Food is often used to bring people together, but are there any proven benefits to sitting down and having a meal with someone?

Whether it’s a potluck with neighbors, a picnic with friends or a dinner with family, food is often used to bring people together, whether it be sharing a meal with a friend you’ve known for a long time or someone you’ve just met. You can share a piece of your culture and make someone feel welcome with a meal together, but are there any tangible health benefits? 

A study conducted by the University of Montreal concluded that family meals have long-term benefits on a child’s physical and mental well-being. Children who ate more meals and higher quality ones with their family drank less soft-drinks and were more active and expressed less physical and behavioral aggression. 

[Sharing meals plays a role in various different cultures.] Sofia Villareal is a current ninth grader from Guanajuato, Mexico. She usually eats about three meals a week with her family due to her family’s busy schedule, but when she gets a chance, she enjoys sitting down with her dad and cousin. 

“[Food] is a way [to] bring all of my families different generations together, as we have recipes that [have been] passed down through generations,” Villareal said.“We are all kind of connected through different dishes that many of our ancestors made.”

She also noted that at family reunions there’s always lots of cooking and eating, functioning as a way to bring everyone together regardless of age. Villareal also shared that she feels closer to her family through cooking, describing her strong relationship with her grandmother.

“She loves cooking for me all the time[, especially]whenever [I] visit her,” Villareal said.

She also noted how important food is to Mexican traditions. “This connects us with our ancestors, so that is a big part of why food is important to us,” Villareal said. “Those dishes have been passed on for many generations.” An example is Día de los Reyes where families come together to eat a large bread called Rosca.

A study by Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology confirms Villareal’s sentiment, indicating that many participants felt there was someone they should make more effort to see or spend time with, and of those people most people thought they should do it over a shared meal. Essentially, the researchers discovered that most people like using a meal or food to catch up with someone, which can bring them closer together. While there are no proven benefits from this, it should be noted that it is an important part of socializing for many people. 

Richard Prinz,therapist at MVHS and teacher of a parenting class, hypothesizes that teens can often avoid dinnertime because it can feel like an interrogation and they worry that their parents will question them about grades or be upset about other matters. 

“So I think everybody has a responsibility [to] make [family dinnertime] a pleasant experience and something that people want to do,” said Prinz. “Everybody [has to] be committed to getting to know each other.”

Prinz also describes the benefits of eating together as a family.

“It’s a time to practice a lot of good qualities: generosity, patience, tolerance, understanding and empathy,” said Prinz. “Try to devote that time to developing those skills and practicing [them].”

Prinz shares how when he goes golfing, his friends and himself all bring snacks to share, showing the valuable quality of generosity to one another. 

He also noted that physical touch is quite important in any relationship and how being at the dinner table with someone can provide time to share a space together. Prinz goes on to share tips for families to try and eat together more often.

“Having a fixed time is good,” said Prinz. “[Tell] everybody, this is when we eat, [and it’s up to you to] plan your schedule around this so that there’s no [cancellations].”

Prinz also shows how the attitude of parents themselves can promote eating together to their children.

“What can help the quality [of dinnertime] is parents really valuing this time with their kids,” said Prinz. “To really bond and and get to know each other, in a loving way,ot to be overcome with fear and worry about their future.”

“[Parents should be] present and really being interested and curious and loving. And respectful. Not lecturing, but encouraging,” said Prinz. “Trying to understand more [of] their interests, [and] getting really interested in what’s going on.”

Aruna Venkateswaran, a ninth grader at MVHS, typically eats dinner with her family everyday. 

“It’s really the only time that I get to have a one on one conversation with my parents,” Venkateswaran said. I think if we didn’t have family dinner time, I would sort of lose the time to tell them what I did during the day or what was exciting or boring and stuff like that.” 

Venkateswaran said that after school she is very busy with homework and extracurriculars, as are most kids, so dinner is designated time with no distractions and  one of the few moments she gets uninterrupted family time. 

“Talking as a family is something that’s very special, you know,” said Venkateswaran “Food brings everybody together, especially family. And sometimes you learn things about your family that you never knew.”

Venkateswaran notes that the majority of her family’s conversations during weekdays  happen over dinner. For example, her Dad often shares memories of his time in college over a simple dinner.

“I think that I’m really lucky to be able to like sit down with a roof over my head and eat good food that my mom makes,” Venkateswaran said. It’s important because the only time I really get to know about my history or my culture is when I get to talk with my family.” 

Alice P. Julier, a sociologist and author of the book Eating Together, examines how food plays a role in opening peoples’ eyes. She argues that food brings people of different backgrounds together, and how over a meal, each can share their experience with social issues. Julier thinks that a meal is a personal affair and that people tend to view each other more equally at a dinner table.

Eating with friends and family means something different for everyone. Whether food is a way to spend time with your family or connect with your ancestors, anyone can come together for a good meal.

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