The dinner table has long been a cherished icon of American culture, signifying connection, communication and shared experience. While mealtime with loved ones and friends may be a staple of the holiday season, the frequency often decreases dramatically during the rest of the year. Work schedules, family commitments and the daily churn may make regular “sit-down-dinners” seem nearly impossible. However, the advantages of enjoying a meal with others far outweigh the excuses. As you gear up for a healthier year, take a look at a few ways that sharing meals can benefit your physical and psychological health.
You’re likely to eat smarter. According to Stanford University, Americans consume one out of every five meals in the car . It’s no secret that when eating alone on the go, you’re likely to make less nutritious choices and eat hurriedly without stopping to consider whether you’re still hungry. Sitting down to share a meal with others is an opportunity to slow down the pace, as you’re likely to pause between bites to engage in conversation. These pauses are chances to listen to your body and be mindful of signals that you may not have room for more. As an added bonus, frequency of shared meals is associated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables . Try practicing mindful eating to reap the full benefits of engaging with others while focusing on your meal.
Mealtime can foster community. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates or family helps to promote connectedness and belongingness, protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress. Mealtime is an opportunity to bond and engage with others by sharing experiences, offering support and improving communication. To encourage interaction, optimize your mealtime environment by turning off the television and ensuring that mobile devices are out of sight.
Likelihood of risk-taking behavior may decrease. Sharing meals together, especially as a family, has been linked with decreased risk-taking and destructive behaviors. This includes lower likelihood for alcohol misuse, illegal drug use, as well as suicide related behavior . One study indicates that youth who ate a meal with their family five or more days a week were half as likely to consider suicide. Additionally, those who experienced depressive symptoms within the previous year who regularly shared meals with others were also less likely to consider suicide during that timeframe . Actively engaging with others during mealtime can enable early recognition of distress, providing the opportunity for proactive support and care.
Don’t think you have enough time to sit down and eat with your shipmates and loved ones? Start by committing to achievable goals, like setting aside thirty minutes one day per week to build a routine. Get everyone involved in the decision-making process, and remember, any meal can be a shared meal (not just dinner on a weeknight!). Plan your meals in advance to minimize stress and spending while maximizing nutrition. To promote connection among shipmates, organize a regularly occurring potluck within your unit or association.
Make your mealtime an opportunity to step away from your hectic day and connect with others on a personal level. Fostering engagement is 1 Small ACT that can help you be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.
- What’s for Dinner? (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://news.stanford.edu/news/multi/features/food/eating.html
- Oregon Shared Meals Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from https://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/Nutrition/SharedMeals/Pages/index.aspx
- Utah Health Status Update: Risk and Protective Factors to Youth Suicide. (2015, February 1). Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://health.utah.gov/opha/publications/hsu/1502_Suicide.pdf