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Health & Wellness

Boost Your Health by Sharing Meals

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We count calories and grams of protein. Debate whether we should go Paleo or give up gluten.

But in all our parsing of what’s on our plate, we may be overlooking an important component of what makes a healthy meal. Namely, other people.

“As a nutritionist, my interest is how we’re nourishing ourselves as a whole person,” says Lisa Cohn, a New York City registered dietitian, “and we know that eating together offers many psychological and benefits that go beyond vitamins and minerals.”

A slew of studies attest to the value of the family meal. According to research compiled by The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit that’s housed at Harvard University, the benefits of sitting down to regular meals as a family may be many.

The perks of connecting around the dinner table may continue even after the kids have left home. Though not focused on interactions over dinner, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society of adults 50 and older suggests that face-to-face interactions with friends and family may be a preventative measure against depression.[1] Contact by phone, text or email doesn’t have the same power.

Here are some ways to step away from the screen and enjoy meals with family and friends, old or new.

* Start a Sunday potluck dinner club. Host the first one yourself, then rotate duties among six or eight friends and families. The website Perfect Potluck makes planning easy with free resources like invitations, sign-up sheets, proven recipes for group meals and automatic email reminders.

* Be a culinary adventurer! Check out some meetup food clubs in your city. These can be based around a particular type of food (gourmet or street food, Asian or Mexican), the age of participants (say, 50 plus), or a neighborhood. Just do a Google search for “meetup,” your location and “food” to get a taste of what’s available.

* Eat with strangers. Communal dining tables are growing up in popularity and showing up everywhere from McDonald’s to the new bistro that opened down the street. It’s a new kind of social dining that allows you to enjoy the company of others with as much interaction as you want. “How’s the macaroni and cheese,” is an easy conversation starter!

* Go on a tasting tour. Whether it’s exploring dumplings at six spots in Chinatown or everything from Italian to Thai in a melting pot tour, these guided culinary excursions are a convivial dining experience. Bonus: you’ll burn some calories walking between restaurants.

* Take a cooking class. For about the cost of a restaurant meal, you can learn some new cooking skills and then sit down to enjoy the freshly prepared meal with your fellow chefs. Plus, you’ll have new recipes for your next potluck!

[1] Does Mode of Contact with Different Types of Social Relationships Predict Depression in Older Adults? Evidence from a Nationally Representative Study; J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Oct;63(10):2014-22. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13667. Epub 2015 Oct 6.

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