I grew up in a family that ate together every single night. One of me, my brother or my sisters was summoned to set the table at 5:30 every evening, like clockwork, and we sat down to eat with our mom and dad 20 minutes later. In hindsight, I’m amazed that my mom pulled that off every day—especially when we were small. She managed to get a homecooked meal on the table every evening with four kids under the age of eight underfoot.
So many of my friends also came from homes where this was the norm, because we all had parents who were raised the same way. But for the generation of kids after me, where both parents worked longer hours out of the home (for many reasons, including economic challenges and a larger focus on career achievement), the practice of eating regular meals as a family was more of an anomaly.
Maybe that’s why a recent study conducted by Sunkist, a provider of more than 40 varieties of fresh citrus year-round, showed that more than half of millennials in Canada—56%—choose to eat the majority of their meals at home alone. And with this in mind, it isn’t surprising that 3 in 4 millennials (73%) report feeling disconnected from their friends and family, despite having more modes of communication than ever before (I mean, you can’t hug a text message!).
Perhaps mealtime is where we start, in terms of addressing this issue of disconnection. It’s a proven fact that shared meals, as well as conversation and experiences, increase feelings of happiness; this boils down to face-to-face interactions, rather than relying on technology to maintain relationships (in fact, a whopping 91% of Canadian millennials surveyed feel more connected to their loved ones when they make time to see them, though only 29% say they make this a priority).
For many people, cooking and eating together is an expression of love. That’s why so many families have traditions around food, and have recipes passed down through generations. (In my family, my grandmother’s dogeared recipe cards are as treasured as her wedding rings.) But for those lacking the anchor of meals as a place to congregate and share, all is not lost. It’s never too late to start traditions to take forward, to teach the next generation. Although this doesn’t happen overnight, here are five ways to help bring people back to the dinner table to establish more meaningful connections:
- Start small. You aren’t going to go from eating alone every night to a sit-down family meal every day of the week. Make it a priority to eat with your family, including your kids, two nights a week, and see if you can increase the frequency gradually.
- Extend a standing weekly dinner invitation. Offer to host a weekly (or even bi-weekly meal), on a recurring night of the week. No close family nearby? Your friends will probably jump at the chance to not have to cook or eat alone.
- Make recipes you’re excited about. If you’re delighted by the meal, you’re way more likely to want to share with others (or go the nostalgic route and find meals you remember from your childhood!).
- Involve everyone who lives in your house. Entice your kiddos and your partner to join you in the kitchen (there was always music playing when my mom was cooking, so the kitchen was the place to be!). Even small kids can take on simple meal prep tasks.
- Open the door. If you’re feeling lonely, call the neighbours! Don’t wait for a special occasion. An impromptu Tuesday night barbecue is just as lovely as a fully planned sit-down dinner party.
Sharing is at the core of how Sunkist operates as a co-operative of family growers, so it understands the importance of sharing real moments with loved ones. Citrus is a versatile fruit that can brighten up and add nutrients to both savory and sweet dishes, with many recipes easy enough for your kids to take part.