Why eating together is healthier for families


Written by Beef + Lamb NZ Nutritionist Regina Wypych

We’ve all got memories of shared meals with family and friends. One that comes to mind for me is when my grandmother accidentally dropped a huge cream-filled, fish dish in the lounge and proceeded to cry hysterically. My parents on the other hand went into absolute panic mode trying to save their new carpet and we kids just stood back entertained by the shenanigans. But once grandma was calmed down and everything was sorted, we all sat around the table (minus that fish-dish) and couldn’t stop laughing at the fiasco that had ensued.

Yet there is another memory that comes to mind of the summer of shared family meals when one of our whānau was struggling with anxiety and depression. Although we did our best to tautoko (support) our family member, as imperfect beings, I’m sure we didn’t always say or do the right thing. But the one consistent is that we were there for them offering our aroha.

In this day and age of increasing numbers of people challenged with mental health issues, it is vital to know that food is more than a fuel and a provider of all important nutrients. The sharing of kai around a table is about meaningful connection, the sharing of ideas, arguing, laughing, caring, crying, making new friends, trying new foods and expressing love.

However, new research involving more than 1000 parents, grandparents, caregivers and children nationwide, reveals that almost 80% of Kiwi kids wish they could have more family dinners together and almost all of them say they enjoy sitting down to dinner together as a family. This comes as the same study finds that fewer than half of New Zealand children eat dinner with their family every night.

There are five regions in the world where people live longer than average and are considerably happier, they’re called the Blue Zones. As nutritionists we often focus in on the shared food characteristics of these groups but there are other important longevity & happiness clues that can’t be overlooked. These include social engagement, family, healthy social circles and no time urgency.

So let’s look after our mental health and those of our loved ones. Forget individually-focused poke bowls, to feed a crowd you can’t go past the kiwi tradition of a classic roast or quality piece of meat alongside a heap of gorgeous, seasonal vege. Let’s slow down and enjoy unhurried evening meals with those we care for, create memories and be there for each other.