In my book, A Healthier Wei, one tip I give is to avoid bedtime and nighttime snacking for children whenever possible. But let’s face it, it is not realistic to expect that children will never eat or drink after dinner, especially those active in sports and/or going through growth spurts! Therefore, as a mother of a now tween, I always make recommendations that I know are realistic and achievable by suggesting healthy snacks.
We should teach our children to eat well during mealtimes, and enjoy their snacks in between meals without developing a routine habit of eating and drinking (other than water) after dinner, close to or right before bedtime. Not eating about 1-1.5/2 hours before bed helps to decrease the chance of kids going to sleep with a stomach full of undigested foods and liquids. This will then decrease the chance of yucky, usually acidic, contents (dairy and sugar break down into acid plus the natural stomach acid necessary for digestion), which then have the chance to ferment all night and reflux into the esophagus, and even up into the throat. The same holds true for adults as well.
No mother wants to send her kid(s) to bed hungry, and it is always difficult to deny them food and nourishment when they tell you they are hungry. Therefore, it is important to know that if they must eat after dinner, at least we can help them make good choices though healthy snacks, and have them eat as early as possible and not eat before bedtime. Below are some healthy snack choices I recommend if your child must eat after dinner:
1. Fresh fruit low in acidity, such as:
- Melons (cantaloupes)
Fresh fruits to AVOID before bedtime (since they are higher in acidity) include:
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries)
- Grapes (green)
- Nectarines and peaches
- Oranges and Mandarin oranges
2. Dry crackers, whole wheat crackers and any crackers with low sugar content, including:
- Goldfish (1g of sugar per serving)
- Wheat Thins (3g of sugar per serving)
- Saltines (0.17g of sugar per serving)
- Ritz crackers (2g of sugar per serving)
- Dry cereals that are low in sugar, like Cheerios™
3. Fat free or lightly buttered popcorn without added butter
4. Whole grain or wheat toast—lightly buttered or plain
5. Rice cakes
6. Whole corn tortilla chips
8. Natural/organic peanut butter (low in sugar)
9. Fresh vegetables low in acidity, such as:
- Cooked green beans
- Cooked sweet potatoes
10. Oatmeal—steel cut preferably, else instant, but low in sugar
11. Almond milk
You probably notice what’s missing on my list of suggested healthy snacks: what children love the most—chocolate chip cookies, cookies of any kind, ice cream, cheese sticks, cheese slices, yogurt, yogurt drinks, yogurt tubes, fruit snacks, gummies, sugary cereals and milk. I highly recommend that water is the only beverage consumed in the evenings, which means avoiding chocolate or strawberry milk, sports drinks, sweet tea, juices, Sunny Delight™ and other citrus drinks, and definitely carbonated beverages (even diet ones).
I almost NEVER drink soda, perhaps once a year when somehow on a flight I ask for Diet Coke just because an inner voice tells me it might taste good. I drink water, coffee and variety of teas, and at times I get a taste for juice, but never more than once a day—perhaps 2 - 3 ounces—if I get a craving. My husband has not had soda since college, so we only stock a few diet sodas at home for guests or parties.
At every meal we serve water to everyone. I allow my daughter Claire, now 12, to have Sprite occasionally, and generally only at times when we eat out or when I find I am quite lenient on flights. Since early on in her childhood, Claire has been sufficiently brain-washed to understand all the negatives associated with drinking soda and carbonated beverages: their high sugar, high acidity and carbonation content all resulting in acid reflux, and the fact that one can cook a piece of raw meat in any carbonated beverage!
Since countless parents complain to me about their frustration and exhaustion over poor sleep and terrible sleep habits in kids (often disrupting adult and couple’s sleep and relationships), I always discuss with them the risks of ingesting sugar, dairy (like chocolate milk, which is high in both), and/or caffeine containing beverages, and how they may cause poor sleep.
I do not want anyone to feel like a bad parent or caretaker by starving their “I am full” at dinner then “I am starving” right before bed children. If your children must eat again, help them avoid acid reflux, which will cause nasal congestion, runny and/or stuffy nose, night time cough and restless sleep. Teach them to stop eating after dinner (or immediately after dessert, if any). When you must give in, choose healthy snacks to avoid the “Milk and Cookie Disease.”
Check out my book, Acid Reflux in Children, to find more information about developing healthy eating habits in children and for the entire family.
Learn more about the "Milk and Cookie Disease" and what you can do about it here.