The pandemic has forced us to spend more time together than before and that means eating together. PICTURE: Unsplash
The pandemic has forced us to spend more time together than before and that means eating together. PICTURE: Unsplash

The importance of breaking bread together

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Nov 10, 2020

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As difficult as the Covid-19 pandemic has been, there are some good things that have come out of it. One is that families are going back to spending more time eating together.

In September, I spoke to Brent Lindeque who said he and his husband have made family time mandatory and most of that is when they are eating together.

“During our old ’normal’, we weren’t sitting together during dinner. We would sit in the lounge and watch TV while eating. But during the lockdown we decided to use this time to bond, to eat dinner together.”

Dairy brand Lancewood has also conducted a study to find out just how many South Africans valued quality time with their families and how often they ate together.

The study, which quizzed 2 100 people, revealed that 89% of respondents believe that quality time with their family is important.

However, many indicated that this is not always possible due to our increasingly demanding, fast-paced, modern lifestyles.

Almost half (45%) of the respondents spend their mealtimes watching TV or using their phones.

In positive news, 59% of the respondents said the lockdown allowed them to eat together more often, while 43% are cooking together more.

I spoke to Dr Ilse de Beer, a psychologist about the psychology of food and why it’s important we get back to the basics of eating together as a family.

What are some of the psychological benefits of eating food together as a family?

Connection. This is very important for our psychological health. Humans have an innate desire to connect with other humans. By eating together, even if it is just one meal, we have social interaction with each other. This is one of the basic and essential reasons for the existence of families.

Emotional support. When we spend quality time together, and if we do it on a regular basis, we are able to support the people we love and care about. You make time for each other, see each other in person and buy into each other’s lives.

Sense of comfort and joy. Eating food together creates an opportunity for us to relax and have a good time. If families spend quality time together, they can create memories together and family meal time can become a haven of safety and joy.

A lot of people use food as a coping mechanism to deal with whatever crisis they are facing. Has the modern lifestyle we are living in a way contributed to the toxic relationships we have developed with food?

Yes it has. Especially in the sense of feeling alone and disconnected. Having a healthy relationship with food is made easier by having balanced and healthy meals together as families. The structure and sense of community and belonging of eating together bring normality and balance to our eating habits. It is not just the eating that is important here, but also the time spent with our support network.

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How then do we start to have a healthier relationship with food?

One of the things we can do is having meals together as a family. This makes the following possible:

If our children rely on us to provide a healthy and balanced meal, it is easier to be present in that moment and to join in.

Having the structure of family meal times, sets a good example and healthy boundaries of when and how we should eat. It also allows us to set time aside to prepare meals and to eat.

It can contribute to having a positive association with food. The sum is more than the parts. Eating is just one part of having family time together (although it is a very important one). Social connection, feeling a sense of belonging and having fun together while we relax is just as important.

Once we can make this connection, between eating and being connected, balanced, healthy and relaxed, it can contribute to a healthier relationship with food.

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