My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy

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

Navigating the hour before dinner is tough with children–especially young kids, for whom “dinner will be ready in 10 minutes” sounds more like “dinner will never, ever be ready and you will starve right here on the kitchen floor”. When he was younger, my preschooler Sam was particularly challenging at the 5pm Witching Hour, literally scaling the cabinets to get snacks when I turned my back to stir something on the stove.

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different pre-dinner approaches for my hungry kids–a handful of whole grain crackers, half an apple, no snacks at all–but I finally settled on a system that works.

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

When I first established this a year ago, my older son was cool with it. Most nights, he waits to eat until dinner. My youngest, however, was (understatement alert!) not pleased. But after a few weeks, he adjusted, and now happily scarfs down all manner of veggies. The best part: Because he’s truly hungry, he’s open to trying new vegetables. He’s eaten bowls of plain romaine hearts, big stalks of celery, and plates of roasted Brussels Sprouts. He’s currently on a sugar snap pea kick.

This pre-dinner hour is also when my boys are allowed to have screen time (computer, video games, or TV). I’m not bothered by the sight of my kids nibbling vegetables while watching “Rescue Bots”. There are worse things than associating TV with mindlessly eating carrot sticks.

I’ll admit: There are nights when Sam gets full on veggies and just picks at his dinner. So we simply save his plate and heat it back up for him when he’s hungry an hour later.

How do you avoid over-snacking before dinner in your house? What works for you?

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  1. says

    Definitely going to try this idea, though I anticipate resistance. My boys aren’t big on veggies. How did you break thru the veggie resistance with your younger one? Do you mainly serve the veggies plain?

    • says

      He was hungry and it was the only thing I was providing–so he just finally gave in! 🙂 I serve most of the veggies plain, but he likes a fruity salad dressing as a dip for raw broccoli florets.

  2. Elana says

    I do the same thing – started by accident. We usually have salad before dinner, and so when the “I’m hungry”-s start, I just picked from their salad plate or gave them a bit of whatever I was cutting up. Funny how they’ll eat baby carrots when I hand them over as a “tide me over” snack, but if they’re on a plate at dinnertime, they often get refused!

  3. Becky says

    Similar – we have a rule where if it’s after 5pm they have to have a fruit, vegetable, milk or yogurt. I know the milk/yogurt part wouldn’t work for some families, but neither of my kids are big milk or yogurt kids, so it’s a way for me to get some calcium in them. Although normally they pick a fruit or veggie.

  4. Beth says

    I do something similar… Veggie tray gets prepped usually after my weekly grocery run (cherry tomatoes, carrots, pickles, cheese cubed, cucumber slices… Whatever is on sale/seasonal) and then I refill as needed. It comes out as I’m prepping dinner and its amazing how many times I see little hands up on the counter!! We got started with this by having appetizer nights for dinner. Anything on a toothpick is tastier and more fun!! 😉

  5. Robin Jingjit says

    Awesome idea! We eat way early dinners right now, so that saves us from this problem, but once they’re in school and sports I’m sure we’ll have to change our routine. I’m going to file this one away!

  6. says

    That’s a great idea, now I just need to be prepared and lots of veggies bought and ready-to-eat. My kids are loving jicama and organic carrots!

  7. says

    We have a similar rule, which is that only fruit or vegetables are allowed within an hour of dinner. My kids usually wander off or will have a piece of fruit. But now I wish that all along I’d been putting out veggies as you do, since that’s still a big hurdle for my kids!

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Bettina. A few other people have mentioned fruit too–I’ve tried that, but it seems to fill Sam up too quickly.

  8. says

    I never allowed my kids to eat anything sweet two hours before dinner or even eat some appetizers before the meal. It just did not work as they tend to fill up with the appetizers and just say they are too full for dinner. If they are “really hungry” then I give them a very limited amount of snacks or appetizers to make sure they don’t lose their appetite for dinner.

  9. Heather says

    I just say no to pre dinner snacks. My kids are not starving. They had a snack two hours earlier and lunch 2-3 hours before that. Then they not only eat their dinner, but sit at the table the entire time and participate in family conversation.


  1. […] The pre-dinner snack is very tricky, especially with hungry kids. But I finally settled on a system that works for us. The house rule: If you’re hungry in the hour before dinner, you may have an “appetizer” of veggies or you can simply wait for dinner. My older son typically waits. My younger son happily eats a dish of pepper rings, a big carrot left whole, or a bowl of crunchy romaine leaves. Read more about this in My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy. […]

  2. […] Is it just me or do all children suddenly become ravenous exactly 60 minutes before dinner will be served? So our policy is this: If you’re hungry in the hour before dinner, you may have an “appetizer” of veggies. Or you can simply wait for dinner. My older son typically waits. My younger son happily eats all manner of veggies, including a big carrot left whole or a bowl of crunchy romaine leaves. Read more about this strategy here. […]

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