If you’re looking for healthy bedtime snacks that’ll work for your own diet and also your kid’s, considering the right set of nutrients, portion size and “appeal” for little ones is key. You’ll want something satisfying but not too filling and that won’t keep you up at night. So, what kinds of bedtime snacks do nutritionists recommend that will also be a hit with kids and parents? We spoke to a few experts to find out.
“As a mom and registered dietitian, I like to think of fueling up before bed as a time to get in a little protein and fiber to help satiate and satisfy both me and my little one before we hopefully make it through the entire night,” Elizabeth Shaw, registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant, tells SheKnows. “I typically recommend about a 200-calorie snack for adults with more than 5 grams of protein and fiber,” she says, while kids will get a smaller portion.
Plus, keep in mind “bedtime snacks should be small with a source of protein and complex carbs to help sleep-promoting tryptophan reach the brain. You definitely want to avoid anything sugary or with caffeine to avoid stimulation,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, a registered dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, tells SheKnows.
Here are 11 recommendations for ideal before-bed snacks.
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Here’s a packaged snack that’s great for helping you snooze before bed. “Kids and adults will like Moon Cheese, which is a crunchy cheese snack made from 100 percent real cheese,” says Harris-Pincus. Pair with some whole-grain crackers or berries for a balanced nighttime nosh, she suggests.
Why can’t you have avocado toast for more than breakfast? Spread some mashed avocado on a slice of toast or a bagel thin. Shaw likes to pair half a bagel with mashed avocado and chickpeas to give herself “the entire nutrient punch for 180 calories, 8 grams of filling fiber and 7 grams of plant-powered protein.”
“Since my little one is just starting solids, the bagel serves as a great way to expose her to wheat (a top allergen) and provides her with heart-healthy fats and protein with the avocado and beans — in much smaller portions, though,” she says. And avocado has good fats and magnesium to help promote sleepiness, as well.
Peanut butter & whole-wheat crackers
Another great snack suggested by Harris-Pincus, the peanut butter provides some satiety to keep hunger down and blood sugar levels balanced, and the whole-wheat crackers offer complex carbs to promote tryptophan. Just keep peanut butter to one or two tablespoons — you don’t want to feel too full with fat before bed or else you might get a stomachache. And kids love peanut butter snacks.
Roasted edamame with dark chocolate chips
“If you and your kids are really active, increasing the protein in your evening snack can be helpful. Roasted edamame provides about 14 grams per serving, and chocolate chips provide that sweetness you might crave at night,” says Jones. Plus, roasted edamame is nice and crunchy, so kids will think of the snack as a healthier alternative to chips.
Greek yogurt with nuts or seeds
Kids love Greek yogurt, which you can get in a flavor or a “squirt” or drinkable form for fun. Then add nuts or seeds, like peanuts or pumpkin seeds, says Harris-Pincus. The protein fills the belly, probiotics keep digestion smooth, and the nuts and seeds have magnesium to relax the body into a sound sleep, she says.
Plant-based chicken tenders
Another option Shaw has been recommending to a client who has a toddler who is more of a snacker and never really eats a full dinner is plant-based chicken tenders. They provide protein to boost fullness throughout the night, and kids love munching on chicken tenders as a fun snack.
A kid-size protein bar
“The Clif Kids ZBar Filled bars are filled with nut butter to provide a little more protein and healthy fats that balance out the fiber-rich carbs. Plus, the filling adds a fun texture compared to a classic Zbar or other granola bar,” registered dietitian Kelly Jones tells SheKnows. Plus, just because it says kids on the package doesn’t mean it can’t be a convenient treat for any adult too when you’re too exhausted to prepare something, she says.
Sliced apples & almond butter
“Apple slices are great for kids and parents to snack on together and provide some of that sweetness you might be craving after dinner along with plenty of nutrients,” Jones explains. Still, to feel satisfied from snacks, she recommends pairing the apple slices with some fat and protein. “Drizzling the slices with almond butter adds a bit of extra flavor while amping up the satiety factor,” she says.
Low-sugar granola bar
“If your kid is hungry before bed, you want to give them something that is filling, satisfying and low in sugar. The Kind Kids Chewy Honey Oat bars are made with 100 percent whole grains and have just 90 calories and 5 grams of sugar, so they definitely fit the bill,” says Rizzo.
Want a sweet bedtime snack without the sugar? “Roast up a batch of almonds with cinnamon, agave and salt and snack on them all week. The healthy fat and protein in the almonds will satisfy any rumbling tummy and help your child sleep soundly,” says Rizzo. Plus, almonds have magnesium to boost relaxation before bed.
Cereal with milk
It may sound crazy to suggest a breakfast food before bed, but in its healthiest form, this snack offers protein from the milk and whole grains and fiber from the cereal, registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo tells SheKnows. But check the label. You want to buy versions that are very low in sugar but still taste good so kids will want to eat them at night.
“I suggest the portion-controlled Bob’s Red Mill muesli cups, which are made from a nutritious combo of whole grains, seeds, nuts and dried fruit, making them a good source of fiber and protein and low in sugar,” she says.
So, the next time your kid is looking for a pre-bedtime snack, opt for one of these instead of sugary treats that could keep them awake.
A version of this story was published February 2019.