Supper For Children

Problems that it can cause and how to stop eating the late snack


10/4/202315 min read

white and green ceramic plates on brown wooden dining table
white and green ceramic plates on brown wooden dining table

Late-night hunger pangs and midnight snacking are familiar occurrences, especially among children and adolescents.

As parents, it's essential to understand the impact of midnight snacking on our children's health and wellbeing.

In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind late-night cravings, the potential consequences, and offer tips on fostering healthier eating habits for your kids.

Why Do Children Crave Midnight Snacks?

There are several reasons why your children crave midnight snacks just before their bed.

1. Delayed Dinner: The Hungry Hours Before Bedtime

Picture this: Your child finishes dinner at 6 p.m. after an active day of play and homework. By the time bedtime rolls around at 8 or 9 p.m., it's been hours since their last meal. Their little tummies might start to grumble, and those late-night cravings kick in.

It's not uncommon for dinner to happen relatively early in the evening due to busy schedules or family routines. And while we want our children to have a substantial evening meal, it's important to acknowledge that a lot can happen between dinner and bedtime, especially for active, growing kids.

This gap between dinner and bedtime is like the quiet hours before a late-night snack storm.

Hunger can creep in, and your child might find themselves prowling the kitchen for something to munch on. Late-night snacking often becomes a tempting solution to tame those growling stomachs.

But why is this delayed dinner time significant?

It's crucial to understand that children grow and expend a lot of energy throughout the day. Their bodies require a steady stream of nutrients to support growth, development, and overall health. When dinner happens early, they might not have the reserves to keep them satisfied until morning.

2. Unstructured Eating: The Mealtime Maze

Ever heard the phrase "out of sight, out of mind"? Well, when it comes to children's eating habits, it's more like "unstructured, unstoppable cravings."

Imagine a day where your child's meals are scattered and unpredictable.

They might skip breakfast because they're running late for school, nibble on a few crackers at lunch because they're engrossed in a project, and rush through an early dinner because they have an evening activity. This irregular eating pattern can create a perfect storm for midnight snacking.

When kids miss meals or don't have structured eating routines, their bodies can't keep up with the energy demands of growing bodies and active minds.

As a result, their hunger signals get all mixed up. Sometimes they might not feel hungry when they should, and other times they'll feel ravenous at odd hours.

Think of it as a rollercoaster for their stomachs. When they finally hit the pillow, their bodies realize, "Oops, we missed a meal!" Cue the late-night rumbling and cravings.

3. Emotional Eating: When Feelings Visit the Midnight Buffet

Ever noticed how emotions can stir up a hunger that feels like it's coming from the depths of your soul? Well, our little ones are no exception to this phenomenon.

Imagine your child had a tough day at school, perhaps an argument with a friend or a challenging test.

They come home, and instead of processing these emotions, they park themselves in front of the TV or a video game, hoping to escape into a different world. But those feelings, those pesky emotions, don't just disappear. They linger, like uninvited guests at a party, quietly tugging at your child's heartstrings.

As the evening progresses and bedtime approaches, these emotions can intensify. Stress, boredom, or sadness may creep in, casting a shadow over your child's cozy cocoon of blankets.

Suddenly, the allure of a midnight snack becomes irresistible. It's not about hunger; it's about finding solace in a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream.

In these moments, food becomes a friend, a source of comfort in a world that might feel overwhelming. And while it's entirely normal for kids (and adults) to turn to food for emotional support from time to time, relying on this coping mechanism too frequently can lead to unhealthy eating habits and disrupt sleep patterns.

4. Habit Formation: When Midnight Snacking Becomes a Ritual

Ever noticed how our bodies have a way of getting used to routines?

It's like they have an internal clock, and when the clock strikes a certain hour, it starts sending out signals – "Hey, it's snack time!" This is especially true for our little night owls.

Imagine this scenario: your child had a midnight snack a few nights in a row, maybe some leftover pizza or a handful of cookies.

It was a spontaneous decision, and they enjoyed it.

