Timing your meals correctly can ensure that you're eating healthy foods and not overdoing it. There is no one best time to eat dinner that will work for every family. You have to look at your personal situation, factoring in work schedules and after-school activities to find the time that works right for you. Once you've found this time, plan to keep things consistent by sticking to this schedule.
A Healthy Meal
Eating healthy meals is one of the most important things that you can do for your family. When choosing a time for dinner, give yourself enough time to cook something healthy, rather than stopping for fast food or ordering pizza every night. There are plenty of healthy meals that you can cook in about 30 minutes, especially if you have help from the rest of the family. In this case, schedule your meal for about 45 minutes after you get home from work. Another option is to use a slow cooker or to premake healthy meals that you can freeze over the weekend. Then you'll be able to eat just a few minutes after coming home.
Eating together as a family fosters better communication and aids child development. It can be difficult to do this, though, if you have many competing schedules. This might mean that your best dinner time changes throughout the week. For example, you may need to eat early when your daughter has Girl Scouts at 7 p.m. or later on the nights when you have to work overtime. Look at your commitments a week ahead of time and plan meals accordingly. It can be helpful to post a schedule in the kitchen so that everyone knows what time to expect dinner.
If you go to bed too soon after eating, you may experience heartburn or digestive troubles. Registered Dietitian Cheryl Forberg recommends eating two to three hours before going to sleep. Use this information for setting dinnertime. If your children go to bed at 8 p.m., then you'd want to set dinner between 5 and 6 p.m., without allowing for nighttime snacks. If you go to bed much later, you could plan for a small snack for yourself a few hours before bedtime.
Though the Columbia University Health Services site stresses that it's overall calorie intake and not meal timing that causes weight gain or loss, mindless snacking at night could lead to weight gain. By planning your dinner at a time that's close enough to your bedtime to avoid nighttime snacking, you could help to regulate your own weight and the weight of your children without having to think too much about it.
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Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.