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Dinner – sharing the (no added sugar) love

Eating good quality, nutrient-dense food is an important factor in maintaining optimal physiological and mental health.

However, an often overlooked – yet important – component of the food experience is how we eat it. Is it rushed and on-the-go? Has it been prepared with care and love? Is it shared with those you care about?

Dinner is a perfect opportunity to enjoy a homemade meal slowly and at the table with loved ones. In doing so, there can be multiple benefits for all involved.

Here we share how sweet the shared mealtime can be – no added sugar required. 

Mindful vs distracted eating

Across cultures, the evening meal is considered a time to gather, connect, and reflect. It’s a time to share your experiences of the day and feel safe and relaxed as you tuck into something delicious. 

Feeling safe and relaxed as you eat is important. When you are, the body responds by prioritizing digestion and assimilation of nutrients for use in countless ways.

The opposite takes place when eating while distracted or stressed. Under these circumstances, the body cannot perform its digestive tasks optimally. 

In a state of real or perceived ‘stress’, the body prefers to focus on functions that would help you get away from the stressor rather than helping food breakdown.

In ancient times, this could mean running from a saber-toothed tiger. These days, a typical low-grade yet persistent means of stress is multi-tasking. Eating in front of the TV or device/at the work desk/while driving, and so on is multi-tasking, and may not be the most ideal setting for every meal.

Additionally, when feeling safe and relaxed at the dinner table, there is a wonderful opportunity to eat mindfully. Slowly savouring a meal, one is more aware of the feelings of fullness and satiety, as well as the flavours – it is as if we become more sensitive to what we taste, including sweetness. 

Home prepared vs convenience

What you eat and drink matters, too. Giving your body poor-quality, ultra-processed, and sugar-laden food and drink results in a lack of nutrients to fuel the work it needs to do to help you thrive. 

By preparing most of your food at home, you have more control over what goes into each meal. Convenience meals, sauces, dressings, and the like are hotspots for added sugar. 

While fine on occasion, see what you can do to make positive changes and set a foundation for healthy eating in your home

Connecting to the kids

If you have kids, the benefits of eating an evening meal together are profound. This includes healthier eating behaviour, improved self-esteem and communication skills, and the decreased likelihood of skipping school and drug and alcohol use.

We understand that a big sit down meal EVERY evening may seem a monumental task! 

Good news, even one positive meal a week that the family looks forward to, where everyone pitches in with cooking, cleaning up, and talking at the table, has a benefit.

Make sure it is a safe space where the family can come together and share.

“The mental health and academic benefits in particular flow from what happens at the table once the food arrives. If the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, if children are encouraged to talk and then feel that what they have to say is worth listening to, this is what matters.” says Anne Fishel, a Harvard University professor, family therapist and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project

Keep it simple!

By setting aside each week a handful of mealtime opportunities with loved ones, you can each reap great rewards. Dinner is often the most convenient meal of the day for this and can be an opportunity to savour your food, cook with love, give thanks, and connect. Sounds lovely to us! 

We aren’t saying set aside hours every evening to prepare and eat together (unless you want to, go ahead!). We know for many this is not realistic!

Don’t put yourself or the household under too much pressure.

A simple meal is more than fine and if most nights the household schedule makes it tricky to eat together, start with putting aside just one, regular night a week to eat simply and eat together.

Live alone? Have someone over for the meal or enjoy dinner virtually over video call (you could even have the same meal by cooking up the same recipe!)

In the words of Laurie Colwin:

“The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift.”

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)

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