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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- Columbia University Health Services: Go Ask Alice!; Eating at Night, Weigh Gain Myth or Fact?; September 6, 2002
- “Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior”; Associations between Watching TV during Family Meals and Dietary Intake Among Adolescents; Shira Feldman, et al; September 2007
- University of Michigan Health System: Healthy Bowel Habits
- Energy Fanatics; Best Time to Eat Meals; P.L. Chang; October 13, 2008
- National Institutes of Health: PubMed; Association between Dinner-to-Bed Time and Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease; Y Fujiwara, et al; December 2005
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