As the holidays quickly approach, many of us look forward to sharing meals together with our family and friends during the last few months of the year. Maybe it’s the somewhat slower pace of the season, a sense of tradition or just a need for connection, but these communal meals are a departure from the norm for most of us. In fact, according to a 2017 report on the transformation of the American meal released by The Hartman Group, 53% of breakfasts are eaten alone as well as 44% of lunches. When it comes to dinner, many family members eat alone or at different times due to schedule conflicts or differing food preferences.
These statistics don’t seem all that surprising, however, when we examine the state of our calendars. For most, we are juggling a whole lot between our various commitments and “mealtime” occurs when there is a hole in our schedule, not something we add in proactively. But what if our on-the-go, convenience-based mealtimes are causing us to miss out on health benefits? Turns out, that just might be the case.
Social Connections Promote Longevity
Research conducted by Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, has shown people with stronger social connections are happier, healthier and live longer than their peers. In fact, strong personal relationships may help protect our memory as we age. Nurturing current relationships is important and eating together is an enjoyable way to strengthen and build connections.
Family Meals Benefit Children
Eating together as a family has been associated with a number of benefits for children including improved academic performance and better diet quality later in life. Connecting and enjoying food as a family provides the youngest members of our communities an advantage, as well as gives adults an opportunity to spend quality time with the children in their lives.
Some other benefits of eating together may include relieving stress after a long day, developing and improving communication skills as well as creating meaningful meal traditions. Overall, carrying a bit of the holiday spirit with us throughout the year may prove to provide immense benefits for our mental, emotional and physical health.
Dana Peters, MS, RD is an account executive at FoodMinds, based in our Chicago office.