Major Bedtime Snacking - How Bad?

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After "eating" dinner, my children used to ask for snacks in 5-minute increments from 6:30 until bedtime. Goldfish, string cheese, carrots, milk, apple ... the list went on. Healthy foods? Sure ... mostly. But the never-ending feeding-machine-routine could get a little draining. One night at 7:30pm, without even thinking, it just came out: "Sorry everyone -- the kitchen is closed."

Well, that was a handy little miracle. It was amazing how easily my kids accepted this new rule. Until recently, when my son starting saying he was super-hungry in the evenings, and I've taken to re-opening the kitchen. So when I got this question via email, about bedtime munchies, I was curious to find out the answer.

"Dinnertime is usually over by 6:30 in our house. My kids are typical picky eaters, but I'm always satisfied that they've had a good balance of food types and that we've done well on portion control. However, by bedtime, around 9PM, they're hungry again. Our rule about this is to make a healthy choice such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, or some cheese. My 8-year-old daughter is satisfied with this limitation and it works well for her, but my 12-year-old son is not. He wants something much more hearty, like more of the foods from dinner. I don't want to constantly make an issue of his choices and have a lot of stress surrounding food, but I'm just not comfortable with him having leftovers this late. How bad would it be to allow him to 'eat heartily' this late?"

To find out, I called Mommy Advisor Christine Palumbo, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in a Chicago suburb who is an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University. "This is a good question," Palumbo says.

"Assuming that the boy is eating enough dinner there is nothing wrong at all with him needing to have a substantial bedtime snack, particularly if it consists of healthy foods. He may be about to enter a growth spurt -- often times calorie needs increase right before a growth spurt."

But is nighttime eating a total free-for-all or are there rules concerning mid-night munchies for the tween set? Here's Palumbo's advice:

Make sure he's eating enough at meals. "If he's skipping breakfast, or eating not-enough breakfast, or if during the day he is not taking the time (or not allowed enough time) to eat the nutritious lunch that a parent has packed, he may have a calorie deficit at the end of the day." Another good rule: At dinner time, try to keep children at the table for at least 20 minutes to make sure they eat enough.

Keep it light. "The bedtime snack shouldn't be so heavy it interferes with sleep," says Palumbo. Her snack suggestions include: A wedge of cheese with crackers, hard-cooked eggs, or the classic: a bowl of cereal with banana. "Lean into the protein," she advises, to tame hunger pangs.

Stop eating 30 minutes before bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime can also interfere with sleep.

So, how bad is it to eat heartily right before bed? Not bad at all. "There's nothing wrong with this at all," says Palumbo.

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad"? Send it to and it could get addressed in this column.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.