Teaching children to sleep through the night is Parenting Priority #1. But what if your child is consistently waking up hungry in the middle of the night?

The midnight snack is a tough situation to solve. Let’s say your little one is past the infant stage of needing to feed every few hours. You have a toddler (or perhaps an even older child) on your hands. She says (or signs) that she’s hungry.

  • Is she really hungry or just wanting a little loving? It’s almost impossible to know.
  • Would a midnight snack solve or entrench the problem? It’s almost impossible to know.

It’s almost impossible to know. Ugh. It’s impossible to know!

Don’t assume for a second that just because your child sleeps much better after a midnight (or 4am) snack that he really was hungry. After all, weren’t you there, giving your kid some quality (at least in his mind) time? Wasn’t there an extra bedtime kiss and maybe even a little back rub? That’s right, every midnight snack comes with some kind of snuggle.

The good news is that you don’t have to really know why your child wants a midnight snack in order to change the situation.

The solution to the midnight snack situation is Structure, Conversation and Reminders.

  • Step One: Structure meals and snacks to prevent hunger.
  • Step Two: Talk to your children about eating enough food at the right time.
  • Step Three: Remind. Remind. Remind.

This is a great lesson to work on during the summer when parents and kids typically have more flexible schedules, ’cause you might get a little tired working on the change.

Plan a before-bed snack. Make it nutritious but don’t, under any circumstances, make it a preferred food.

  1. The snack has to be planned because if it happens in response to your child’s request (or meltdown) it reinforces the idea that waking up in the middle of the night is a good idea. Then, down the road, if you try to eliminate the midnight snack, you’ll probably encounter midnight mutiny.
  2. The snack cannot be a preferred food because, then, you’ll be risking the possibility that your child won’t eat enough at dinner (when the food is healthy but maybe not preferred). Inadvertently teaching children to minimize their dinner consumption is counterproductive.

Initiative a conversation about about how to get through the night without eating—and without being hungry.

  1. I say initiate because this isn’t a one-time-conversation-and-you’re-done kind of thing.
  2. Talk about dinner and snack time as the right time to eat.
  3. Ask for your child’s feedback and thoughts.(You may have to assist…”Sometimes children don’t eat enough at dinner because…” “Other times children don’t eat enough at dinner because…”

Remind. Remind. Remind.

  1. Remind at dinner and remind at snack that now is the time to eat.
  2. Now, the first time that your child asks for a midnight snack, remind her that eating more at dinner and snack is the solution and then, give her a snack. Yes. Provide a snack and think of this as a beginner’s mistake.
  3. The next night, remind at dinner. Remind at snack. And remind that there won’t be a midnight snack anymore.

Stick to your guns.

And if that feels bad to you, read The Upside of Hunger and Hunger vs Appetite and The Hunger Dilemma.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~