What To Eat If It's Late & You Need Dinner

Photographed By Alexandra Gavillet.
You've probably heard that if you eat dinner after a certain time at night, it's horrible for your health and you're doomed — but that's a touch dramatic. It's true that your metabolism slows down at night, and eating right before bed could trigger acid reflux in some people. But it is not the end of the world if you eat dinner past 6 p.m.
If your work or life schedule only permits you to eat on the later side, then it's better to go to bed fed than hungry. But when you're exhausted from your day, it can feel harder to listen to your body's hunger cues, which is why many people are prone to mindless snacking and overeating in the evening. The key is eating a meal that won't mess with your sleep, but will keep your stomach full. In terms of timing, about three hours before bed — whenever that is for you — is best, because it allows time for digestion.
Now, what should you eat if you're past prime dinner hours? There's not one "perfect meal," because we've all got different lifestyles and different foods on our grocery lists. But ahead, registered dietitians share meal ideas and tips to follow if you find yourself staring blankly into the abyss of your fridge late at night searching for dinner.
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Foods containing tryptophan

Most of us are familiar with tryptophan, the amino acid that makes us drowsy, but it's not just found in turkey. Eggs, walnuts, salmon, and chicken also have tryptophan, so they may help improve your quality of sleep slightly, Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City.
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Limited fat and protein

Fat is the slowest macronutrient to digest, meaning it sits in your stomach the longest, explain Philadelphia-based dietitians Melissa Bailey, MS, RD, LDN, and Liz Smith, MPH, RD, CNSC. At night, that could lead to uncomfortable symptoms like reflux or bloating, so you're better off eating carbs and a little protein, she says. For example, scrambled eggs with a side of fruit, a small salad with nuts and chickpeas, or a piece of chicken and steamed veggies.
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Dark leafy greens

Need another reason to eat leafy green vegetables? There seems to be a link between folic acid deficiency and sleep-related issues, Lockwood says. Turn to spinach, romaine, Swiss chard, kale, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli to ensure you're getting enough.
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Easy-to-digest carbs

Eating carbs releases serotonin, which is a chemical that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, Lockwood says. Make a mini-meal containing easily digestible carbs, like brown rice and quinoa, and a small amount of lean protein, like chicken or fish, she says. Or if you don't feel like cooking at all, a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter and some cinnamon is a great option, she says.
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Substantial snacks

Any food can be a "dinner food" — including snacks. While an Olivia Pope-style bowl of popcorn might be your favorite late-night munchie, you'll feel better if you opt for something with a little more substance. For example, string cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola, a banana smoothie with milk, pineapple and cottage cheese, or oatmeal with walnuts.

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