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My son is five. My wife is quite controlling. She is a stay-at-home wife. I work 6 days a week until 3pm. She insists on cooking dinner (cooking is her thing) but won't set a definite time for it and lunch for us when together. She can decide to make a cake and make an elaborate dinner so dinnertime is pushed very late. It would be a fight if I cooked for me and my son. I would like a set daily timetable. My son is super-active and my wife brushes his teeth at 10pm and then he generally falls asleep. What are the benefits to setting definite mealtimes (doesn't have to be the same time for weekdays and weekends and can change between kindergarten term and break as it is now)?

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Regardless of age, there are health benefits from regular meal times: reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome and cardiometabolic risk factors, including BMI and blood pressure. Regarding children, having regular meal times is one of the strategies to make family meals more frequent. More frequent family meals are associated with greater consumption of healthy foods, decreased risk of overweight or obesity in children and adolescents, may protect against eating disorders and negative health behaviors in adolescents and young adults, as well as improve perceptions of family relationships.

REFERENCES:

More frequent family meals are associated with greater consumption of healthy foods in children, adolescents, and adults. Adolescents and children who consume fewer family meals consume more unhealthy food. School-aged children and adolescents who consume more family meals have greater intakes of typically underconsumed nutrients. Increased family meal frequency may decrease risk of overweight or obesity in children and adolescents. Frequent family meals also may protect against eating disorders and negative health behaviors in adolescents and young adults. Psychosocial benefits include improved perceptions of family relationships. However, the benefits of having a family meal can be undermined if the family consumes fast food, watches television at the meal, or has a more chaotic atmosphere. [...]

Perceived barriers to family meals.

Parents named numerous barriers to having frequent family meals, with work schedules and children’s after-school activities being the most commonly cited barriers (119). Other barriers included lack of meal planning, not having a regular time for meals, inability of young children to sit still at meals, family members being hungry at different times, and picky eaters making mealtimes difficult (119).

Adoption of strategies for overcoming barriers to family meals.

When asked “what helps you have family meals often,” parents reported using several strategies, including making grocery lists and planning meals (119). They also reported making meals ahead of time and storing them for use later in the week and using time/effort-saving appliances, such as slow cookers and microwave ovens. Some indicated that they found “pockets” of time to prepare foods, such as when children were napping. Those who successfully had family meals frequently did so by creating a family mealtime culture with the expectation that family members were to be present at meals, developing a structured mealtime routine (e.g., set the table, institute a regular time to eat each day), and communicating work and after-school schedules with family members (119).

Martin-Biggers, Jennifer et al. “Come and get it! A discussion of family mealtime literature and factors affecting obesity risk.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 5,3 235-47. 14 May. 2014, doi:10.3945/an.113.005116 : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013176/

(emphasis mine)

The present paper aimed to narratively review research on irregular meal patterns and cardiometabolic consequences. Only few cross-sectional studies and prospective cohort studies were identified, and most of these suggested that eating meals irregularly is associated with a higher risk of the metabolic syndrome and cardiometabolic risk factors, including BMI and blood pressure. This was supported by two randomised controlled intervention studies showing that consuming meals regularly for 2 weeks v. an irregular meal pattern, led to beneficial impact on cardiometabolic risk factors as lower peak insulin, lower fasting total and LDL-cholesterol, both in lean and obese women. In conclusion, the limited evidence on meal regularity and cardiometabolic consequences supports the hypothesis that consuming meals irregularly is adversely associated with cardiometabolic risk.

Pot, G., Almoosawi, S., & Stephen, A. (2016). Meal irregularity and cardiometabolic consequences: Results from observational and intervention studies. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 75(4), 475-486. doi:10.1017/S0029665116000239 : https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/meal-irregularity-and-cardiometabolic-consequences-results-from-observational-and-intervention-studies/1969DB83C64B09E221A4B8929B7D8A8C

SEE ALSO:

King's College London. "Is 'when we eat' as important as 'what we eat'?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2016. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160622102328.htm

Linda Geddes. "How meal timings affect your waistline." BBC. 5 March 2019. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190304-how-meal-timings-affect-your-waistline

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I am thinking there may be a general issue of establishing appropriate routines in general, as it is impossible to have any consistent routine if meals are all over the place (unfortunately I know this from experience). Ultimately, habits define the kind of person we are, and routine can be thought of as the basis of or even synonymous to habit.

Routines in general are the means by which we structure our activities, and establish order throughout our day. Routines help children learn what is appropriate, acceptable, right, or however you want to say it; it teaches them how to structure their daily life. This includes establishing boundaries, rules, and fostering confidence and independence.

Listed, some discrete benefits of a consistent routine include:

  • Establish boundaries
  • Reduce power struggles and arguments
  • Increase independence and self-reliance (i.e. maturity)
  • Reduce risk for anxiety
  • Eliminate decision making / stressing over when to make dinner (having a menu/meal plan helps with this part too)
  • Smooth transitions

My only suggestion would be to frankly tell your wife how important it is to you that your family have some consistent routines (mealtimes being one of the most important), tell her why it is so important to you, and ask what you can do to help achieve that.

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A 5 year old needs 10-11 hours of sleep. If he needs to get up at, say, 7am to get ready for school, he needs to be asleep by 8-9pm. If it takes a while to get ready for bed, have bath, read books etc and fall asleep, then bedtime routine needs to start at 7-8pm. So he really needs to have his dinner at 5-6pm. What your wife is doing isn't good for your son.

I think a good approach to chore division in a household is that people do the tasks that are the most important to them to be done a certain way. For example if one household member really values a sparkling clean bathroom, it makes sense for that to be their task, than have the other person do it when they feel like it doesn't need cleaning and upsetting the first person who doesn't like using a dirty bathroom.

In this case, since dinner on time is important to you, and you are home early enough to do the cooking, could you gently suggest to your wife that you would like to be in charge of dinner for a while (and maybe the grocery shopping too, so you have what you need)?

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  • Is there evidence behind the dinnertime relative to sleeptime? – user2617804 Aug 14 at 7:25
  • Well you can't eat when you're asleep.... Dinner time could be later, like 7 (or just before the time you've decided bedtime routine should start), but then there's no time for any fun, relaxing, family after-dinner activities. – Erin Aug 14 at 7:29

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