Too few children get the sleep their minds and bodies need. In fact, on average, they’re getting an hour less than the recommended sleep length each night. While television, stress, and nightmares are common sleep disruptors for kids, the choices made at the dinner table can also play an important role in a child’s sleep quality. And it isn’t just sugar highs– there are many unexpected ways food choices affect sleep, for better or worse.
To get your kids – and consequently you! – sleeping better, check out the following tips on what to encourage or avoid at dinnertime.
Avoid broccoli or cauliflower: While these veggies contain a lot of important nutrients, when eaten too close to bed they can keep your child’s body working late into the night. The high levels of fibre are hard to digest and can force a kid’s stomach to work overtime when it should be settling for sleep.
Eat spinach instead: These magnesium-rich leaves trigger the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep patterns. A serving of spinach can help a child feel sleepy enough at bedtime to fall asleep on schedule. If your kids, like many, are wary of spinach, try sauteeing it with some olive oil and garlic to add into rice or eggs, or stuff into chicken.
Avoid french fries and white rolls: Both of these heavy foods can negatively affect sleep in their own ways. French fries contain a lot of grease which can cause nausea and other digestive issues. White dinner rolls are often stripped of their nutrients and contain unhealthy carbs with short-term energy. This means that your child is more likely to feel hungry in a few hours once they get into bed.
Eat sweet potatoes, wild rice, and beans instead: These dishes are all healthy carbohydrates that boost serotonin levels and are connected to better sleep. Baked sweet potato fries with ketchup or Louisiana-style sausage and rice all make tasty, healthy sides that kids will love!
Avoid burgers and fried meat: While these may be fan favourites, try to avoid cheeseburgers and fried chicken as the main course. Like french fries, their high fat and sodium contents can cause heartburn and indigestion, keeping your children awake all night.
Eat fish or baked chicken instead: Lighter, protein-packed dishes will make it easy for your child to settle in at night by preventing hunger from interrupting sleep or keeping them awake. Fatty fish in particular, like salmon and tuna, contain omega-3 which is believed to improve sleep quality. Consider modernising fish sticks by breading and baking bite-size salmon nuggets and serving them along with a side of tartar sauce or herb mayo.
Avoid soda: Caffeinated and sugary drinks, like soda, can drastically affect your kids’ sleep routine. The stimulants in the drink can prevent their bodies and minds from shutting down correctly, keeping them up late into the night. If they’re going to drink soda, try to make sure it’s in the afternoon to impact their sleep the least.
Drink milk or water instead: Milk’s high protein content helps keep kids full before bedtime and supports melatonin production. On the other hand, a glass of water improves digestion which can help prevent an unsettled stomach from keeping your children awake. Both drinks will also help fill your kids’ stomachs so they don’t overeat. Give them half a glass of each at dinner for the best results.
Along with these suggestions, there are many other steps you can take to set your kids up for a successful night’s rest. For example, giving them a personalised journal in which to decompress and outfitting their room with a cozy mattress can make your child’s transition to sleep much easier and stress-free. Try to incorporate these tips into your daily routine and see their sleep, and health, improve!