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This year Nutrition Month is all about unlocking the potential of food: to fuel, discover, prevent, heal, and bring us together. This is the last post for Nutrition Month 2019. It highlights some of the benefits of sharing food together as well as ideas for increasing opportunities to eat together with friends and family.
Eating Together is Different Now
When I was growing up, we used to have family dinner together almost every night. It was part of the routine – come home from school, hang out and play (not as much homework in my day), pester mom a million times asking, “when’s dinner?”, then we’d all finally sit down and eat. Sometimes we’d have a good chat, other times there would be nothing but the sound of chewing, and of course there were those dinners filled with awkward silence because someone had gotten in trouble earlier. Most nights my dad would tell and inappropriate joke or two and we’d spend most of dinner laughing. Looking back on it, I have nothing but fond memories of family dinners.
Times have changed for most people – about one third of Canadians say it’s challenging to find time to eat meals with friends and family. There are more activities competing for our time than ever before. After-school activities for the kids (and all that homework), a long commute after a long work day, a second job that’s necessary to make ends meet.
Why do we Care About Eating Together?
Personally, I can’t think of many things I enjoy more than sharing a meal with loved ones. Maybe that’s just me. Eating together provides many benefits, besides the experience of connecting with one another, it’s an opportunity to share traditions, learn, communicate and listen to each other.
People of all ages who eat with friends and family tend to enjoy more health-promoting foods. Children and adolescents who eat with family tend to have improved academic performance and preschoolers have better vocabulary. Additionally, teenagers who eat with their families are less likely to engage in harmful behaviours like smoking and using drugs or alcohol. And they actually want to be a part of dinner too. US Surveys of adolescents found that 74% of teens reported liking eating with their families – maybe it’s not just me after all. Older adults also benefit from eating as part of a group. Quality and quantity of food is better, overall nutrient intake is better, and rates of malnutrition are lower.
Ideas for Eating Together More Often
- Any meal will do – it doesn’t have to be a traditional family dinner. If getting together for breakfast before the day starts works better for your family or roommates, do that instead. Or pick a couple nights a week where schedules align and there is time to be together. Do what works best.
- Start a brunch club with friends. So, I did this once and I don’t know why we stopped. It was such a great way to stay in touch and foster social and emotional connection. We picked a set day of the month (third Sunday, for example) and whoever could make it went, and there would always be an extra friend or relative in town to tag along as well.
- Eat lunch with your colleagues. You could even take it one step further and have a lunch prep buddy or group – each person makes lunch for everyone involved in the group one day of the week (or two people split the week in whatever way works best for them). It’s a fun way to get together, reduce food preparation time, and try new foods.
- Go visit grandma for tea time. Our older adults are at greater risk for malnutrition when they live alone, so stopping in regularly for a meal or snack is a great way to help and stay connected. Plus, you might even get to learn about a famous family recipe or a scandalous tale that happened ‘long before your time.’
- Join a community kitchen. Community kitchens can provide a space for people to learn to cook, share meals, and try new foods. These are great options for people living alone or with little or no access to kitchen facilities where they live.
- Make it a device free meal. Maybe you are already eating together, but the phones are out or the TV is on. Try enjoying a meal without devices to improve communication and connection with one another.
What do you like to do to eat together with friends and family? Have any favourite memories you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.
This post was adapted from the Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month campaign materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month at www.NutritionMonth2019.ca