Is your child always hungry at bedtime? Are you wondering if it’s okay to give them a bedtime snack? And what about those nights when they ate almost nothing for dinner? Are they really hungry or trying to pull a fast one on you?? 🤔
In this post, I’ll help you figure out whether or not bedtime snacks are a good idea and when one might be helpful for your toddler. Plus, I’ll give you 6 easy, healthy bedtime snack ideas you can feel good about—and that won’t keep your toddler awake after you turn the lights out!
Do Toddlers Need Bedtime Snacks?
First things first: do toddlers need bedtime snacks? In many instances, the answer is no. So if your child isn’t asking for a bedtime snack, they’re sleeping fine, and you know they’re eating enough across their daily meals and snacks, you don’t need to preemptively offer them one.
But with that said, I also want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with bedtime snacks! So if your child is expressing hunger, having trouble sleeping for long stretches of time (in a way that’s not in line with what you’d expect for their development), or your meal schedule leaves a long gap between dinner and bedtime, they might need one. And if that’s the case, it’s 100% okay to give them one.
It’s Okay For Toddlers To Eat At Night!
There’s a pretty pervasive food myth going around out there that we “should” stop eating at a certain time of day or night. Let me be super clear: it’s just not true! (It’s just diet culture trying to make you feel all weird about your food and feeding choices.) In truth, there is no cut-off time when children OR adults NEED to stop eating.
So not only is it okay for toddlers to eat at night, but if they’re hungry, you should let them. No one wants to go to bed hungry, right? I’m sure you don’t want your kids going to bed hungry, either. So prioritize serving a satisfying dinner with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to fill their bellies, and don’t feel any hesitation or guilt around giving them a bedtime snack if they’re hungry for one.
What If My Toddler Doesn’t Eat Much At Dinner?
If your toddler is a dinnertime grazer, first of all, that’s normal! Toddlers often front-load their eating by having way more food at breakfast or lunch and then only picking at dinner a little bit. If this describes your child, you should still offer those carbs and fats at dinnertime, but plan on introducing a bedtime snack later on, too, to make sure they’re full and content for what we hope will be a long night of peaceful sleep 😅
Related: High-Calorie, Filling Foods for Toddlers
Meal & Snack Timing for Toddlers
When it comes to feeding toddlers at any point in the day, timing is everything! I recommend sticking to a flexible-but-consistent daily meal and snack routine so that your child develops a sense of when they’ll get to eat next, and when they’ll have a wait between opportunities to eat. This helps with that all-day toddler snacking and it can help with picky eating, too, because it ensures that they’ll be hungry enough to eat when mealtime comes around.
A good schedule for a toddler, in general, includes 3 meals and 2 snacks throughout the day. But it’s okay if you don’t follow this perfectly or if your toddler eats WAY more at one meal or snack than they do another. Kids are all different; their hunger will vary both throughout the day and day-to-day.
I’ve created a free, printable daily schedule to help you set expectations with your child and prevent meltdowns. If you haven’t yet, click the button below and grab your copy!
Dinner Timing & Bedtime Snacks
Bedtime is no exception to the “timing matters” rule because toddlers often need bedtime snacks when dinner happens earlier in the day. If you’re trying to figure out whether or not your toddler really needs a bedtime snack, I recommend reflecting on how early your family usually eats dinner—and how long your toddler has to go between dinner and bedtime after that. If your child eats dinner more than 1 ½ to 2 hours before bedtime (so if dinner is at 5:30 and bedtime is 7:30), it makes sense that they’d be hungry enough to want a bedtime snack even if they ate a “good” dinner. That doesn’t mean you have to move dinner later—do what works for your family! It just might mean that a bedtime snack is a nightly “bridge” your toddler needs.
When To Serve a Bedtime Snack To Your Toddler
The last 30 minutes before you start their bedtime routine is the perfect time to offer a bedtime snack. Let them eat, have a sip of water, and brush their teeth. Then, it’s bedtime!
So if you normally bring them up for washing up, story, and bed at 7:15, somewhere around 6:45 would be ideal for bedtime snack. Plan it into the routine so they don’t push back bedtime with an, “I’m HUNGRY!” request right at 7:13.
Good Bedtime Snacks for Toddlers
We always want to offer healthy, filling foods for toddlers. (As much as possible, anyway!) But serving foods that are healthy and filling becomes especially important at bedtime. Overnight is the longest time we all go without eating or drinking, so offering up healthy bedtime snacks for kids—and snacks that have some staying power—is important. I don’t want to spike their blood sugar with a sugary dessert right before you put them to bed. I like to look for snacks that are substantial, functional, and lower in sugar.
#1 Substantial Snacks
Aiming to give your toddler something substantial to eat at bedtime can help them get a good night of sleep. I don’t mean something that’s necessarily heavy though, just nutritionally substantial!
Of course, it’s not like one bedtime snack over another will ensure a long night of sleep. (If I had a recipe for a snack that could guarantee sleep, I’d be screaming it from the rooftops!) But if you suspect that your child is waking up earlier than they otherwise would because of hunger, a substantial and nutritious bedtime snack could go a long way.
#2 Functional Snacks
When it comes to bedtime snacks for toddlers, I like to think function over form. It doesn’t have to be pretty or fancy, but if you can, include complex carbs (like whole grains), fats, and protein (like cheese, milk, or nut butter) to keep them full.
#3 Lower-Sugar Snacks
Y’all know I never want to make you feel like you need to be afraid of sugar! After 1 year old, a little added sugar here and there is not the end of the world. But before bedtime, we want to prioritize keeping their blood sugar levels as stable as possible so that our would-be sleepy children don’t have any unnecessary energy spikes! While sugar from fruit and dairy is totally fine, I would try to avoid things like sugary cereal, bars, or granola. A low-sugar dairy serving is a great option! I like to serve it with some fruit, like apples or pears, for a balanced snack.
