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 lures people to eat, even when it is unnecessary.
As children tend to emulate their parents’ eating habits, they may develop cravings and feel the urge to eat late at night too.
An unhealthy practice
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 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 and recover, as it processes the late night meal.
Poor diet quality is an added part of the problem, as foods high in refined carbohydrates are often the preferred options 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 one of the driving forces behind this statistic.
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 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.
Follow these practices to help your child avoid developing a habit for late suppers:
- 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 six to 13 years old need about nine to 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 that she does not snack unnecessarily, especially if she is overweight.
- More play time, less screen time
Minimise screen time as your child’s bedtime approaches, so she 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 play time and physical activity during the day so that she is tired at night.
Late suppers are strongly discouraged, but if your child remains 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 distractions
If you do give your child supper (or at any meal time), don’t distract her with TV or gadgets. Distractions lead to overeating.
- Avoid food three hours before bedtime
To avoid indigestion, supper should be had 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 a home-cooked dinner, as well as adequate sleep.
These are important for a healthy lifestyle, along with balanced nutrition and regular exercise.
Assistant Professor Dr Satvinder Kaur is a nutritionist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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