The next evening, as bedtime approaches, their tummy reminds them of that delightful late-night treat they had the night before. And just like that, a habit begins to form.

It's not that they're genuinely hungry; it's more about the habit. Their body has become accustomed to having a snack at this time, and it starts sending those familiar signals. "It's snack o'clock!" it says, even if dinner was hearty and satisfying.

This habit-forming tendency isn't just confined to kids; adults fall into this trap too.

I recall the shock I felt when I discovered that my wife's family had a nightly supper routine, which was a major contributor to their expanding waistlines.

Problems That Come With Supper

Poor Sleep: Consuming food close to bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns. The digestive process can interfere with the body's ability to relax and fall asleep, leading to restless nights and poor sleep quality.

Weight Gain and Obesity: Midnight snacks often consist of unhealthy, calorie-dense foods like chips, sugary snacks, and desserts. Regular late-night eating can lead to excessive calorie intake, which may contribute to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity.

Digestive Issues: Eating late at night can cause digestive discomfort, including indigestion, acid reflux, and stomachaches. These discomforts can disrupt sleep and overall well-being.

Unhealthy Food Choices: Midnight snacking tends to involve less nutritious choices. Children may opt for sugary or salty snacks, which can have long-term health consequences if it becomes a habit.

Disrupted Eating Patterns: Midnight snacking can disrupt the body's natural eating patterns and hunger cues. It may lead to irregular meal times, making it challenging to establish healthy eating habits.

Cavities and Oral Health: Snacking on sugary foods, especially without proper oral care afterward, can contribute to dental cavities and other oral health issues.

Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: A diet high in late-night snacks, particularly those high in sugar and unhealthy fats, can increase the risk of chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Emotional Eating: Midnight snacking can sometimes be driven by emotional factors like stress, boredom, or sadness. It may establish an unhealthy pattern of using food to cope with emotions.

Difficulty Concentrating: Poor sleep quality resulting from midnight snacking can lead to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating in school, and decreased academic performance.

Impact on Growth: For children and adolescents, late-night eating can disrupt the release of growth hormones during deep sleep, potentially affecting physical growth and development.

Promoting Healthy Late-Night Eating Habits

pink bell alarm clock showing 2:10
pink bell alarm clock showing 2:10

Late-night snacking can be challenging to curb, but with some guidance and consistency, you can help your child develop healthier eating habits in the evening.

1. Balanced Dinner: Filling Up the Right Way

Imagine dinner as the cornerstone of your child's late-night snack prevention plan. When you serve a balanced dinner, you're setting them up for a night of better sleep and fewer cravings for midnight snacks.

A Plate Full of Nutrients: Think of your child's plate as a canvas waiting to be painted with an array of colors and flavors. Aim for a variety of food groups to create a balanced meal.

Protein Power: Protein is like the superhero of nutrients when it comes to keeping hunger at bay. It helps your child feel full and satisfied. Consider lean sources like chicken, fish, beans, or tofu.

Veggie Delights: Load up on colorful vegetables. These not only provide essential vitamins and minerals but also fiber, which helps maintain a feeling of fullness. Broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers can add a burst of nutrition and flavor to any meal.

Wholesome Grains: Swap refined grains for whole grains. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or quinoa are excellent choices. Whole grains provide long-lasting energy and prevent sudden drops in blood sugar levels, which can lead to late-night cravings.

Healthy Fats: Incorporate healthy fats like avocado, nuts, or olive oil into your child's dinner. These fats help keep hunger pangs in check and support overall well-being.

Remember, it's not about making dinner a chore but rather an enjoyable family activity that promotes health and well-being. By offering a balanced dinner, you're nurturing your child's body and helping them establish healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.

2. Set Meal Times: The Rhythms of Routine Eating

Think of meal times as the beats of a drum in your child's daily routine. Establishing regular eating schedules for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be a game-changer in the quest to curb midnight snacking.

