Dining alone? A lot of experts advise against making that a habit, even though most Americans do it.
- 46% of Americans eat dinner alone
- 53% of dinners are planned in the hour before eating
- 60% of families cook separate meals for individual tastes
For people ages 20-29, a recent study showed they’re also more likely to eat while doing other things:
- 31% eat in their car
- 37% eat while on the phone
- 52% eat while working
- 57% eat while watching TV
But meals with friends and family are good for the soul — and maybe even your health.
Still hungry for connection
Despite the rise in grab-and-go dining, people of all ages still value those times when they have company during a meal. That appreciation has a scientific basis.
- Eating alone can lead one to choose convenience over enjoyment of food, which usually means fewer vegetables and generally less nutritious choices.
- Social isolation can also cause feelings of loneliness, which has been connected to heart disease and stroke, among other health issues.
Eating with others satisfies a basic human need for social interaction. Sitting together, no matter what kind of food is served, allows us to connect, which leads to a feeling of contentment and the release of stress. In that relaxed stated, digestion improves, which not only reduces bloating and gas, but also allows for greater absorption of nutrients.
Children in families that eat dinner together regularly tend to:
- Eat healthier foods
- Have a lower rate of eating disorders
- Be less likely to experience substance abuse, and
- Have improved academic achievements.
Dr. Allen Lim, a sports physiologist and cycling coach who worked and cooked for teams at Tour de France, saw firsthand the impact of shared meals during intense athletic training. Cyclists who spent their day laser-focused on their own performance needed that time with colleagues and friends.
In his book Feed Zone Table he writes: “Team dinners reinforced that food isn’t just a source of fuel, as it often seems to be during training and competition. It’s also a source of belonging … It is as important to mind what we eat as it is to eat in a way that fosters intimacy and connection with one another.”
Tips for table togetherness
So how do you have more leisurely meals with people whose company you enjoy? It takes some effort, but here are a few tips:
Simplify meal preparation.
Keep chopped vegetables and meats at-the-ready. That cuts out 20-30 minutes of prep time before you start cooking, so you can get dinner on the table quickly so you can spend your time together, not at the kitchen counter. Make double portions of casseroles or hearty soups and freeze them to eat later.
Get all family members involved.
The whole household can and should be part of the dinner-making effort. Not only will it ease the burden on one person having to cook, but it instills a sense of community in the actual creation of the meal. It also teaches younger children valuable cooking and nutritional skills.
Have regular potlucks.
A formal dinner party puts the burden on the host to cook and make sure that everything is just right. When you just want to spend time with friends, ask them each to bring a dish. Chances are you’ll discover some tasty new recipes and spend more time together.
Set a schedule.
When filling out the week’s calendar, include meals with others. Whether it’s a family dinner, lunch with a co-worker or brunch with a group of friends, think of it as an appointment that cannot be canceled.
Declare no-food zones.
Pledge that you will not eat in your car. Have lunch in the company break room, not at your desk. At home, make a rule that all meals must be eaten at the table, not in front of the TV or the computer.
The obstacles to eating together are real, but so are the benefits. Just as you clear time to get in a workout or relax in front of the TV, you can make shared meals a priority and, in turn, improve your overall well-being.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.