Togetherness and Mealtimes: Sharing the connection of family and food

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Winter is a time for comfort food and home-cooked meals. The oven can be turned on once again, its warmth appreciated rather than riled. Delicious scents emanate from the kitchen as homes fill with familiar smells that simply make us feel good. The blustery and chilly days of winter often keep us indoors.

It may be a memory from a grandmother, a favourite chocolate brownie recipe or a pot of aromatic tomato and basil soup that ensures we gravitate to the kitchen; it’s about familiarity, feeling connected and the comforts of home.

Big stock pots of soup made from the bounty of fall simmer on stove tops, stews slowly bubble, cakes and cookies turn golden as they bake.

Crisps and crumbles made from the abundance of apples gathered in the fall can be baked, stored in the freezer and consumed all winter long, preserving the memory of a fun apple-picking day at the orchard.

Delicious baked spaghetti squash can be appreciated through winter; butternut squash adds substance to soups and stews. Winter eating can be healthy; vegetables collected in the fall are packed with nutrients and vitamins and many will store for weeks or months.

The importance of eating together cannot be underestimated. There is something very special about sitting down together with family and friends to share a meal, no matter how small or insignificant the offerings.

The warmth of a kitchen in winter, the gathering of familiar faces sees people gravitate to simmering soups, warming casseroles or bubbling sweet fruit pies.

Some families seldom experience the joy of sitting at a table with others to eat a meal together. Kids eat alone in bedrooms, while they are using the computer or perched in front of a television screen. It’s a learned behaviour. Once upon a time, families would sit together at the table for all meals.

The 21st century saw a move away from this most basic and important ritual as family members proceeded to eat different meals on different schedules. Life got busy, schedules became chaotic and technology came along invading our lives like never before as families simply drifted apart. Twenty-first century life has become disjointed and in our so-called connected world, families have become disconnected.

Eating alone all the time isn’t good for us. Eating together is therapeutic, even if it’s only for one meal a day. Eating at a table with others gives us a chance to talk to one another, discuss the day or the latest world event, share anxieties or celebrate something special. It’s quality bonding time. People need conversation and face- to-face communication. It’s a small but extraordinarily effective thing: getting back to basics, carving out meaningful slots of time to spend with family during mealtimes.

Family dinners build relationships and it is recognized that kids do better in school as a result.

Studies show that children who do not eat meals with family members are more likely to encounter absenteeism issues at school. They are also more likely to be overweight. Those who did eat meals with family showed in studies to be better off academically, were less likely to use drugs or alcohol and generally chose more healthy food choices.

Food doesn’t have to glamorous or fancy: even the simplest meal choices eaten together can have enormous benefits enhancing our quality of life.

In her book “A Book of Mediterranean Food”, Elizabeth David wrote in 1950 about how we eat rather than what we eat.

Many countries around the world embrace the act of meal preparation as a family where eating together is a ritual, something not to be rushed, but savoured and enjoyed. Even the poorest people living in the poorest countries globally make and consume food together no matter what the food is or how much (or little) they have to work with. Mealtimes in some cultures are respected and sacred as food is prepared and consumed in a slow, mindful and meaningful manner.

The experience of sitting down together at a table doesn’t have to include the formality of a linen tablecloth, fine china or fancy flatware. Enjoying food with others is about laughing together and the act of sharing time with others, immersing one’s self in conversation, exchanging the stories of the day.

Eating together can make us feel relaxed and content and is often associated with positive feelings and pleasant memories. It’s a universal experience. It’s even known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels and can help improve digestion. It has also been linked to reducing the likelihood of chronic disease, thereby increasing longevity.

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art,” said 17th- century writer François de La Rochefoucauld. You just have to be motivated and willing to change old habits.

Sitting together at the kitchen table, a mother can bond with a child; a brother with a sister. It’s a learning experience for the child as new behaviors are observed. Go one step further and drag the kids along to the local farmers’ market. Get them to check out the produce with you and allow them to help with selection. Allow them to participate in the process and work in the kitchen preparing the meal. It is well documented that kids who are exposed to all elements of food preparation carry it with them through to adulthood. And while not necessarily a scientific fact, it’s often said that couples who eat together, stay together.

Passing skills onto the next generation, instilling a passion for cooking and the benefits that come with sharing mealtimes is vital. Restoring family traditions and having little ones make new traditions is the true essence of family life. Memories of grandma’s chocolate chip cookies or dad’s slightly-burned macaroni and cheese should be preserved and carried through the generations.

Eating together is about securing connections, developing social skills, establishing new traditions as old recipes are preserved and new ones are created. We all have to eat, so why not do it together and make mealtimes more meaningful.

Eat simply and eat together.
— Elizabeth David (1913-1992)


Originally Published: December 4, 2017

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Sharon Harrison, Contributor

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Sharon Harrison is a writer, editor and former intellectual property administrator and consultant. Whether editorialist, columnist or freelance reporter, Sharon is a storyteller, photographer, researcher and contributor to many lifestyle publications and media outlets including Grapevine, The Link, The Wellington Times and Countylive. When not hunting for the next interesting story or capturing the perfect photograph, Sharon has a penchant for nutrition and healthy living — and dark chocolate. A foodie, life-long gardener and art lover with a curiosity for mosaics, her inspiration for life comes from the picturesque beauty of Prince Edward County.