The Power of Consistency: Our bodies love routine. When we eat at roughly the same times each day, our internal clocks (or circadian rhythms) sync up with our eating patterns. This alignment helps regulate hunger and ensures that your child is consistently fueled throughout the day.

The Routine Ripple Effect: Establishing set meal times has a ripple effect throughout the day. It encourages mindful eating, reduces the chances of excessive snacking, and helps your child become more in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.

Family Time: Mealtimes are also fantastic opportunities for family bonding. When everyone gathers around the table, it's a chance to connect, share stories, and model healthy eating habits.

Hydration Matters: Don't forget about hydration. Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day. Sometimes, thirst can masquerade as hunger, leading to unnecessary snacking.

Flexibility with Flavor: While routine is beneficial, remember that flexibility is essential too. Allow for occasional treats and deviations from the schedule. The goal is to create a healthy balance that your child can maintain over the long term.

By establishing regular meal times, you're not just nourishing your child's body; you're also fostering discipline and consistency in their daily routine. It's a simple yet powerful tool in the battle against midnight snacking, promoting healthier eating patterns that can last a lifetime.

3. Healthy Snacking: Nourishing the Nighttime Hunger Pangs

We get it; sometimes those late-night hunger pangs are just too persistent to ignore. When your child's tummy grumbles before bedtime, reaching for a healthy snack is the way to go.

The Smart Snacking Strategy: Healthy snacking doesn't just keep the hunger demons at bay; it can also promote better sleep quality. Here are some wise snacking tips to keep in mind:

Fruit Finesse: A small piece of fruit is like nature's candy. Apples, bananas, or berries can be a delightful and nutritious snack choice. They provide a touch of sweetness without the added sugars found in many processed snacks.

Nuts About Nuts: Nuts, like almonds or walnuts, are packed with protein and healthy fats. A small handful can be incredibly satisfying. Just be mindful of allergies, and ensure your child chews them thoroughly.

Yogurt Yum: Greek yogurt is a calcium-rich option that's gentle on the stomach. It's both creamy and filling, making it a fantastic choice. You can even sprinkle a few berries on top for an extra burst of flavor.

Mighty Milk: A glass of milk, particularly warm milk, has been a bedtime staple for generations. Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can promote sleepiness. Opt for low-fat or plant-based milk if your child prefers.

Mindful Portions: Keep the portions small. The idea here is to satisfy the hunger, not to create a feast. Snacking should be a gentle prelude to sleep, not a midnight buffet.

Hydration with Care: If your child is thirsty, water is the best choice. Avoid sugary drinks or caffeine-containing beverages before bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep.

Creating a Snack-Free Zone: Make it a household rule that sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages are off-limits in the evening, especially close to bedtime. This sets clear boundaries and helps your child understand the importance of sleep-friendly eating.

Timing is Key: Ideally, snacks should be consumed at least an hour before bedtime to allow for digestion. This helps prevent discomfort and indigestion that can interfere with sleep.

Remember, healthy snacking isn't just about taming late-night hunger; it's about making thoughtful choices that contribute to better sleep and overall well-being. It's a gentle, satisfying way to end the day and prepare for a night of restful slumber.

4. Mindful Eating: The Art of Savoring Every Bite

Teaching your child the art of mindful eating isn't just about curbing late-night snacking; it's a valuable life skill that can promote healthier eating habits and a better relationship with food.

Here's how to make mindful eating a part of your child's routine:

Pause and Reflect: Before reaching for a snack, encourage your child to pause for a moment. Ask them to think about whether they're genuinely hungry or if they're eating out of boredom, stress, or habit. Sometimes, simply recognizing the impulse to snack mindlessly can be enough to curb it.

Sit Down and Savor: When it's snack time, make it an event. Encourage your child to sit down at the table, even for a small snack. This creates a designated eating space, and it helps them focus on the food they're about to enjoy.

Engage the Senses: As they eat, encourage your child to engage their senses fully. Ask them to describe the taste, texture, and aroma of their snack. This sensory awareness can make the eating experience more enjoyable and satisfying.

