The power of shared mealtimes

Today’s fast-paced society and the increasing difficulty of maintaining a positive work/life balance is threatening mealtimes around the world. In a recent study by Unilever among more than 6000 adults in 12 countries (including South Africa) the following was reported:

  • People are less likely to talk to each other and share experiences and hence are more isolated from each other.
  • TV has become ‘a new family member’ at mealtimes according to 84% of South Africans.
  • Work has replaced shared mealtimes according to 64% of South Africans.

Why do we need shared mealtimes?

You probably understand people’s longing for ‘being together’, but you may wonder about the impact of shared mealtimes on health and wellbeing, in particularly for children.

A number of international studies show that children and adolescents who eat dinner with family members are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and are less likely to consume fast foods, sweets and large amounts of carbonated drinks. Children learn by copying their parents and other family members, so the way parents interact with food, prepare it, cook it and eat it provides children with guidance for their future life.

Researchers have argued that improved communication between family members is one benefit of regular family mealtimes. Dinner table conversations are commonly thought of as the time when children learn the majority of their verbal skills but also social manners.

Benefits of shared meal times for the whole family include:

  • Less mindless eating – 67%
  • Are less likely to be overweight or obese – 56%
  • Do better at work/school – 60%
  • Have better relationships – 79%
  • Develop good eating habits for life – 80%

The main barriers towards people having more mealtimes around the table are:

  • working late
  • conflicting schedules
  • lack of time

Cooking time has decreased to a global average of just over 40 minutes, with 17% of the respondents spending less than 15 minutes.

These barriers are a reflection of modern life and are not easy to alter and practical solutions, particularly around meal preparation or healthy eating out of home, are needed to help promote more shared meals.

Furthermore, processed foods, whether it is bread, cheese, canned foods, pre-cut vegetables, ready-to-use soups and sauces or ready meals play an important role in today’s diets. European data show processed foods essentially deliver more than 50% to total intake.

In the study, a series of questions for ‘wishes for family mealtimes’, were asked and the following was reported:

  • I wish my family would put more importance on spending meal times together (73% of South Africans)
  • I like products that do not require cooking skills to prepare (60% of South Africans)
  • I would like more ideas on what to cook (70% of South Africans)

It’s up to you; plan your meals and prioritise work/life activities to increase your weight loss success! For more ideas on what to cook, Slender Wonder’s Recipe book is now available online and from your doctor. There are quick and easy meals for each of the different phases of weight loss and accompanying photographs.


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