What’s for Dinner?

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Some cultures dub the last meal of the day “supper” while others call it “dinner." No matter what name you use, the day's final meal is one that most of us enjoy. It can be a time to sit down and “ketchup” -- so to speak -- with our partners or kids. Now dining out can be expensive, but so can dining in!

This week we’ll take a look at why dinner is important and how to enjoy it on a budget.

Dinner and Mental Health:

Dinner has many advantages. It not only fills our bellies, it feeds our souls. A cross-sectional study of 14,400 Iranian students between the ages of 7 and 18 evaluated the link between family dinner frequency and mental health.

How did they do it? They used validated questionnaires to measure the frequency of family dinner, family relationships, life satisfaction, and self-perceived health and anxiety levels.1*

And what did they find? Frequency of family dinner was significantly associated with life satisfaction in both boys and girls. Lower anxiety scores were also observed with more frequent family dinners, particularly in boys. Improved family relationships were also noted through those same questionnaires.1

Dinner and Weight Control:

Studies show that skipping dinner may have negative health consequences. A retrospective Japanese study in 17,573 male and 8860 female university students evaluated the link between the frequency of breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the chance of weight gain (>= 10%) along with overweight and obesity (BMI >=25). This study used the subjects’ health and checkup information. 2

An observation time of 3 +-.9 years was used and found that the incidence of weight gain of 10% or more was seen in nearly 11% of men and over 17% of women. An important predictor of weight gain was skipping dinner. Skipping dinner (and not breakfast or lunch) was also linked with overweight and obesity in both men and women. 2

Make Dinner Affordable and Nutritious:

Since dinner is so important, we want to make sure it’s affordable and nutritious. Most meals tend to center around meat or some other protein on the plate. While protein has its place, red and processed meat-based diets tend to be more expensive and can take their tolls on health in the long term.

For example, an umbrella review of 72 different studies that evaluated 20 different outcomes related to red meat and 19 different outcomes related to processed meat intake found higher risk for overall cancer mortality, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, bladder, breast, colorectal, endometrial, esophageal, gastric, lung and nasopharyngeal cancer in people who ate more red and processed meats. 3

Intake of processed meat (sausage and deli meats) is also associated with similar cancer risk in addition to prostate and oropharynx cancer. For every 100-gram per day increment of red meat and 50-gram daily increment of processed meat, an 11-51% and 8-72% higher risk of cancer occurrences was noted. 3

What’s for Dinner?

So, how can we ensure our enjoyment of this wonderful meal without risking our health or blowing our budgets? Here are some simple and inexpensive dinner ideas:

  • Eggs, whole grain toast, and fruit
  • Black bean tacos with salsa and a side salad
  • Baked chicken, roasted veggies, and a side of brown rice
  • Grilled fish and veggies with mashed sweet potatoes
  • Lentil soup, salad, and seasonal fruit
  • Hummus wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, Greek yogurt and fruit on the side
  • Tuna salad on whole grain toast and a side of fruit

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Free Handout: Dinner on a Budget

Dinner on a Budget What's for Dinner?


  1. Karimi G, Vard B, Riyahi R, Motlagh ME, Heshmat R, Kelishadi R. Association between family dinner frequency and mental health in children and adolescents; the CASPIAN-V study. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2020 Aug;71(5):628-634.
  2. Yamamoto R, Tomi R, Shinzawa M, Yoshimura R, Ozaki S, Nakanishi K, Ide S, Nagatomo I, Nishida M, Yamauchi-Takihara K, Kudo T, Moriyama T. Associations of Skipping Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with Weight Gain and Overweight/Obesity in University Students: A Retrospective Cohort Study. Nutrients. 2021 Jan 19;13(1):271.
  3. Huang Y, Cao D, Chen Z, Chen B, Li J, Guo J, Dong Q, Liu L, Wei Q. Red and processed meat consumption and cancer outcomes: Umbrella review. Food Chem. 2021 Sep 15;356:129697.

*In the over 14,000 subjects, over 50% were boys with an average age of 12.28 years.

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