Is it okay to give my child a snack before bedtime if they don’t eat their dinner?

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I am often asked this question, especially by parents about to embark on the Getting the Little Blighters to Eat approach to ‘undo’ their child’s fussy eating. After all, no-one wants their child to go to bed on an empty stomach or sleep badly.

So what’s the answer?

We absolutely do not want to create any feelings of punishment or unpleasantness around food and mealtimes. The aim should never be to hunger your child into eating or to teach them a lesson (“It’s your fault if you’re hungry – you should have eaten your dinner.”). So, yes, it’s fine to give your child a snack before bedtime if you think they need it – but there are certain rules you should follow to ensure it doesn’t do more harm than good!

1. Make sure the snack is given at least 45 minutes AFTER dinner time is over.

Don’t let it be something that just fizzles in as dinner fizzles out (or fails!). It is important that your child does not perceive the snack as an alternative to eating dinner or compensation for not eating dinner. It needs to be seen as a separate thing in its own right! No blurry lines. So be sure to clearly call and label it a ‘snack’ too.

2. You – not your child! – must be in charge of WHAT and WHEN the snack is.

A crucial part of undoing fussy eating in your child is for you to take back control of the menu – and this includes snacks before bedtime. (Remember, the golden rule: You’re in charge of what food is served. They’re in charge of whether they eat it.) So never give your child the snack of their choice when they demand it! Instead…

3. Choose a time to serve the snack when it suits you and your bedtime routine.

If your child asks for the snack earlier or complains they’re hungry, just calmly and clearly say “It’ll be snack time a bit later/soon/after your bath” or whenever you have decided to give it. And stick to it.

4. Limit the number of foods you serve as a snack.

You shouldn’t give your child their favourite snack every time, but neither should there be a big range. We want it to be a simple and unexciting event! Choose two or three non-sugary things that your child reliably eats and rotate between them equally. For example, a bowl of cereal or toast or a banana. (Bananas are especially great because they aid sleep.) Your child may initially complain “But I want X” but just say calmly and clearly “That’s what the snack is tonight” and they will quickly accept the situation.

As your child’s fussiness subsides and they eat more at dinner time, you can gradually decrease the size of the snack  until  – whey hey! – you can phase it out altogether.

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