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You probably have at least one good memory attached to a big meal. Many people do! Special dinners are often celebratory events filled with good food, family and friends.
But at the same time, there's a good chance that you eat alone pretty often. This is super common — life is hectic, and coordinating busy schedules for the sake of eating together can seem like a chore (and a somewhat antiquated one). After all, your group chat requires zero travel time.
Whether it's because food is a universal human need or simply that conversation flows better when bellies are full, here's the truth: You rarely develop a meaningful connection with anyone in life without breaking bread with that person at least once. People share pieces of their lives during meals, and that shared time is precious.
The many benefits of sitting down to eat with others
Carving out time to enjoy a meal with the people who matter to you isn't just important, it's downright healthy! Sharing a meal allows you to express your thoughts about the world and seek advice if you need it. Most importantly, mealtime can be the basis for a lot of special memories and a ton of laughter — it's an opportunity to nourish both your body and your soul.
The benefits don't end there. Studies show that children who eat dinner with their parents regularly experience higher self-esteem and better grades, and they're less likely to drink, use illicit drugs or smoke. They also tend to have improved mental health. During dinnertime, kids are often encouraged to talk about things they'd otherwise keep to themselves — and that kind of strong parent-child communication can make all the difference.
3 Tips for making eating together a habit
Despite your best intentions to eat with your loved ones, sometimes it's just not possible to work around conflicting schedules. That's OK! Balancing your professional commitments with extracurricular activities presents its own issues. Realistically, it might not be possible to eat with your family or friends every night, but you can eat with them more frequently if you think outside the box.
Here are three tips to make mealtime as enriching for your soul as it is for your stomach.
1. Pick at least one day that is nonnegotiable
Try to find at least one day when everyone always eats a certain meal together. If a traditional Sunday dinner isn't your thing, make it a Saturday brunch! You could also schedule a standing lunch date with your partner every Wednesday to take a break from work.
Even if everyone's calendar is jam-packed, there's a good chance they can all still find some time to enjoy a coffee together once every week or two. Simply having something already scheduled makes it easier to stick to — and over time, those consistent meetups become tradition.
2. Make a point to discuss a wide range of issues
Some groups can talk for hours without prompting, but that's not always the case. Worried that it'll be difficult to get the conversation going during these meals? A few conversation starters can go a long way. For instance, you might offer up a high point (and yes, a low point) from your day and encourage everyone else to share theirs. This opens up the conversation and provides everyone a platform to seek input and offer advice.
You can also get creative to keep everyone talking without feeling any pressure. Many grocery stores sell napkins printed with funny sayings and quirky questions that help make mealtime more engaging, and simple card games ensure something new is always happening.
If all else fails, you can always talk about "favorites." It may sound cheesy, but it doesn't have to be in practice! Who doesn't want to talk about their favorite vacation or tell their favorite joke? Try asking someone else in the group about the best (or just plain wildest) trip they've been on or request new TV show recommendations.
3. Get creative
Children thrive in environments that offer routine and structure — but bending the rules around mealtime might be just what your family needs to connect more. If being flexible about what time (or where) you eat once a week helps pull everyone together, then do it!
For example, dining at restaurants can be pricier than making meals at home, but a change of scenery can be fun every so often. Work trip making dinnertime feel like it's missing a piece? Ask your family to video chat with you while you all eat together. Even if you're not physically there, your virtual presence will still have a meaningful impact.
It's definitely OK to eat alone, but the experience of sharing a meal with the people you love is priceless. Eating should bring you physical, social and emotional satisfaction, so let it!
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