Imagine there was one simple thing you could do to ensure your kids ate less junk food and got better grades, your parents stayed healthier longer and you felt less stressed. Sounds like magic, right? Actually, it’s something a bit more commonplace than that: dinner.
Though researchers aren’t sure exactly why it works, several studies have found a connection between eating a meal together and our physical and mental health. The advantages seem particularly strong for kids, who benefit from seeing healthy eating habits and positive communication modelled at the dinner table, but, according to Twyla Nichols, the coordinator of YWCA Halifax’s Food First program, we all stand to gain something when we make time to eat together. “When you sit down and eat, you’re relaxing,” she notes. “You slow down.”
This is especially true for seniors, who tend to be at a higher risk for social isolation. Communal meals help by taking the focus off eating and placing it on conversation, community and enjoyment.
Nichols has seen some of the benefits firsthand. She hosts a Food First program complete with a free lunch at YWCA Halifax every other week for around a dozen women. It’s open to all ages, but is mainly attended by seniors. Nichols says that without the communal meal, many of these women would likely be lonely, which can have a serious impact on mental health. “A lot of them are also widows, so if they didn’t have that type of thing to do, they would be alone,” she says. (Many are also low-income, which is why she also puts together a monthly calendar with food-related activities ranging from a trip to the food bank to farmers’ market visits.)
But for most of the women in the group, the biggest benefit is social. Many have developed lasting friendships, Nichols says, which makes breaking bread together all the more important.
Learn more about how food security affects all Canadians on the Food Secure Canada website. If you or someone you know is struggling with food security, visit Food Banks Canada to find one near you. If you’d like to help serve a community meal, volunteer to prepare and serve a meal at your local homeless shelter.