As a kid growing up in Southern California, with both parents commuting long hours to work and back, we had the responsibility of getting things in place for dinnertime.
My mom would leave a list for the three of us:
Feed the dog. Set the table. Empty the trash cans. Start dinner.
Sometimes I would be outside on my skateboard and see her beige Camaro turning the corner-a sure sign that I had waited way too long to pitch in. Racing inside, I knew I had about seven minutes to look like I was in the midst of some impressive help.
It always worked out and we all knew at the end of busy school and work days we would gather at that circular table surrounded by super weird wallpaper on Ludgate Drive. No TV, no cell phones, no music and no judgment. Just a dependable space to share the happenings about your day, laugh, and sometimes complain.
Afterwards, we would all clear the dishes, snap dishtowels at each other in fun, and (I am not kidding) dance to loud Elton John, Boston, or Carole King. These memories are still vivid and very comforting to me all of these years later.
So why do people not eat dinner together? The average American eats one in every five meals in their car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.
As Michael Pollan wrote in his most recent book, Cooked, meals eaten outside of the home are almost uniformly less healthy than homemade foods, generally having higher fat, salt, and caloric content.
In addition, eating socially (with family), puts our autonomic nervous systems into its parasympathetic state which is meant for/to rest and digest. When we are in fight or flight, as we can be when watching TV, playing video games, eating alone and stressing about deadlines, or eating while working, digestion slows and is inefficient, leading to digestive issues.
So maybe just for today, plan to share one of your home cooked meals (or ours) with a loved one-a friend, caregiver, husband or all three. See if your mood changes and if you feel more relaxed.
If not, grab some Elton John and a couple of dishtowels. Mood enhancer-guaranteed!
Founder, Executive Director
The Atlantic: The Importance of Eating Together. July 18, 2014