6 Easy, Healthy Bedtime Snacks for Toddlers
Some of my go-to bedtime snacks for toddlers and kids are:
- A glass of milk or soy milk with fruit
- A serving of cottage cheese or low-sugar yogurt with fruit or whole grain crackers
- A string cheese string with berries
- Whole wheat toast, tortilla, or crackers with nut butter
- A hard-boiled egg or two
- Half of a PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread
Tart Cherry Juice for Bedtime
This might sound odd, especially following our lower-sugar snack conversation, but there is some research suggesting that tart cherry juice may promote better sleep because it:
- Is high in melatonin, a hormone that regulates and promotes sleep
- Has tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin, a precursor to melatonin
Some studies have shown a correlation between tryptophan-rich foods and a decrease in the time it takes to fall asleep. But it’s important to know that a correlation isn’t the same thing as a cause, so this doesn’t mean tryptophan-rich foods cause us to fall asleep faster—just that there might be some kind of a link there.
The bottom line is that you could try to serve it at bedtime and see if it has an effect on your child. Even if it doesn’t help, serving a little tart cherry juice won’t harm them, so it’s fine to try. I just don’t want you to think it will be a magic wand or anything.
Snacks To Avoid At Bedtime
Remember that, when it comes to toddler bedtime snacks, the goal is function. We want to keep our kids satisfied and promote good sleep. So try to avoid things like…
#1 High-Sugar Snacks
Foods like granola bars with lots of sugar, Nilla wafers, and cookies can spike our kids’ blood sugar and make it harder for them to settle into a good night’s sleep.
#2 Dessert Foods
I recommend avoiding dessert foods at bedtime. Not because they’re “bad” or anything, but because if your child knows they’re getting a bag of cookies for their bedtime snack, their dinner may all of a sudden sound less appealing! We just want to avoid our kids’ bedtime snacks becoming the most enticing or exciting thing they eat that day.
#3 Complex or Heavy Foods
Avoid anything too complex, because this should be just a snack, not an entire meal. (Although leftovers from dinner can be a good option!)
How To Decide If Your Toddler Needs a Bedtime Snack
I want you to feel equipped to decide whether or not your toddler truly needs that bedtime snack. So keep in mind a few important things:
- Bedtime snacks are not necessary for all kids. You don’t need to offer one “just because.”
- Toddlers absolutely can have a snack before bed if they need one. There’s no cut-off time for food!
- Take your schedule into account. If dinner happens 1.5 to 2 hours before bed, a bedtime snack might be very necessary!
- Listen to your child’s cues and requests, and pay attention to their sleep schedule. Toddlers are good at listening to their bodies so very often, their words or behaviors tell us everything we need to know.
- When your toddler does need a bedtime snack, opt for something simple, functional, nutritious, and filling.
- Remember to brush their teeth afterward! Dental issues can result from eating right before bed without brushing after, so make sure you have a few minutes post-snack to brush.
Download My Free Printable Daily Schedule for Toddlers
I made you this free, printable, daily schedule so you can make fewer decisions, avoid meltdowns, and stop hearing, “Mama I need a snack!!!” all day long. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy!
lyndsey · February 16, 2023 at 10:35 am
hi! wondering if a very small portion of oatmeal (no sugar) cooled down with a small amount of unsweetened applesauce is okay? my littles love oatmeal any time of day, but now im wondering if theyre asking for it because of routine and bedtime snack or if its doing more harm than good.
Krystina · September 30, 2022 at 5:51 am
Thank you so much for sharing this helpful information! The cherry juice suggestion was new for me. I feel like everyone is so quick to give their kids melatonin right now and I’m feeling hesitant about it. My oldest has a hard time winding down for bed and both my kids have been hungry at night all of a sudden, maybe cherry juice will be a way to attack both issues at once.
Tahira · July 22, 2022 at 2:17 pm
I tend to give my daughter a bowl of dry cereal and a cup of milk (she won’t have milk in cereal). She’s refusing most food at the moment.
Does this sound ok?
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD · July 23, 2022 at 3:03 pm
yep! I’d recommend a low sugar cereal but that totally works. I have a free cereal guide too if you want to grab it 🙂 https://mamaknowsnutrition.com/lowsugarcerealdownload/
Amy · July 22, 2022 at 11:52 am
Do you ask if they’re hungry for a snack or do you just put a snack out? When I ask my kid if they’re hungry 30 min before bed, she often says no (maybe because she doesn’t want to stop playing). But then when we announce it’s bedtime, or some time during the bedtime routine, she announces she’s hungry. But then other times when I just put the snack out without asking, she doesn’t touch it. Then it feels wasteful. I can’t get it right. What would you do?
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD · July 23, 2022 at 3:06 pm
Hey Amy, I feel your pain! It’s a good plan to ask her if she’d like a snack, and if she declines, I’d remind her that this is the last chance to eat today. I’d see if you could get her full attention and tell her to check with her belly, is it full and happy? Is it asking for more food? If she confirms that she’s not hungry, then I’d again reinforce okay there’s nothing else to eat today and it will be bedtime soon. And then if she does ask for something right before bed, it’s okay to say no! If she was very hungry, she would have also been hungry 20 minutes earlier. When you stick to it, then she develops the understanding that if she’s hungry, she really does need to eat when you offer
Edwina · July 21, 2022 at 8:33 pm
I’ve been serving a no sugar added applesauce pouch to my kids to eat during the story time and then they brush their teeth. So far it’s been working and no asking for food and I don’t notice a sugar spike. What do you think? Also they don’t have cavities.
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD · July 23, 2022 at 3:07 pm
Hey Edwina, yep that’s fine!