Dinner time should be a time that family members look forward to a warm, home cooked meal at the end of a busy day and just before retiring to bed. The planning for dinner, the time and manner in which we have it affects the rest of our day’s activities as well as our long term health and social life.
This blog post was written by my friend and now blogging partner Stella Mulama. Take it away Stella.
1. Family connectedness
Did you know that families that eat together at dinner time feel more connected? Dinner is best served early before the children’s bedtime. Children from such families feel a sense of belonging and emotional security. A study showed that children from families that ate dinner together were more knowledgeable about their family history through family discussions, had better self esteem and were more likely to go to their parents whenever they had a serious problem. Studies have also shown that children who regularly have a home cooked meal together with their parents have better grades in school and are less likely to smoke or engage in excessive alcohol use.
2. Personal time between children and adults sleep time
In an household where dinner is served everyday at 6pm and the children go to bed at 7.30pm, the parents have a couple of hours to prepare for the next day, share/talk, study, watch a movie, read or even just relax before retiring to bed. This bonding time strengthens intimacy.
3. Early dinner time, early to bed and early to rise
Dinnertime directly affects bedtime. When families eat early, the children can go to bed early and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Most adults need 7–8 hours of sleep each night. Newborns, on the other hand, sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, and children in preschool sleep between 11 and 12 hours a day. School-aged children and teens need at least 10 hours of sleep each night. This sleep is preferably in a dark quiet room. There is a recommended 1-2 hours between dinner time and going to sleep which improves metabolism.
When children eat dinner at 6 pm and go to bed at 7.30pm to wake up at 6.30 for school, this translates to 10-11 hours of sleep. We need sleep to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories. In fact, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep. Studies show that people who are taught mentally challenging tasks do better after a good night’s sleep. Studies suggest that sleep is needed for creative problem solving while lack of sleep is directly linked to bad decision making. This can result in lower performance on the job or in school and a greater risk for a car crash.
Sleep is also important for good health. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions. In addition, during sleep, your body produces valuable hormones. Deep sleep triggers more release of the growth hormone, which fuels growth in children and boosts muscle mass and the repair of cells and tissues in children and adults. Another type of hormone that increases during sleep helps the immune system fight various infections. This might explain why a good night’s sleeps helps keep you from getting sick—and helps you recover when you do get sick.
Hormones released during sleep also control the body’s use of energy. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, to develop diabetes, and to prefer eating foods that have high calories.
4. Maintaining healthy weight
Nutritionists advice that that to maintain and lose weight, it is advisable to sleep 1-2 hours after having a meal. This increases the pace of the metabolism. See more here.
An article by medical professionals suggests that to avoid heart attacks and strokes we should never eat after 7 pm.
5. Early dinner time for cleaner homes
A focus group discussion of women in Nairobi revealed that women who served their dinner early had cleaner and neater homes which were less likely to attract cockroaches and other pests since they had enough time to clean up the eating area and kitchen after dinner. This was contrary to women who served dinner at 9 pm or later who reported to leaving food particles and dirty dishes in the sink because they were too tired to clean up. It is useful to have a 30 minute daily routine to put everything back into place such as shoes, toys, etc after dinner which makes it easier to clean up the next morning. This is possible if dinner is served early and the kids are put to sleep early enough to allow for this routine tidying up.
6. Early dinner time for better grades and work output
A University of Illinois study of 120 boys and girls ages 7-11 found that the children who excelled in school and on achievement tests more commonly came from homes that participated in frequent family meals. A Reader’s Digest survey of more than 2,000 high-school seniors found that frequent and consistent family meals were a strong predictor of academic success, regardless if the student had one or both parents in the home. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that good grades were highly correlated with the frequency of family meals. Frequent family meal times can positively affect the cognitive development and academic achievement of youth from early childhood through the teen years.
Family meals play an important role with the wellbeing of parents, too. Research has identified that parents whose employment interfered with family mealtimes reported a greater dissatisfaction with their job and their professional future. Parents reported a lower perception of success at work when work schedules disrupted dinnertime. Parents who had jobs that did not interfere with family mealtime reported a stronger relationship with their children and spouse. Job satisfaction is connected to having time to come home and participate in family meals.
Tips that will help you eat your dinner early
- Plan your meals early-buy ingredients in advance and cook in good time
- Be strict about meal times
- Adults in the house should cooperate with meal time regulations which makes it easier for children to comply
- Write down and analyse the myths that you hold about eating dinner early including that you will feel hungry in the night. Even though this might be true for the first few nights, the body quickly gets accustomed to eating early and besides, the benefits of eating early far outweigh those of eating later in the night.
Are you NOW convinced that dinner should be eaten at 6 o’clock?