Are bedtime snacks helping or hurting your kid's diet and routine? Here's what you need to know.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
If your child complains of being hungry even after a full dinner or wakes up after being put to bed, you’re not alone. Yes, it is possible that demanding food is a way to stall from going to bed, but experts also concur that a snack may be a good way to get your child to sleep through the night. The trick is knowing what, when and how much to feed him, and also to make it a daily routine.
When asked if she would recommend a bedtime snack for a toddler or young child, Dr Christelle Tan, specialist in paediatrics at Raffles Holland V says, “Yes I would. Toddlers and young children have just transited or are in the process of transiting from regular night milk feeds and hence may feel hungry in the middle of the night. As a result, giving a small protein-rich, nutrient dense snack at bedtime can help to keep them comfortable and help them sleep well through the night.”
She explains what goes on hormonally when children get a nutrient boost right before bedtime; “Two hormones in our body regulate hunger – leptin and ghrelin. When given a bedtime snack, leptin (the hunger suppressor hormone) levels increase and suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin. If leptin levels are sustained, your child can sleep well through the night. However, if leptin levels dip, resulting in a rise in ghrelin levels, the child wakes in the middle of the night, hungry.”
Of course, most parents worry if this may cause their child to put on weight in what is already an increasingly inactive world. According to Dr Tan, a daily bedtime snack is unlikely to cause obesity, but rather, other factors are more important. She says, “Eating healthy snacks before bedtime does not make a child fat. The most important is to ensure good eating habits and a healthy diet for all meals in the day. What usually leads to obesity is the concentration of the total daily caloric intake consumed towards the end of the day. In other words, eating very little for breakfast and taking large meals at night is more likely to be a cause.”
Don’t overdo it. A snack shouldn't be a meal,
just something to keep from feeling hungry.
Dr Tan says, “A single portion of a snack and a glass of milk would most likely be adequate for the night if your child is eating well in the day. If your child feels full even before completing the portion, keep to that amount.”
A Good Night’s Sleep
If your aim is to help ensure your child sleeps through the night, Dr Tan recommends something high in fibre and protein.
Snacks that are rich in carbs can make your child sleepy, however,
Dr Tan says that this effect may not last long and may not stop
your child from waking up in the middle of the night.
She says, “High fibre or protein snacks take longer to digest and help keep children full for longer as compared to simple sugars and carbohydrates.” Fibre-rich snacks can be things like whole grain bread, cereal or oatmeal and wholemeal biscuits. “This can be served together with yoghurt and some fruit or nuts. Yoghurt is a good source of protein and calcium.
She also recommends milk or other calcium-rich foods which contain the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep at night. “Milk can help in sleep and relaxation. Although the amount of melatonin in milk is perhaps not high enough to cause a direct effect on sleep as compared to melatonin supplements, a warm glass of milk helps soothe most children. Parents must note, however, that children should avoid falling asleep with the milk bottle as this can lead to dental caries,” she says.
Foods to Avoid
Also, know what to avoid – anything with caffeine is a definite no-no. Avoid cola, tea, chocolates or anything else with caffeine in it. Avoid anything high in sugar that may cause spikes in energy levels. Candy, juices or fried foods should be avoided completely.