I get it! For many families, an early dinner is hard to work into the schedule. Working late, afternoon and early evening activities for the kids, traffic, and life. It already hard to cook at home every night but then add cranky kids, a messy home, and so on, and it may seem impossible. I’m here to tell you that I understand and empathize with you! I’m also here to motivate you to make this a priority when you can.
Cooking at home and eating together as a family are two of the best things you can do for your child’s development. I know it sounds like a stretch, but stick with me here. Having enough time between dinner and sleep, means more time for digestion. This is incredibly helpful for their deep sleep. Lots of magical things happen during deep sleep, including mental and muscle repair.
One of the biggest things that can disrupt deep sleep is having a big meal too close to bed time. So if you are up for the task of an early dinner, let me share with 10 amazing benefits of eating an early dinner for your family!!
1. Reduce stress By the end of the day, kids are exhausted, especially if they had a busy school day with an afternoon activity. As the evening progresses and kids get more tired, it can feel like a circus act to try to get kids fed, washed, and into bed. By having an earlier dinner, you can eliminate a lot of stress. When you can, avoid big afternoon snack, so that your kids will come to the table with an appetite! If they’re hungry, they’re more likely to calmly eat their meal. After dinner, kids can play for a bit before going to bed, allowing their meal to properly digest and giving you time to wrap up other things.
2. Improve sleep quality A good night’s sleep can mean the difference between a calm and happy child versus a stressed and difficult one. Protecting and prioritizing the sleep of your little one is one of the best things you do for them and you. Why? Sleep experts say that the single best thing for your or your child’s health, both mentally and physically, is consistently getting a good night’s sleep. When we eat a late dinner, food is not digested properly. Lying down with a full stomach can cause acid reflux, indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, which can severely affect your sleep. Also, eating late can make it difficult for the body to power down. If your dinner is loaded with carbohydrates and sugar, it will spike your blood glucose level. This causes insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas that responds to high blood sugar levels) to be released which then drops your blood sugar causing low blood sugar, hypoglycemia. When our blood sugar is low, we feel terrible. Some of the effects of low blood sugar include fast heart beat, increased sweating, more irritability and anxiety. Of course this in turn leads to poor sleep.
3. Improve digestion and experience less constipation Eating an earlier dinner improves digestion and may reduce your child’s constipation. Our bodies act in rhythms, such as the well-known circadian rhythms. When we establish a routine such as an early dinner, the body will know when food is coming and make the necessary preparations. The routine of an earlier dinner can help regulate and ease bowel movements. Eating a late dinner does not give the body enough time to digest the food in an upright position. For people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, eating late can make managing their conditions much harder.
4. Clean up fewer bedtime accidents Eating an early dinner can reduce your child’s bedtime accidents. When your child finishes dinner early, they will have plenty of opportunities to go to the bathroom before bed. It can feel good not to have to wash bed sheets and blankets every morning after getting woken up in the middle of the night with a child that wet the bed.
5. Have a better morning appetite When you have an early dinner, your child will likely have a better appetite for breakfast in the morning. When we have hungry kids, they will be less picky which gives you an opportunity to serve many SuperHero Foods! Setting up your kids’ days with a nutrient-dense breakfast full of healthy fats and quality protein really sets them up for the day.
6. Improve metabolism When we eat early, we increase our fasting time overnight. Breakfast is the meal that breaks our fast! When we fast, our bodies heal themselves in so many glorious ways! As we get older, studies show that increased fasting time between dinner and breakfast can improve our metabolism and help with weight loss. For kids, it helps to ensure that their little bodies are functioning efficiently.
7. Foster the healthy habit of cooking Eating an early dinner will make it more likely that you will have the energy to cook (and less likely that you will fall back on boxed meals or take-out). Parents are only human and let’s face it, we tend to follow the path of least resistance, especially when we are tired. When we delay dinner, our end-of-the-day fatigue catches up with us, and Hamburger Helper, mac and cheese, and pizza start to look oh-so-easy. Do yourself a favor and cook early while your energy is up! My favorite hack: prep throughout the day or the night before so that when it comes time to cook, some parts are already prepped. For example: potatoes cut and spice mix already prepped.
8. Increase your lifespan! We now know that this known intervention can actually increase your lifespan: good connectivity with those you love. Eating an early dinner will more likely ensure good conversation which means good connection! My most cherished memories begin with my mom insisting on early dinners with the whole family. Cherish these few moments, our kids grow up so fast. It reminds me of an article by Tim Urban that shares that when our kids leave for college, we have spent about 90% of our allotted time with them. Let’s make the most of our time now!
9. Give your kids another learning opportunity! Studies show that family dinners boost kids’ vocabulary and thinking skills. Early dinner means better conversation–everyone is more awake and just coming down from the activities of the day. Take advantage of the (possibly calmer) dinner time together to talk about your day and ask about your kids’ days. There are many other benefits to family dinner, and making dinner time earlier makes it easier to get the most out of your time around the table.
10. Optimize your nightly brain cleansing When you sleep, your brain cleans itself via the glymphatic system. It’s basically a powerwash for the brain and it’s critical for brain health. When we eat a late meal, most of the blood flow goes to the digestive system (stomach and intestines) leaving less blood flow for the glymphatic system. How do we maximize our brain cleanse? Studies suggest that there should be at least a 4-hour window between your last meal and bedtime. If that is too difficult, try to get at least 2 hours before bedtime. About 2 hours is what we prioritize in our family. We have dinner at 5pm and our kids go to bed at 7pm.