Nutritious bedtime snacks for pre-school children
As parents of pre-school children, ensuring that your little ones get the right nutrition is a top priority. Snacking can play a crucial role in meeting their high energy requirements for growth but not every child needs snacks. Once your child turns 1 year old, they’ll ideally be having three distinct meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition to these meals, they can enjoy 2-3 snacks in between, including a before-bedtime snack.
Offering nutritious snacks ensures that your child has plenty of opportunities to eat throughout the day. This is particularly reassuring on days when they may not eat well at a particular mealtime, which is perfectly normal as appetite varies hugely. If your child didn’t consume much during their evening meal, a before-bed snack is usually in order. Every child is unique, and their snacking habits will vary. Some may prefer three snacks a day, while others may be content with just one. You’ll get to know what works best for your child.
It’s important to keep in mind that each snack should provide only around 10% of your child’s total daily energy intake. For a 3-year-old, this would be approximately 120kcal per snack. Generally, it’s advisable not to eat too close to bedtime as it can disrupt sleep (as the body requires energy to aid digestion), and it’s ideal to allow a gap of around 30 minutes after eating before brushing your child’s teeth.
It’s tempting to reach for snacks marketed specifically for children, such as puffs, bites, melts, biscuits, crisps, and chocolate. However, many of these snacks offer little nutritional value, often containing high levels of fat, sugar, and salt. They are also considered “ultra-processed” and tend to be expensive and generate excess packaging waste. Children under 4 years of age should technically not be given anything with added sugar.
Ideally, snacks should resemble mini-meals, providing carbohydrates for energy and fibre, protein for growth, and a serving of fruits or vegetables for essential vitamins and fibre (it’s a great way of meeting their 5 a day requirement). You can also include milk or cheese as part of a snack to provide calcium but don’t worry as cheese will not give your little one nightmares! Keep snacks diverse to ensure a wider range of nutrients, and your child is less likely to grow tired of their favourites.
Here are some ideal bedtime snacks for young children:
- A portion of fruit or vegetables (approximately what fits into your child’s hand, e.g. half a banana, 1 satsuma, or half an apple).
- A small pot or tablespoon of hummus, no added sugar/salt nut butter or a portion of cheese with a few breadsticks/mini breadsticks, an oatcake, low-salt rice cakes, and/or vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes, celery, or carrots.
- Low-sugar yoghurt with a portion of fruit.
- Half a slice of toast or a crumpet with no added sugar/salt nut butter or cream cheese (avoid whole nuts until age 5 as they can pose a choking risk).
- A homemade mini fruit muffin (without added sugar) or a savoury cheese scone (with no added salt).
- A small bowl of low-sugar cereal with milk (e.g. Weetabix, shredded wheat bitesize, ready oats)
- Small bowl of oat porridge with milk and some fruit (cherries can boost melatonin which can promote sleep).
- A small (120ml) glass of milk with fruit
- Frozen banana blended with milk or plain/Greek yogurt.
Remember to never leave your child alone while they’re eating, avoid lying down or eating in bed (including drinking milk from a bottle), and ensure that fruits and vegetables are appropriately cut to reduce the risk of choking.
Lastly, it’s advisable to avoid dried fruit or dried fruit snacks at snack time. These snacks are high in natural sugars and, due to their sticky nature, can get stuck in teeth and potentially cause dental issues over time.
Here are some great resources on snacks if you would like more information:
Caroline Walker Trust: Eating well for 1-4 year olds Practical Guide
First Steps Nutrition Trust Eating Well: snacks for 1-4 year olds
Infant and Toddler Forum Portion Guide
NHS Better Families Healthier Snacks for Kids
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Jo Lenz – Founder of Jo Lenz Dietetics
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