It’s my favourite month. No, not because it’s the month of green beer. March is Nutrition Month! This year the theme is “Unlock the Potential of Food”. I absolutely love this theme because food does in fact have unlimited potential. And, in my 23+ years of working in nutrition, I see how so many people don’t unlock food’s amazing power. Food has 3 important roles in our lives:
· Fuel for our bodies
· A source of pleasure
· Connection to family/ friends and culture
Today, I’m sharing with you a topic that is very near and dear to my heart – food’s potential to bring us together.
It’s no coincidence that I’m writing to you in between shared meals.
Shared meal #1: I belong to a professional development group. After the formal part of our meeting, we gather together for coffee/ lunch. In the 5 years that I’ve been a member of this club, I’ve noticed that while we support each other in our professional development during the formal meeting, it is over these sandwiches and coffee that our bond has deepened from acquaintances to friends.
Shared meal #2: Last night, I celebrated a friend’s 42nd birthday. How did we do so? By going out for dinner. Sure there were some small gifts given. But spending time together over a shared meal and a glass of wine was the real present – every one of the 10 women at the table has a busy life full of careers, husbands, kids, volunteering, etc.
Shared Meal #3: When I finish writing to you I’ll be getting dressed to go out to dinner to celebrate Lunar new year. Our host is Chinese-Canadian. Coming together for a meal is such a natural way for him to share his culture with his friends.
Shared meal #4: I just got off the phone with my Mum. She called to plan the brunch we’ll eat as a family in celebration of Easter.
I know that I’m not alone in this experience. In every culture that I’ve ever studied, people gather together to share food. That’s significant to me. I believe that sharing food is an important part of how we nourish ourselves – our emotional, social selves.
But if you don’t believe in all that and only value physical health, here is what the scientific literature finds as benefits of sharing meals:
Physical Health Benefits
Children who eat with trusted adults have:
· More nutritious diets
· Increased intake of vegetables and fruit
· Decreased intake of pop and other sugar-sweetened beverages
· Lower risk for being overweight
· Less risk of developing eating disorders
Adults who eat with friends and family:
· Eat more vegetables and fruit
· Drink less pop
· Eat fewer meals at fast food restaurants
· Have lower BMI
Now, I encourage you to consider the scientific literature’s findings regarding the potential of sharing meals to benefit mental health:
Mental Health Benefits
· Children who share meals with trusted adults have better academic performance,
· Teens who share family meals get better grades and are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol, or to participate in serious fights.
Wow! Now that’s some serious potential!
How to Implement Sharing Meals
Have I convinced you yet to sit down as a family to share meals? If you are new to family meals, here are some do’s and don’ts:
· DO give everyone at the table a chance to speak.
· DON’T use it as a time to scold or discipline picky eaters.
· DO ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. So, instead of “did you have a good day?”, try asking “tell me something interesting that happened today.”
Also note that sharing family meals doesn’t only mean dinner! If your evening schedule is hectic, share breakfast meals or have brunch together on the weekends. Most studies done on the benefits of family meals start with sharing at least four meals together per week. They all count!