Would your family benefit from an earlier dinner time?


Set Yourself Up for a Successful Dinner

Developed by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Ed.D. and Lynn Jessen M.A.

If fights and spills are more frequent than eating at your dinner table, shifting when you serve it may be your secret to success. Dinner time often depends on adults’ schedules, but sometimes that means dinner is too close to children’s window for sleep. Tired children cannot focus or eat, fight with siblings, and fall out of their chairs. It may be surprising, but to find the “right” time for dinner it is important to know how much sleep your children need.

The average sleep needs in a 24-hour period are:

Toddlers 13-14 hours

Preschoolers 12

School-age 10-11

Adolescents 9.25

Adults 8.25

These figures are averages. Tweak the amount to fit your children. Remember, if you must wake your children, they are not getting enough sleep.

With sleep as your guiding factor, you will likely discover it is better to schedule dinner earlier, rather than later. For example, a preschooler who wakes at 6:00 AM, and does not nap, requires lights out at 6:00 PM to get the 12 hours of sleep he needs. Dinner served at 6:00 PM falls smack in the middle of the child’s window for sleep. Which explains why dinner is a disaster. But the trouble does not stop there. To keep himself going a second wind kicks in. Now the child who was unable to feed himself morphs into a human whirlwind. Bedtime becomes a cacophony of call-backs, the child unable to settle. 

If shifting dinner time earlier means that parents will not be available, get creative. Breakfast, lunch, if you are working from home, or bedtime snack can also be your “family meal.”

Dinner served, when the children are not too tired, can be a pleasant, peaceful end of the day activity. Serve family style. Do not plate the food. Instead, once the meal is prepared, sit down with your children, pass the bowls, assist them as they serve themselves and talk about your day. Do not fight about eating. Resist cajoling, rewarding, or begging to eat one more bite. In this relaxed atmosphere, not only will your children fill their tummies, but research demonstrates the conversation will build their vocabulary, a predictor of success in school. And just as importantly, this relaxed reprieve will set the stage for an easy-going bedtime.

Would your family benefit from an earlier dinner time?

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