I don’t know about you, but cooking and eating are two of my favorite things! I love trying all sorts of dishes and food combinations, and growing up, I’ve always had dinner with my family, no matter what. However, I recently found out that not many families do this, even though there are a lot of benefits that come from eating and cooking together.
Commensality is defined as the act of eating together at the same table. Since ancient times, eating together has been a vital social activity for humans. There are two types of commensality:
- Everyday ordinary commensality — a routine of sharing meals in private within households and close family members.
- Exceptional commensality — an event that takes place in a more open space as occasional public feasts for a larger circle.
But, what are the advantages to commensality? Let’s take a look!
The Benefits of Eating Together
Strengthen Social Relationships
As highlighted by R.I.M. Dunbar in an article about social eating, being able to share a meal with someone else is a great way to form and strengthen relationships and friendships, which is fundamental to one’s wellbeing and happiness. Dunbar even proposes that eating together forms social bonds, and has done so throughout human evolution, rather than the other way around.
Bring Generations Together
Commensality can also be a great way to bring together different generations, whether at school, in the workplace, in open public spaces, at community centers, or other institutions. It has been shown that it improves bonding, encourages conversations, promotes understanding, increases wellbeing and can also be seen as a base for solidarity between generations.
Teach Children the Benefits of Nutritious Food
Family meals are a great example of commensality. Seeing the adults in their lives make healthy, nutritious, and balanced choices can stimulate better eating behaviors, improved mental health, and enhanced communication skills among the children of the household. What often goes unnoticed, is that the social and emotional wellbeing of the parents also improves. While it isn’t always possible to have the entire family eat dinner together on a daily basis, especially as children grow up, picking set days and prioritizing meal times on these days can make it easier, as well as give everybody something to look forward to.
Improve Mental Health
Cooking with other people, even if they’re not our family, can have incredible benefits on our mental health. A study conducted on a group of older people who lived in a nursing home investigated the mental health benefits of cooking sessions. Cooking together made the participants feel more comfortable because it made the nursing facility feel like home. At the end of the study, the participants experienced an improvement in their mental health and quality of life thanks to the ability to interact with more people and feel part of a group.
Eating food also requires unleashing the inner chef from within us. Since we’ve discussed the health benefits of eating together, it’s only fair that we look at some of the perks of cooking together.
Home cooking has many advantages, such as:
- Control. Home cooking can help parents swap non-nutritious ingredients from their children’s meals for healthier options. Moreover, involving children in the cooking and meal preparation process can encourage them to purchase less ready meals, resulting in an overall better health.
- Self-reliance. Meal prepping is a great way to stick to a budget, and to teach children how to prepare healthy and nutritious food using affordable ingredients.
- Connection. When people cook together, they have to think about others’ needs and food preferences. This can lead to the establishment of closer connections and social bonds.
- Traditions. Home cooking enables families to pass on culinary traditions or add more modern touches to them.
- Independence. The ability to cook was regarded by teens as a fundamental skill to have for when they move out and go to college.
As we’ve seen, eating and cooking together can help you lead a healthier and happier life. Choosing to spend the 30 minutes before eating with your family or friends, helping them cook dinner while talking to each other about your day, can help you form stronger ties with them, as well as help you learn new skills. For more healthy lifestyle advice, as well as ways to boost your social health, make sure to dive into the Holisticly Mental Health Journeys!