Healthy and effective bedtime snacks for kids

May 15, 2012 at 5:15 p.m. ET

Sending your kid off to bed without a snack could result in their waking you up in the middle of the night because they're hungry. But if you choose what they snack on wisely, you can fill them up while boosting their nutritional intake, and everyone can get a better night's sleep.

Girl drinking warm milk

To help your kids sleep better at night, a bedtime snack is a good idea. Send them to bed without one, and you may find them waking up from hunger in the middle of the night (and thus, waking you up too). While packaged cookies, chips and other junk foods are easy, convenient snacks, they are not what you want your kids to eat before tucking them into bed. They'll just send them on a roller coaster of sugar high followed by crash and burn.

Instead, help prevent your kids' tummies from growling in the middle night with a wholesome snack that is both filling and nutritious. Here are some ideas for adding more variety and quality to their bedtime snacks. Keep a few of these options on hand so your child can have a choice and feel like they're involved in what they snack on. You could even let them help prepare some of the snacks, like having them stir the oatmeal cookie batter, for example.

Include foods with tryptophan

Tryptophan is the amino acid in some foods that can make one feel drowsy. We most often hear about tryptophan in relation to turkey, which is what causes that sluggish feeling after Thanksgiving dinner. Tryptophan is also found in milk, so having a glass of warm milk before bedtime is an effective way to not only induce sleepiness, but to also make sure your child gets his or her calcium. Since milk and cookies is such a natural pairing, on the weekends, bake some wholesome oatmeal cookies your kids can enjoy with their warm milk. (Bonus: Oatmeal also contains tryptophan, and pairing this amino acid with carbohydrates helps the body absorb the tryptophan more readily.) Or for a really quick snack option, your child may enjoy a small bowl of a whole-grain cereal with milk.

Be sure the snack has protein too

Protein will help your child feel full and therefore less likely to wake up from feeling hungry. Some simple bedtime snacks most kids will enjoy are graham crackers spread with peanut butter, whole-grain crackers with a cheese string or Greek yogurt (higher in protein than regular yogurt) topped with nuts or berries.

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