considerations we discuss.
Is a bedtime snack okay for picky eaters?
As with most things when it comes to parenting, it’s not black or white. There is no right or wrong answer to the question is a bedtime snack okay for picky eaters. I’m sorry!
Here’s why a bedtime snack can be a good idea for picky eaters: this extra meal can be an opportunity for a child to obtain extra nutrition. Extra food can be important for kids with low weight and for those who aren’t eating enough during the day.
Offering a bedtime snack might also be helpful if your child is waking up in the middle of the night hungry.
But bedtime snacks are not a requirement and can also work against you. With picky eaters, I often see a bedtime snack replacing dinner. This can be problematic because dinner is when most children are being presented with new foods and having the opportunity to share experiences with their family.
The problem with bedtime snacks for picky eaters
Often I see families only offering their kids bedtime snacks when their picky eater doesn’t eat well at dinner or when their child requests one, usually when they don’t enjoy the dinner menu. This is a picky eating ‘don’t’.
Inconsistently offering an after dinner snack based on your child’s dinner intake or only offering one on demand tends to backfire. Kids quickly learn that if they don’t eat at dinner (where they usually are presented with less preferred and more challenging foods), they can get a bedtime snack that includes favorite foods a short while later.
Unfortunately, this can inadvertently reward kids for not eating their dinner and condition them to wait for snacktime to eat.
This can be problematic for a number of reasons. One is that new foods are most often offered at mealtimes and shared meals are influential in a child’s food preferences and willingness to try new foods. It is hard to help your picky eater learn to eat more variety when they are abstaining from a main meal and instead holding out for snacktime.
So, should you offer your picky eater a bedtime snack?
Ultimately, you need to decide what is best for your child and your family.
I’ve worked with families who like to offer a snack because their dinner falls at a time when their child isn’t particularly hungry and the snack feels important for keeping their child full overnight.
Other families worry about their child’s intake, so create a plan to offer a nutritious meal before bed.
On the other hand, some know that their child can eat the dinner meal, and so prefer to let that be the final meal of the evening.
If you do decide to offer bedtime snacks, I recommend following a few tips.
First, be proactive. YOU are in charge of if and when there is a snack. You should also be in charge of what you are serving for snack.
I recommend serving a filling or nutritious meal if you are worried that your child is hungry. Avoid serving your child’s most preferred foods, as this increases the likelihood of them not eating their main meal and holding out for snack time. Serve foods that they like but do not LOVE. Another way to think about it is serving foods they will eat if they are hungry, but not ones that they love to eat even if they’re not hungry.
Second, be consistent. Make a rule: you either always offer a bedtime snack or you never offer a bedtime snack.
Ultimately, the question “is a bedtime snack okay for picky eaters” does not have one answer. It’s a personal choice that depends on your family’s needs.