The Best Time to Have Dinner

by Benna Crawford

    Your family’s dinner schedule is dependent on work, after-school activities and individual ages. It can seem easier some days to grab some fast food and let everybody graze when they get home. But there are good reasons to eat at regular times, factor in bedtimes and health needs and tame those schedules into a healthy habit of family dinners. The best time for your family to eat dinner takes all the health variables into account.

    Dinner and Digestion

    Regular dinner hours are as healthy as regular bedtimes. Kansas State University says it’s ideal to leave four hours between dinner and bedtime so your digestive system isn’t busy working on dinner when it is time to relax and fall asleep. In a hectic household with children of different ages, daily homework and varied school times, try to schedule nightly meals at least two hours before the earliest bedtime. That leaves a relaxed period for bath, bedtime story or other bedtime routines for even the youngest family member.

    Dinner and TV

    If there’s a can’t miss show at your house, schedule dinner at some other time one night a week to keep your kids' nutrition, and weight, on track. “The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior” published results of a survey of middle and high school students that showed TV viewing at dinner time equaled poor diets and nutrition. The teens who watched TV while munching ate fewer vegetables overall, fewer dark green and yellow veggies, and fewer grains and calcium-rich foods. But they consumed more soft drinks than peers who did not watch TV during dinner. Columbia University Health Systems points out that mindless TV meals of high-calorie, easy-to-eat foods – like burgers or pizza -- will add pounds, not health benefits.

    Regular Meals and Regularity

    Regular dinner times contribute to healthy digestion and elimination. Balancing mealtimes throughout the day helps, too. Six p.m. is a magic dinner hour because it falls mid-way between later-afternoon, after-school snacks around 3 p.m. and children’s bedtimes around 9 p.m. But even if that isn’t your family’s ideal dinner hour, try for consistency. The University of Michigan Health System says the activity of eating stimulates digestive responses and regular elimination. They recommend scheduling all meals at the same times each day to train digestive systems in a predictable pattern.

    Medical Conditions

    The best time to eat dinner may be dictated by a medical condition. If so, try to keep dinner a family mealtime by arranging your schedule to accommodate the dietary needs of a family member with health challenges. Diabetics need a regular schedule of meals and snacks to avoid spikes or dips in blood glucose levels. People who suffer from gastro-esophageal reflux disease should not eat for at least three hours before going to bed. Late dinners can adversely affect health when hunger results in consuming a large meal because too much time has elapsed since the last meal. Reduce your family’s risk for Type 2 diabetes by eliminating the imbalance between blood sugar levels and insulin that occurs with famine-and-feast mealtimes.

    About the Author

    Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in major print periodicals, on CBS, CNN, ABC and in professional journals, trade publications and blogs. Crawford is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and has designed and constructed sets and costumes for live theater and photo shoots.

    Photo Credits

    • Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images