Eat This: Dinner Rehab

Dinner, dinner, dinner! Well, we had to round out the last of the REHAB series with our final installment: DINNER. The mack daddy of all the meals of the day. It’s the anchor, where the family comes together, and the three meals of the day are nicely squared away. While I talked about a bunch of myths to do with breakfast and even snacks, dinner and myths – not so Google worthy.  But that’s not to say that this end of the day meal isn’t without it’s unhealthy habits that we need to talk about. What’s the best time to eat dinner? How late is too late for dinner, or even how early? Should we eat dinner with our families? And why do we love to eat dinner while watching TV?

So today on EAT THIS with Lianne…Dinner Rehab! All about some helpful habits you can build while eating dinner, and some of the best ways to be more in sync with your body’s clock. And, as always, a few shares that my community offered up about what they’re eating. Stick around until the end for some of my go-to dinners.

All meals can carry some emotional weight. But there seems to be a lot of emotional and cultural stress about dinner. And what I mean by that is that it seems to represent more than what it should. It often feels like pressure. Like there’s a standard to live up to. 

When I was younger, my mom would make dinner (like a ‘proper’ dinner) for when my dad got home from work at 5:30 every day. It wasn’t quite the pipe and slippers situation, but his slippers were always at the front door, just where he left them. He’d take off his shoes, put away his briefcase, and dinner would shortly be on the table. That was, unless there was a “wait until your dad gets home” situation to deal with first. You know what I mean?!

Golf was and still is my dad’s passion, even at the age of 89. When I was a kid, about once a year or so, he’d go off somewhere warm and sunny for a week and play golf with his buddies. When he was gone, it was like my mom was on a meal vacation. For dinner, we’d have hotdogs, grilled cheese and anything that was FAST and EASY. Somehow it was ok to eat this way because my dad wasn’t there. That always felt ‘off’ to me. I never understood why those typical lunch time foods weren’t ok for dinner. I guess that was what was modeled for her and then modeled for me and my sisters. 

Have you ever noticed in movies, the most dramatic scenes often happen at dinner time, or the most romantic night out is always about getting dinner together and the couple getting to know each other before the tension of “Will they kiss??” would come at the end. Those scenes can feel warm, cozy and like a place to belong. I’m sure that plays into how we relate to this meal. 

Dinner for you could represent family structure and stability. And while I will talk about the connection, the coming together and obviously the health benefits of eating dinner with family, I also think that dinner doesn’t necessarily say everything about you as a family. In other words, while that vision of the whole family being around the dinner table is a beautiful one, don’t think that you’re a “bad” family just because you don’t eat dinner together. Instead, look for other opportunities to bond and get all the health benefits that come from that meal. 

With all that in mind, I want to think differently about dinner. Because of when it happens in the day, it might feel like “all meals lead to dinner.” And that you can make up for skipping meals or not eating well during the day. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, I don’t even think it should be the largest meal of the day. More on that later.

Like I said in the breakfast episode, I don’t think any meal is more important than the other. They’re all important in different ways, and when we think about it that way, we’ll be more willing to give each meal the attention and care that it deserves.

What are we eating for dinner?

  • Do you remember Lana from Episode 16, about Real People and Real Stories? Lana inspired us with her three week meal planning. Well, she was honest. She said: While we normally strive for healthy and well balanced dinners…last night was a dietary shit show. We had fish and chips… I have no regrets. 😂 I LOVED that. There are days, and I will add in here that there are nights when my girls are with their dad that I have a bowl of popcorn for dinner. And if that is too much to do, it might be a bowl of chips, or nothing. Not all days come together as we feel they should or would like them to be. 
  • Our Sugar-free friend from Episode 8, Barry Friedman, had garden salad with salmon over rice with goddess dressing.
  • Rebecca said that she made “a travesty of fried rice of quinoa, ground turkey, lots of spring garlic and onions and beet greens stir fried in the style of a healthy fried rice“. 
  • Angie, who was also in Episode 16, learned how to make a Bolognese from scratch on TikTok 😂. She made rigatoni to go with it because tubular pasta is easy for son Casey to hold and he sucks the sauce right out!
  • Ryan ate alfresco with a hamburger on the barbeque, which is the same as I had with a friend last night on her new barbeque that she’s trying to master. 
  • Sarah made a homemade California Reuben on whole-wheat panini with turkey, coleslaw, Swiss and spicy mayo.
  • Kelly inspired me with her dinner of grilled chicken Caesar salad, and I made crab stuffed mushrooms. I had to ask about the crab stuffed mushrooms, and she shared this recipe.

Let’s talk about healthful dinner habits

The first habit: Try not to be eating dinner while watching TV, binging the latest Netflix show, or ogling YouTube videos on your phone. And if you can, try not to eat while working either. That’s because you always want to be mindful while eating. In our lunch episode, we talked about how eating quickly can lead to indigestion, since you can swallow a lot of air and your stomach doesn’t have teeth. Eating too fast and while your mind is on something else doesn’t allow for your digestive enzymes to do their thing. 

