Being a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) has its fair share of challenges. I am well acquainted with the difficulties in being the primary caregiver of our children, and as anyone who has taken on this responsibility knows, the demands on your time, energy, and attention make it so that by the end of the day, you're longing for your spouse to appear and help ease the burden.

When evening finally does arrive, along with the much needed second wave of support, most parents are so exhausted and spent that all they want to do is sit down on the couch and be left alone. In other words, preparing and cooking a meal is not high on their wish list.

The Importance of Mealtime

However, I am a strong believer in the importance of sitting down to at least one meal as a family, and with school and work and the busy schedules that most of us lead, this usually boils down to dinner.

Unfortunately, this is the also the most difficult meal to prepare. That is not to say that it is impossible, and the quality time that can be spent with your kids and spouse should not be taken for granted. Furthermore, experts are beginning to realize more and more that family mealtime can have an influence on the health and well-being of your children.

In fact, studies have shown that families that eat their meals together report lower incidences in substance abuse, eating disorders, and weight problems in their children. Now, researchers have found that children with asthma actually benefit from having family meals.

Health Benefits

The study, published in the journal Child Development, followed 200 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years who were persistent asthma sufferers. Persistent asthma differs from asthma in that sufferers generally have to take medication more frequently and need to be more vigilant about avoiding allergens.

It is also more important for these children to maintain routines in their lives to help them keep their condition under control. With this in mind, children in the study were monitored during mealtime with their families, which is a time of the day where parents can develop healthy routine.

What researchers observed was that even though the average mealtime lasted only 18 minutes, the level and quality of the interactions during this time were linked to the state of the child's health. In other words, children in families that spent their mealtime talking and sharing how their days went had better health.

Encourage Your Own Family Mealtime

The benefits having regular family meals can extend beyond the physical health of your child. Eating meals as a family is a great way to spend quality time together, which goes a long way to strengthening emotional bonds between family members and maintaining domestic bliss.

So make sure your family takes the time to sit down and eat together, and here are some helpful tips to help make the most of these moments.

  1. Make mealtime a priority. When life is crazy and hectic, it is easy to take this time for granted, but it is also when spending quality time is most needed, so make sure it is high up on the priority list.
  2. Keep it simple. Meals don't have to be complicated as long as they are balanced and nutritious. Simple meals increase the likelihood that dinner will take place in a timely and consistent manner.
  3. Be consistent. Parents can take steps to ensure that meals occur regularly so that the family look forward to eating together at the same time.
  4. Listen to your family. Paying attention to the likes and dislikes of your spouse and kids can go a long way to making meals more enjoyable and thereby increasing their anticipation and cooperation.
  5. Have themes. Centering meals around a theme (i.e., Taco Tuesdays) can be fun and festive and also add excitement and anticipation to a meal.
  6. Order take-out or a pizza. The important point is to spend time together, and sometimes parents just need a break. Purchasing food does not preclude quality time spent together as a family.
  7. Work as a team. Getting everyone involved helps to ease the burden on the cook while teaching kids (and spouses) about responsibility as well as an appreciation of the time and effort that it takes to cook meals.
  8. Make sure your spouse is on board. While work can often infringe upon time at home, especially in the early evening hours, make sure both parents understand the importance of family time together.
  9. Go wireless. Turn off TVs, radios, and other electronic devices. These distractions will completely detract from the quality time you spend at the table.
  10. No reading zone. As much as we like to encourage kids to read, the supper table is no place to peruse books, newspapers, or magazines. This goes for moms and dads, as well.

Mealtime is an important part of family life, and one that should not be taken for granted, keeping in mind that kids grow up quickly, and before you know it, they'll be eating their meals at their own tables with families of their own.

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