Challenges and Benefits of the Family Meal

Thanksgiving family meal

Here in Canada, we just celebrated Thanksgiving, an occasion where family members gather together to share a home-cooked family meal and give thanks for all their blessings. We give thanks for the food and we give thanks for each other.

This annual ritual of gratitude is all the more precious since it is hard to find time for today’s family to eat together anymore. Over the past couple of decades the frequency of family dinners has decreased by 33%. Long gone are the days when Mom spends hours every day in the kitchen, lovingly cooking healthy meals for her family to enjoy around the dinner table. That vision seems more like a scene from a 50s period movie, heavily salted with nostalgia, than anything remotely real or commonplace. Is it even socio-economically feasible anymore?

Challenges to Eating Together

Consider these statistics drawn from a 2017 study that compares 1960 to 2016; not only has life sped up over the last few decades with both parents in the workforce, and become more erratic with the rise of the gig economy and more restless with the distractions of technology, the composition of households have changed as well. 

  • Unrelated roommates: 1960 – 1.9%; 2016 – 6.6%
  • Living alone: 1960 – 13.1%; 2016 – 28.1%
  • Other relatives living together: 1960 – 6.3%; 2016 – 8.7%
  • Single parents: 1960 – 4.4%; 2016 – 8.7%
  • Married couples without children: 1960 – 30.1%; 2016 – 29 %
  • Married couples with children: 1960 – 44.2%; 2016 – 18.9%

Clearly, today’s household structures are much more diversified compared with 1960. The traditional family unit of a couple with children just isn’t as prevalent anymore, while the number of people who live alone has grown dramatically.

But that’s not to say, despite all the challenges, that it isn’t still worthwhile to try to sit down with others for regular meals — whether that means meals with friends or with blood relations, with or without children. The most fundamental concept of connecting with loved ones while sharing food is still strong.

Most American adults who live together with or without children express a desire “to eat at home together.” Why is that? Why is eating with others so special?

Benefits of Eating Together

Survival is at the root of it. Food is essential for life. On a primal level, sharing food is a powerful statement of trust and caring for one another. Eating together with loved ones, especially if it is a regular, convivial event, develops a sense of group identity forged by this trust and caring which in turn provides support, security and a sense of well-being.

Meals eaten in this sort of environment are better digested, leading to better health. And that isn’t even taking into account the fact that sit- down, home-cooked meals are generally more nutritionally sound than take-out or prepared foods. In other words, the sharing of food contributes as much to health as the nutritional content of that food.

Loneliness is now considered to be an epidemic in North America. Since we have evolved to seek safety in numbers, being alone is felt at some deep level as a security risk. Loneliness is felt as dangerous and the body goes into a defensive mode, triggering stress hormones and raising blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammatory cells to deal with the crisis. Which is all fine if there were a real short lived danger, but this type of stress as a way of life will eventually make you sick.

The benefits for children of having regular family meals are particularly compelling. Children thrive with consistency and a structured environment. It gives them the sense of safety that allows them to test limits and grow. The family meal, especially if it is regular and characterized by a relaxed respect for one another, is the perfect family ritual to not only develop this sense of safety, but also to impart the values of the family — the norms and expectations to live within the family group and by extension, within society.

Among children and/or teens, regular family meals can:

  • Reduce substance abuse and pregnancy
  • Improve academic performance and self-esteem
  • Improve vocabulary and ability to engage in conversation
  • Lower the rate of obesity and eating disorders

For both adults and children, family meals can lead to less stress, and better connection between the members of the family. The family meal can provide support on so many levels, it is one of the best health-producing rituals out there.

Let’s Pasta: Continuing The Tradition of the Italian Family Meal

Those societies in the developed world with a food culture that values mealtime as a source of enjoyment and social interaction as much as its nutritional value, tend to enjoy better health

This is certainly true in Italy where the dinner table is the symbolic center of the family and of Italian culture in general. In Italy, the family meal is a sacrosanct ritual where core philosophies, values and identity are affirmed and passed on; values such as the importance of conversation, laughter and good company.

Gathering together for a family meal is considered to be a basic component of health and life, as powerfully vivifying as the food itself. In fact, the two are inextricably entwined in Italian culture. Traditional Italian food plays an important part in Italian identity and the family meal is where knowledge about food and its importance is fostered and celebrated.

That’s how Let’s Pasta began. Let’s Pasta is a natural extension of our family’s dinner table, continuing the food and traditions of our Italian culture. We recognize that time constraints in modern life are some of the most difficult barriers to establishing the habit of regular family meals. People don’t have the time to prepare meals as often as they used to. 

Here at Let’s Pasta, we like to think that we are helping families in this regard by doing the cooking for you, so your family can enjoy all the benefits of the sit-down family dinner, without spending hours in the kitchen.