Slow and Steady: Remind your child to eat slowly and savor each bite. It takes time for the body to register fullness, so eating slowly can help prevent overeating. Plus, it allows them to enjoy the flavors fully.

Put Down the Devices: Discourage eating in front of screens. Whether it's the TV, computer, or smartphone, distracted eating can lead to mindless consumption and a disconnection from hunger cues. Meals and snacks are an opportunity to be present and fully enjoy the food.

Portion Awareness: Help your child become more aware of portion sizes. Teach them to serve themselves a reasonable amount and then wait a few minutes before deciding if they need more. It's a practical way to prevent overindulgence.

No Guilt Allowed: Emphasize that there's no room for guilt in mindful eating. If they choose to have a snack, it's a decision they've made consciously. Encourage them to let go of any negative feelings about their choices.

Listen to Their Body: Teach your child to listen to their body's hunger and fullness cues. Encourage them to stop eating when they're satisfied, even if there's food left on the plate. Over time, this can help them develop a better sense of portion control.

By incorporating these mindful eating practices, your child can develop a healthier relationship with food, reduce unnecessary snacking, and become more attuned to their body's needs. It's a valuable skill that can benefit them throughout their lives.

5. A Good Night's Sleep: The Magical Snack Preventer
woman in brown long-sleeved top sleeping on bed
woman in brown long-sleeved top sleeping on bed

Did you know that sleep plays a significant role in curbing those midnight snack cravings? It's true, and here's how you can make sure your child gets the right amount of zzz's:

The Sleep-Hunger Connection: Ever noticed how, after a restless night's sleep, you wake up the next morning feeling like you could devour a mountain of pancakes? Well, it's not just you; it happens to kids too. Sleep deprivation can mess with our body's hunger hormones, making us more prone to cravings. So, ensuring your child gets adequate sleep can be a fantastic snack prevention strategy.

How Much Sleep Do They Need? The ideal amount of sleep varies with age, but as a general rule, school-aged children typically need about 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers, on the other hand, require 8-10 hours. To determine how much sleep your child needs, consider their age and observe how they feel and behave when they wake up. Are they refreshed and ready to tackle the day, or do they resemble a sleepy sloth?

The Benefits of Good Sleep: Adequate sleep offers a treasure trove of benefits. It boosts your child's mood, enhances their memory and learning abilities, and even supports their physical growth. But here's the kicker – it also helps regulate their appetite. When they're well-rested, their body produces the right amounts of hunger hormones, making them less likely to wake up in the middle of the night searching for snacks.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment: To ensure your child gets enough quality sleep, create a sleep-conducive environment. Keep their room dark, cool, and quiet. Limit screen time before bed, as the blue light emitted by devices can interfere with their sleep patterns. Encourage a relaxing bedtime routine, as we discussed earlier, and ensure they have a comfortable mattress and pillows.

A Balanced Daytime Schedule: Daytime activities matter too. Encourage physical activity during the day, but avoid intense exercise close to bedtime. Set regular meal and snack times during the day to maintain their energy levels, reducing the likelihood of nighttime hunger pangs.

Monitoring and Adjusting: Pay attention to your child's sleep patterns and behaviors. If they consistently wake up hungry at night, it might be an indicator that they need an adjustment in their bedtime routine or daytime schedule. Be flexible and willing to adapt to their changing needs as they grow.

So, there you have it – the secret sauce to preventing midnight snacking in children might just be tucked under their blankets.

Ensuring they get enough quality sleep not only benefits their health and well-being but also helps curb those late-night munchies. Sweet dreams!

6. Be Their Healthy Eating Hero: Setting the Right Example

We all know that actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to kids. If you want your child to make healthy eating choices and avoid midnight snacking, here's a tip that's gold: lead by example.

Here's how:

You're Their Superhero: In your child's eyes, you're practically a superhero. They look up to you, admire you, and often want to be just like you. So, when you make nutritious food choices and steer clear of late-night snacks, they notice. It sends a powerful message that healthy eating is the way to go.

