Unsatisfying Dinners That Will Leave You With the Midnight Munchies

Is there anything more embarrassing and frowned-upon than indulging in a midnight snack? It’s a terrible habit, whether you’re a typically healthy eater or testing out a new diet plan. The image of slinking toward the fridge at midnight in a frumpy robe and beat-up slippers is an image that nightmares are made of. Worst of all, your dinner is probably to blame for this behavior.

You might ask yourself how this could possibly be. Your dinner is supposed to be your final food source of the day, so why does it often leave us sneaking into the kitchen when everyone else is asleep to snack on something sinful? As it turns out, there’s a reason some of your favorite dinner staples are leaving your hungry just hours later: They’re lacking nutritional value. Here are 10 options that are sure to leave you with the midnight munchies.

1. The dinner made up entirely of sides

Well cooked Fries

Garlic bread and fries won’t keep you full for long. | iStock.com/J_Zuo

You can blame it on the Meatless Monday fad, but the bad habit of eating a dinner made completely of carb-centric sides is nothing new. Plus, a common theme among dinners is they usually don’t contain enough protein to keep you satisfied. Go for a lean meat with your dinner to combat getting a case of the munchies later on. Of course, protein doesn’t just mean eating meat all the time — think legumes, nuts, and maybe even some cheese.

2. Empty salads

Salad Greens

This plate of rabbit food isn’t going to keep you full on its own. | iStock.com/KAdams66

Yes, a salad can be a meal, and a good one. But far too often, that dinner salad is lacking in ingredients to keep you full, leaving you reaching for a tub of ice cream in the wee hours of the night. The problem? We often focus solely on veggies and forget to add enough protein or fat, both of which help keep us full, as Care2 explains. Think lean meats, avocado, and olive-oil based dressings. If salad for dinner is your go-to, think of making it a protein-packed Chinese chicken salad, or a beet salad with avocado and feta.

3. Some sushi

sushi rolls

Replace rice with real protein to get the most out of your meal. | iStock.com

Sushi is a popular meal option that can actually go one of two ways. It can fill you up or leave you starving faster than any other dinner option out there. The surprise here is the giant specialty sushi rolls every restaurant has on their menus are most likely to make you want a late night snack! As mindbodygreen explains, the sugar content in the rice is equivalent to two slices of white bread. (More on that later.) This leaves you with a carbo-load that makes your blood sugar spike, then leaves you hungry again before bed.

If you want to be full by the end of your sushi meal, go for more fish and as little rice as possible. Also, nix the extra stuff — rice, tempura batter, edamame, etc. — that’s packed with salt.

While we’re talking about salt…

4. Canned soup

campbell's soup

Andy Warhol called. He wants his sodium-filled muse back. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We’ve all had those evenings when we just want something small and simple for dinner. In these instances, a nice cup of soup is typically an appealing option — especially when it’s chilly outside. So why do you feel even hungrier after that can of Campbell’s? It’s the salt. Russell Keast, Ph.D., told Men’s Health this is because “excessive salt may override feelings of fullness.” Luckily, Livestrong.com has found the key to reducing the copious amounts of salt in your soup, by adding additional ingredients or thinning with broth, so you can still enjoy that cup of goodness without diving into a whole sleeve of Oreo’s later.

5. Takeout

Chinese take out food in boxes

Takeout is tasty, but not very filling. | iStock.com/rez-art

OK fine, nobody orders takeout because they think it’s a healthy dinner option. Most people do, however, expect it will fill them up. So then why, oh why does your massive order of chow mein leave you craving cake right before bed? Enter MSG. The flavor-enhancer is deemed safe by the FDA, Mayo Clinic explains, although “its use remains controversial” because of the long list of symptoms associated with consuming too much. One example is how it affects the “hypothalamus regulation of appetite” in the brain, Grandparents.com says. The smart choice here is to limit the amount of takeout you’re consuming — or succumb to the fate of being a perpetual midnight snacker.

6. Those ‘portion control’ dinners

Dinner Cooking Inside Microwave Oven

Beware the meal that is bound for the microwave. | iStock.com

There’s a good reason why you don’t feel satisfied after eating one of those flavorful pre-packaged meals.”Frozen dinners, especially diet frozen dinners, often don’t have enough calories to fill you up,” explains Care2. “Additionally, there isn’t enough roughage, specifically, fresh fruits and vegetables to expand in your stomach.”

Sure, preparing your dinner by simply pushing a couple of microwave buttons sounds appealing, but it will result in you preparing yourself even more food in the middle of the night. Solution? Add a side of greens — spinach is quick and easy to prepare — or some fruit. (Just don’t make it pre-packaged fruits and veggies, because that defeats the whole purpose.)

7. Pasta

plate of pasta

That big ol’ plate o’ pasta is prepping you for a big ol’ case of midnight munchies. | iStock.com

You’ve probably heard quite a few times that this popular dish isn’t a good dinner option if you’re trying to lose a couple LBs. This is because white pasta is a simple carbohydrate stripped of its nutrients. “When you overload your body with simple carbs,” Health explains, “your pancreas goes into overdrive churning out insulin, and soon you’ve produced so much of the sugar-managing hormone that your blood sugar levels are low and you’re ravenously hungry.” No wonder you end up dreaming of tiramisu just hours after hoovering a plate of linguine!

To keep your pasta craving from wreaking havoc on your appetite, replace the white pasta and salty sauce with a whole-wheat or vegetable-based noodle and psome sort of protein on top. (Turkey meatballs, maybe?)

8. White bread sandwich

Toast bread

This sandwich staple will send you straight to midnight snackville. | iStock.com/SasaJo

If white pasta isn’t going to fill you up, white bread isn’t going to do much better. In fact, on the list of foods destined to leave you hungry afterward, white bread is hovering close to the top. “Your body quickly converts plain white bread into glucose, giving this food a glycemic index ranking of more than 70,” Livestrong.com says. This doesn’t mean you have to cancel sandwich night altogether. “Although processed foods, such as white bread, may cause an increase in hunger, whole grains tend to digest slowly, making you feel full longer,” the same story notes.

9. Pizza

Cheesy pepperoni pizza with one section cut into a slice.

Eat the whole pie, and you’ll still be hungry later. | iStock.com/bhofack2

No, eating the whole pizza won’t change the fact that this meal will leave you starving later. Your average pie combines all of the components of a dinner destined to leave you munching later — white bread, salty condiments, you name it. Even a veggie-topped pizza can’t stop this pie from making you hungry later. A better bet? Make your own pizza with store-bought, whole-wheat dough and fresh condiments. You’ll be in charege of what goes into it, making it easier to control your cravings later.

10. The skipped dinner

empty plate

If you don’t eat at all, we guarantee you’ll be ravenous later on. | iStock.com/IriGri8

There is a sure-fire way to ensure you will be making a late-night trip to your pantry: skipping dinner. What’s worse is that skipping a meal — any meal — wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to turn food into energy. “Your metabolism slows, so the food you do eventually take in isn’t burned off very efficiently,” Women’s Health tells us. Long story short, messing with your metabolism will make your midnight munchies even worse.

Your best bet is to get some type of food into your system in the evening, so you aren’t famished late at night. And you have a whole list here that can help you plan dinner accordingly.