How to Solve the Pre-Dinner Snack Dilemma

Are your kids always hungry before dinner is ready? Here’s a strategy for snacks before dinner that won’t wreck their appetites.

There’s nothing more maddening at mealtime than sitting down to a dinner you’ve spent 45 minutes preparing only to have your kids push aside their plates because they’re already full. On pretzels.

Navigating the hour before dinner is tough with kids–especially young ones, who hear “Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes” as “Dinner will never, ever be ready. Commence meltdown!”

The problem with snacks before dinner

If kids fill up on snacks before dinner, they won’t be very hungry–which means they’ll be less receptive to eating what you’ve made, much less trying new, unfamiliar, or more challenging foods like casseroles, soups, and other mixed dishes.

Yet kids’ appetites seem to inconveniently peak before dinner is ready. I remember painful 5pm Witching Hours, when my son would literally scale the cabinets for snacks when I turned my back to stir a pot on the stove.

Over the years, I tried a few different approaches to snacks before dinner: a handful of whole grain crackers, half an apple, no snacks at all. Nothing seemed just right.

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Then I found a system that worked

I established this house rule for snacks before dinner: If you’re hungry in the hour before dinner, you can have an “appetizer” of veggies. Or you can simply wait for dinner.

Either serve some of the veggies you’re prepping for dinner or give free rein over whatever veggies you’re got in your crisper drawer. Even better, prep veggies to put in easy-to-grab containers in the fridge.

When I debuted this rule, my older son was fine with it. Most nights, he held out for dinner.

My snack-happy younger son wasn’t pleased at first (understatement alert!). But after a few weeks, he started scarfing down all manner of veggies.

You might also like: Your Kid Hates Vegetables. Now What?

Veggie Snacks For Kids

  • Raw veggie sticks like carrots, celery, and bell peppers
  • Cucumbers slices or cherry tomatoes
  • Frozen peas
  • Edamame (more filling but good source of protein and fiber)
  • Small salad
  • Portion of vegetables you’re serving with dinner

What’s great about this snack strategy

When kids are genuinely hungry, they may be more open to eating vegetables and even trying less familiar ones. My son started eating bowls of plain romaine lettuce leaves, big stalks of celery, and raw green beans.

Another perk: If your kids don’t eat much (or any) of the veggies you serve with dinner, knowing they’ve already had some may help give you some peace of mind.

What about fruit?

Fruits like apples and bananas tend to be more filling than vegetables like carrots or lettuce–especially right before dinner.

What about dips?

Dips like ranch dressing and hummus can help kids enjoy veggies and eat more of them. But they can also add to the filling-factor of a pre-dinner snack. So experiment to see what works.

What if my kid gets full on veggies?

Most veggies like carrots aren’t very filling on their own. But it’s possible your kid may be maxed out by the time dinner is served. If that happens, you can: