Why it is bad for your health to decide what to eat for dinner at 5pm.

By the end of a long hard day, or even an average day, you have made about 35 000 decisions.

After you have woken up, (some of you have already made a decision by deciding to get up!) you’ve decided what to wear, decided what to eat for breakfast, what to pack for lunch, if anything, if you have kids you have made loads of decisions before you even leave the house.   Then you go to work, or university or school, and more decisions need to be made.

Every time you make a decision you use up vital brain power.  This “brain power” is limited.  The more decisions you have to make in a day, the harder it becomes for your brain to make decisions, and the more brain power you use up.  So by the end of the day you have usually used up your capacity to make good decisions.  You’re tired.

In fact you have something neuroscientists call:  Decision Fatigue.

Add to that the fact that it’s nearly dinner time and you’re physiologically hungry.  Biochemically this means you probably have a cocktail of hormones rolling through your system, one of them is ghrelin.

When hungry, the hormone ghrelin is produced in the stomach. In a recent study the hormone was shown to have a negative effect on decision making capabilities and impulse control.  They found increased ghrelin, like that seen prior to meals or during fasting, causes the brain to act impulsively and also affects the ability to make rational decisions.

So the end of the day, the time most people are making decisions around what to feed themselves (and their loved ones) for dinner, is probably not the best time.

In fact, arguably it is the worst possible time, because if you add “stress” to this mix of decision fatigue and hunger hormones (and lets face it, most people are feeling a little stressed by the end of a long hard day). A stressed brain will be lead to an increased preference for high sugar or carb foods and and an increased tolerance for fatty foods.

This means, that come 5pm, if you are tired and stressed, you will probably make a decision about what to eat for dinner that is unhealthy.   The drive through will be literally calling out your name:  “Come on in, you know you want to!”

If you have kids, they will add further pressure to this decision…

That’s why it’s a bad idea to only make the decision about what you will have for dinner at 5pm because you are more likely to choose something unhealthy, that’s high in refined carbs, high in fat, and fast!

So you could plan meal plans, shopping lists, cook some things in advance, come home an hour earlier and spend hours in the kitchen, or get a live in chef or nutritionist… but since we can’t all live in a dream reality or if you could do that you already would be… here are some things you can try instead.

family eating healthy dinner at the table

Five things you can do to avoid last minute unhealthy eating decisions:

1.    Come up with a list of 5 favorite healthy meals that are quick and easy to make and stick the list on your fridge or pantry door for inspiration.  In the morning or the day before decide what you will prepare.

2.    Make sure you always have healthy ingredients in the store cupboard and freezer and some basic essentials in the fridge to be able to whip up at least one of the five favorites, ingredients for two is an even better plan.

3.    Always cook extra of the favorites so you can freeze some for another night.  (Even if it is only part of the dish, e.g. bolognaise sauce).

4.    Order some frozen ready made meals so you can keep a batch of healthy meals in the freezer for times you are more tired, stressed or decision fatigued than usual.  You can’t be bothered to cook, but you still want something healthy and that feels “home made”.

5.    Get all your meals delivered and never have to worry about any of this ever again!