In recent years, the culture of eating in Malaysia has transformed tremendously. Food is readily available all the time and people tend to eat out more frequently, including late at night.
This trend of late night eating or supper is affecting families. The availability of food in the wee hours of the morning tempts people to eat unnecessarily. As children tend to emulate their parents’ eating habits, they may develop cravings to eat late at night too.
Is it a concern?
Parents need to realise that a late supper is unhealthy, especially for a child. He will be inclined to eat more than what his body requires, especially if he has already eaten dinner. People tend to eat after dinner, not out of hunger, but due to cravings, boredom or stress, and this leads to overeating.
Late suppers usually happen close to a child’s bedtime, when his or her metabolism is lower and the body burns fewer calories. The extra calories will then be stored as fat. The child’s digestive system also has less time to rest, as it processes the late night meal. Poor diet quality adds to the problem, as foods high in refined carbohydrate are often picked for supper.
The fact that Malaysia is number one in the prevalence of childhood obesity among ASEAN countries is worrying, and late suppers could be a major factor. Thus, ensuring that children have proper meal times is important to curb this epidemic.
If a late supper becomes habitual, the child will gain weight due to overconsumption, resulting in him being overweight or obese. Late suppers are also linked with the disruption of the body clock, as glucose and insulin responses to food eaten during this period are disturbed, leading to insulin resistance over time. Bedtime supper may also cause indigestion (acid reflux) or lead to dental caries, especially among children with milk teeth. Without early intervention, late suppers will persist to adulthood and will be more difficult to correct. This may become chronic and lead to more serious health problems.
Late night temptations
Avoid late suppers with these tips:
- Regular mealtimes. Follow regular main mealtimes with healthy snack times in between. For example, let your child have breakfast at 7am, a morning snack at 10am, lunch at 1pm, afternoon snack at 4pm, and dinner at 7pm. This will prevent cravings and overeating throughout the day, especially late at night.
- Wholesome dinner. A good dinner that is well- balanced with varied options of food groups will hinder your child from snacking later in the night.
- Avoid skipping meals. Delaying or skipping meals can lead to overeating during the next meal. People tend to eat more during late night supper when they skip dinner.
- Healthy sleeping habits. A regular bedtime schedule can also prevent late night eating. Children aged 6-13 need about 9-11 hours of sleep every day, so send your child to bed early and on time.
- Good parenting. Parents are a major influence on their children. If you always have late night meals,your child will think that it is acceptable behaviour and develop a similar habit. Be firm with your child to ensure she does not snack unnecessarily, especially if she is overweight.
- More playtimes, less screen time. Minimise screen time as your child’s bedtime approaches, so he can go to sleep easier. Overexposure to blue light from the screen affects the body and encourages her to stay awake, which makes her more likely to snack closer to bedtime. Encourage more playtime and physical activity in the day to replace screen/snack time at night.
Late suppers are strongly discouraged, but if your child is still hungry after dinner:
- Choose healthier snacks. Opt for nutrient- dense/low- calorie light snacks, such as fruit, oatmeal, milk, etc.
- Avoid eating outside. There are more temptations to eat less healthy food outside, especially late at night. Healthy options are also harder to find.
- No distraction. No TV or gadgets when he is having supper (or at any meal time). Distractions lead to overeating.
- Three hours before bedtime. To avoid indigestion, supper should be at least three hours before bedtime.
Late night eating is an unhealthy behaviour that can transform into a bad habit. Instead, you and your child should have regular mealtimes, preferably with home-cooked meals, as well as adequate sleep. These are important for a healthy lifestyle, along with balanced nutrition and regular exercise.
An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.