We have discussed a lot about what factors go into positive food experiences, and examined them from many different angles. Now let’s have a heart to heart talk on making mealtime matter, why it matters, and how to put mealtime as a main event in your life instead of on the back burner.
Mealtime matters to our bodies and our minds. Mealtime helps us physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually in our varied activities.
We are often so hurried, that meals are pretty much on the go. Going to a local drive-thru, grabbing a quick sandwich at a grocery store, and putting your favorite snack in your bag to munch on later, have all become the norm. Our responsibilities with work, home, school, and social activities have all become more important than the food we put into our bodies. Ironically, food is what keeps us going. Food is what makes our bodies function in order to do those activities with work, home, school, or other endeavors. Yet somehow food becomes less important.
Why is making mealtime matter so important?
Here we refer to mealtime as not just getting your favorite meal at a drive-thru. Mealtime refers to making time for a meal. It refers to sitting down by yourself or with friends, family, or other associates and eating a meal. No matter what the meal is (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, appetizers at a social event, etc.), it means putting the focus of your attention on the food.
The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit organization at Harvard University, has an excellent collection of research studies on the benefits of family mealtime. According to them, “Some of the specific benefits of family dinners are:
• Better academic performance
• Higher self-esteem
• Greater sense of resilience”
Additionally, mealtime promotes social wellbeing. Mealtime fosters ideas and creativity. Mealtime encourages a sense of giving. For example, cooking a special meal for someone’s birthday, anniversary, or other special event. When we focus on the food, we focus on them. Mealtime promotes socialization and the development of communication skills. It is a means to interact with those around you.
Mealtime stimulates health and good digestion. If food is reduced to a sideline event, we often have to wolf down something to eat in order to get to the next event or activity. Many times that results in indigestion, illness, or other health issues. By eating together, or making time to eat (if eating alone), you are allowing the food to digest properly. You are allowing yourself the appropriate amount of food and liquid.
So with all of these benefits, what are some steps you can take in making mealtime matter to you, your family, your friends, or all of those with whom you eat?
Set aside time for meals.
Whether you mark it on the calendar as a specific event or occurrence, or just make a mental note. Ensure that everyone with whom you eat knows what time is mealtime. For example, in our family, 6-7 p.m. is usually our dinnertime. Sometimes that varies depending on the day. Actively setting aside time for a meal, rather than saying, “We’ll just grab something to eat on our way to the game.” helps you to mentally prepare for the meal, and helps you to physically prepare as you schedule other activities around mealtime (too often it is the other way around; we schedule mealtime around other activities). Even little children prefer routines and make time for meals.
Focus on the people.
No matter who you are eating with, focus on them. What are some of their favorite foods? Do some of them like to cook and have time to do so? Try to involve people in the mealtime process. As you do that, mealtime becomes a memorable event rather than having someone hand them a plate of food.
Set aside electronic devices.
We are often literally connected to our electronic devices. With ear buds, Bluetooth, clips, or other gadgets, we are connected almost 24/7. Our phones, tablets, laptops, or other devices are within arm’s reach (or with the Apple watch, literally on your arm). At mealtime, set those things aside. If you receive a phone call, let it go to voicemail. You can return the call later, but you cannot replicate the time given for that meal.
There is an expression that says, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” A similar phrase could be used for mealtimes. Capture the moment with mealtimes. You don’t get that time back. If others know that you have set aside time for meals, they will respect that and honor your schedule. The same is true for children’s activities. You can help all family members understand the importance of mealtime. They may get frustrated, but in the end they will grow to appreciate that time you had together.
Put your heart into mealtime. Maybe making a certain meal conjures up in your mind a story from your childhood or a recent experience. As you relate that story or experience, people come to appreciate that time. They can learn more about you and others with whom they eat.
As you do these things, you make mealtime matter. You feel more relaxed and in control of your day. You feel like you are making a difference in people’s lives.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How have you made mealtime matter to you? What things do you and your family do to set aside time for meals and make them memorable? How have you felt as you have done so?