Monkey See, Monkey Do: Kids are like little sponges, soaking up everything around them. If they see you grabbing a bowl of fresh fruit for a late-night snack instead of potato chips, they'll be more inclined to do the same. Remember, they're not just learning from what you say, but from what you do.

Family Mealtime Matters: Eating together as a family is not only a lovely bonding experience but also a chance to show your child how enjoyable and satisfying healthy meals can be. Serve up a colorful plate of veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains, and make mealtimes a joyful event. You'll be teaching them that nutritious food is delicious food. Engage your child in conversations about healthy eating. Explain why certain foods are good for their bodies and how they help them grow, stay strong, and feel energized. Keep it positive and educational rather than restrictive.

Balancing Treats: It's essential to teach your child about balance. Let them know that enjoying an occasional treat is perfectly fine, but it's best enjoyed during regular meal and snack times, not when the clock strikes midnight. This helps them understand that treats are part of life but don't replace proper meals.

Avoid Food as Reward or Comfort: Sometimes, as parents, we offer food as a reward or a way to comfort our children when they're upset. While the intention is caring, it can inadvertently create an unhealthy emotional connection with food. Instead, use praise, a hug, or quality time together as rewards or comfort measures.

Patience and Persistence: Changing habits, whether for children or adults, takes time and patience. Be consistent in your healthy eating habits and give your child the space to embrace them at their own pace. Keep offering a variety of nutritious foods and celebrating the small victories along the way.

Remember, you're not just guiding them towards healthy eating; you're also equipping them with valuable life skills.

Your actions today are shaping their habits and choices for a lifetime. So, lead by example, and together, you'll create a healthy and happy food environment in your home. You've got this!

7. Teamwork in the Kitchen: Your Child's Culinary Adventure

Ah, the sweet aroma of cooperation in the kitchen! Involving your child in meal planning and preparation is like setting sail on a culinary adventure together. Here's how to get the whole crew on board:

Grocery Store Buddies: Make grocery shopping a family affair. Create a list together and let your child pick out fruits, vegetables, and other healthy ingredients. Teach them how to read labels and choose nutritious options.

Plan the Menu: Sit down with your child to plan meals for the week. Ask for their input on what they'd like to eat. This not only empowers them but also ensures you're serving dishes they enjoy.

Junior Chef Sessions: Invite your child to join you in the kitchen. Assign age-appropriate tasks like washing vegetables, stirring ingredients, or setting the table. As they gain confidence, they can take on more complex roles.

Cooking Challenges: Turn meal preparation into a fun challenge. Have a "Chopped" style competition where you both choose mystery ingredients and create a meal together. This fosters creativity and a love for cooking.

Healthy Snack Creations: When those late-night cravings strike, suggest making a healthy snack together. Get creative with yogurt parfaits, fruit kebabs, or homemade smoothies. It's a bonding experience and a chance to teach them about smart snacking.

Learn and Explore: Use cooking as an educational opportunity. Talk about the nutritional benefits of different foods, and explain why certain choices are better for bedtime. Explore new recipes and cuisines together.

Praise and Encouragement: Celebrate your child's culinary victories, no matter how small. Their enthusiasm and efforts deserve applause. Encouragement boosts their confidence and makes them more excited about healthy meals.

Recipe Makeovers: If your child has favorite dishes that aren't the healthiest, work together to create healthier versions. Swap out ingredients, reduce sugar or salt, and experiment until you find a delicious, nutritious balance.

Food Adventures: Expand your child's palate by exploring international cuisines. Pick a different country's cuisine each month and cook dishes from that culture. It's an exciting way to learn about the world through food.

By involving your child in meal planning and cooking, you're not only teaching them valuable life skills but also nurturing a positive relationship with food. It's a journey filled with laughter, learning, and the joy of shared meals.

Remember that it may take time for your child to adjust to these changes, and occasional late-night snacking is normal. The key is to establish a routine that prioritizes healthy eating habits and a good night's sleep.

With love,