I’ll even add the importance of remembering and paying attention to hunger. If we don’t eat mindfully, then chances are we’re not really processing the food in our brains either—like not storing the right memories so our bodies can think, “Well, I need to eat again” later. This can lead to more midnight snacking and more late-night hunger. Think about the psychology of your eating, too, not just the physiology.

I get it, though. We get a huge rush of dopamine whenever we eat dinner and watch something fun. It’s like our two favourite things to do as humans: eat and be entertained! And for some people, dinner might be the only time they’re allowed to really shut off for the day.

So, maybe a lot of health experts will say definitively: Don’t eat dinner while watching TV. But I think we can be a little more nuanced than that. I want to say: Try not to eat dinner while watching TV, but if it happens once or twice throughout the week, then that’s what happens. 

The problem that I see is when eating dinner and watching TV becomes a habit and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Like with everything, moderation is key. Is it always bad to eat dinner with TV? Not necessarily. When it’s a daily habit, then maybe consider breaking it. 

Instead, we can look to your family for entertainment! As I said earlier, for some, eating together as a family can be a lot of pressure, depending on what’s going on, but it is a bonding time where everyone can share their day, chat about their worries, and know what’s going on for everyone in the family. And of course, family could mean anyone to you—not just your children or blood relatives. It could be your close friends, coworkers or neighbours.

There’s a ton of research that suggests that eating with your family on a regular basis is associated with improved cardiovascular health, better test scores and higher vocabulary, and lower stress levels. If you have a teen around the house, don’t buy into that pop-culture myth of the moody teenager who wants to eat by themselves in their room. One survey found that 80% of teenagers actually like having dinner with their families rather than by eating by themselves. And dinner is the most likely time they’ll actually talk to their parents.

So when is the best time to eat dinner?

There’s not really a right time for everyone, like 6:00 or 7:00, but there are some things to keep in mind.

First: insulin, the hormone that breaks down our blood sugar, works all day long and doesn’t do its best work in the evening. That means our blood sugar can be higher and less stable than usual if we’re eating a large, carb-heavy dinner. That’s why it’s often best to eat a lighter dinner with less carbs at night. Maybe switch out the potatoes or pasta with some lean protein: beans, lentils, fish, lean beef, chicken, or even eggs.

Second: It’s best to have a snack about 2-3 hours before dinner. It seems kind of counter intuitive, to eat a snack before dinner, but this can prevent you from overeating and set you up for that lighter last meal of the day. That’s where some protein will come in handy. Protein is the best food to give you that satisfying fullness. Maybe try low-fat yogurt with some high-fiber granola and berries sprinkled on top. Or a peanut butter and banana smoothie. If you want something less filling, then cut up some fruits and veggies. Generally, it’s best not to wait out your hunger before dinner. If you show up starving, having staved off eating your arm by the time you get to the dinner table, you’re more likely to eat too fast and eat too much and that’s when that bread basket is impossible to resist. And as I said before, our bodies aren’t the best at handling high-carb meals later in the evening.

Let’s summarize – the best habits you can get into are to eat a snack 2-3 hours before dinner, have a light, low-carb dinner; and then the kitchen closed sign goes up.

For the midnight snackers out there, I see you

What does the above mean for your midnight snack? And is eating after dinner or right before bed bad for you? Again, that depends always on what “bad for you” means for you. We’re told eating before bed could lead to heart problems or obesity. But let’s challenge that a little bit. What exactly are you eating before bed?

I think it’s best to avoid junk food, of course, and heavy desserts for your midnight snack. They tend to trigger cravings and may make you go past your daily needs. But there’s no harm in a little mix of protein or fat. There’s some evidence that fat could even help you with sleep quality. Some peanut butter and crackers might do the trick. Or cheese and a bit of fruit.

Some of my favourite dinner dishes

So we got through some of what others do, and talked about some habits to build. Now here are some of my favourite dinner dishes I promised you, all available in my book, Sprout Right Family Food:

  1. First is TACO NIGHT. Not only is it my favourite picture in my book, but it brings so much fun to the dinner table. I’ve served tacos to so many kids and families and every time they’re a winner. 
  2. Crispy Chicken Nibbles jazz up the ho-hum chicken and of course with a side of sweet potato fries that are seasoned with garlic powder and paprika, how does it go… Winner, winner, chicken dinner! 
  3. And I do love a good barbecue with some grass fed burgers or short ribs with some grilled potato and a massive salad.

I’ve mentioned a few times about my #cooktogether series where I cooked for a month straight on Sprout Right’s Facebook page and on YouTube, so you’ll find at least 40 videos there to inspire you, no matter where or when you eat din din.

Head on over to social media and share your favourite dinner ideas for us and others, because we are all in this together! 

Thank you so much for tuning in today! Please share this episode with family and friends, and no matter what your dinner looks like (even if it’s a bowl of popcorn like mine sometime is), remember to EAT THIS, one mouthful at a time.

Get more recipes in my book Sprout Right Family Food.

More recipes are available in my book Sprout Right Family Food—plus everything there is to know about getting your family off to a nutritious start, from birth to school age and beyond.

Get Sprout Right Family Food now!

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