Craving a snack before dinner? As the meal of the day cooks, you or your little one might feel that familiar hunger pang that has you reaching for a snack. Need help figuring out what to munch on to pass the time? Here are the snacks I recommend that won’t ruin anyone’s appetite for the main meal and the best times to eat them.
The problem with pre-dinner snacks
Snacks are usually a way to quell your stomach between meals or to replace a meal. It is recommended to snack when you’ve gone more than 4 hours without a meal to…
- Give you an opportunity to get more nutrients
- Keep you energized
- Satisfy your hunger
- Ensure your metabolism and blood sugar are at optimal levels
Good stuff, right? Except, sometimes snacking happens less than 4 hours before a meal. Kids who eat too many snacks won’t be as hungry, making them less likely to eat what you made or try new foods. Or if you skip snacks entirely, sometimes you might make poor eating choices to satisfy your appetite.
When there are a few hours to go before dinner, you might be tempted to eat a big snack, but chances are you’ll overdo it and become too stuffed to eat dinner (losing out on all those nutrients). Instead, eat something light and healthy to quell your stomach between meals without completely getting rid of your appetite.
As a nutritionist, I like to encourage mindful eating and making healthy food choices. Although snacking is a convenient way to stave off hunger, it can also lead to overeating and weight gain if not done in moderation. Snacking before dinner disrupts our hunger cues and causes us to eat more than our body requires. And, if we’re honest, we don’t always snack on the healthiest things (a lot of it is empty calories).
The solution to pre-dinner snacking
So, what can we do to prevent all the less desirable side effects of snacking before dinner? As you know from my 5 best times to feed picky eaters post, when you offer food to your kids is almost as important as what you offer them. So here’s what to do.
If dinner is 3 hours away, make it a meal.
Experts suggest waiting at least 3-5 hours between meals. This is the average time it takes to empty out your stomach. Waiting ensures you actually have an appetite for food rather than eating out of habit or as an emotional response. You’ll notice my suggestions are rarely only one item. Pairing protein and fiber with your snacks can help you feel full and increase their nutritional value. You can eat:
- Sandwich + Carrots
- Oatmeal with Peanut Butter + Banana
- Quesadilla + Guacamole
If dinner is 2 hours away, make it a charcuterie.
A charcuterie is a fun and light way to snack. You can partake in a variety of meat, cheese, fruits, nuts, and crackers that provide a range of flavours and textures. With smaller portions, you can avoid overeating while still getting a nutrient-dense option high in healthy fats and protein. You can eat:
- Fruit (i.e. apple) + Nut Butter + Crackers
- Veggies (i.e. peppers) + Hummus + Pita
If dinner is an hour away, make it a light appetizer.
Have you ever been to a party where a veggie platter was served before the main meal? You didn’t feel too full from broccoli and baby carrots to eat your dinner, did you? Fruits and vegetables are a great way to regulate hunger before a meal, stimulate your digestive enzymes, and aid in digestion and nutrient absorption during your main meal.
Similarly, a light soup can satisfy your taste while leaving room for the main course.
If dinner is less than an hour away, drink water.
More times than you might think, you are thirsty rather than hungry. Considering most people need more water, drinking water instead of snacking isn’t a bad idea. If plain ol’ water isn’t your thing, you can flavour it with lemon or cucumber for an added boost to perk you up.
Worried you won’t remember all this? Save this handy post on Instagram, so you don’t forget!
Did you know offering your kids food at certain times makes them more susceptible to trying new or challenging foods? Here’s another great tip: use a food game to create time to experiment with food in a no-pressure way. The more exposure to the food, the more likely they will try and like it! That’s where the Curious Cookie Mealtime Fun Cards come in. This mealtime game is…
- A set of cards with 50+ quick sensory activities, fun food exploration prompts, and simple nutrition questions.
- Fun for the whole family
- Perfect for travelling, eating at restaurants, or meals at home