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Stay Happy and Healthy by Eating with Friends

Eating with other people can boost happiness and diminish depression, and it might promote healthier eating choices. Read on to find out why a weekly potluck with friends and family does a person good.
Stay Happy and Healthy by Eating with Friends
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Life can be crazy, which means meals on the go are the norm for many. But preserving the endangered ritual of a regular communal meal can lead to a healthier and happier state, even post meal time [1] [2].

Say No To Meals On The Go — The Need-to-Know

Social connectedness, whether hanging out after work or sitting down at the table with friends and family for a nightly meal, has been shown to increase happiness and help alleviate depression [3]. Unless meal time looks something like this, the simple act of gathering around the table helps establish connections, which studies have found are crucial in maintaining happiness and a sense of belonging [4]. Translation: Text messages won’t cut it.

Enjoying dinner with friends or family brings a one-two punch of benefits: it accomplishes the goal of face-to-face interaction and can also lead to healthier eating choices [5]. One study found that children who ate family dinners as opposed to quick grab-and-go meals ate more fruits and vegetables and drank less soda [6]. But this isn’t always the case; do beware of the social overeating trap.

Grab Some Grub, Communally — Your Action Plan

Reaping the benefits of communal eating is pretty simple: Just gather some people together around food, sit down together, talk, eat, and enjoy! Here are some tips for planning a meal with friends and family:

  • Plan a potluck. Meals with friends are way more appealing when one person doesn't have to do all the work — just make sure to find out what dishes people are bringing ahead of time so there aren't nine desserts and one spinach salad when it's time to eat. (Because having nine desserts to choose from sounds like a terrible fate... sort of.)
  • Choose killer recipes. One of the best parts about eating with friends — aside from the good company — is, well, eating. Make sure the food is delicious by trying some of Greatist's tried and true recipes.
  • Set a date. Commitments are way harder to break when they're scheduled in advance. Work with the group to establish a meeting time that works for everybody the majority of the time — say, every Tuesday evening — and stick to it.
  • Make a reservation. Find out that all your friends are less than gifted in the kitchen? No problem. Going out for a meal with friends or family allows you to reap all the benefits of communal eating without any of the post-meal clean up (and the associated stress). Just be sure to pick a healthy spot, and don't let the social setting derail your diet.

Originally published July 2011. Updated August 2012.

Do you eat regular meals with friends or family? Does it make you happier? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Works Cited +

  1. The Association between Family Meals, TV Viewing during Meals, and Fruit, Vegetables, Soda, and Chips Intake among Latino Children. Andaya AA., Arredondo EM., Alcaraz JE. et al. National Institutes of Health. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2010 Oct 20
  2. Don't hide your happiness! Positive emotion dissociation, social connectedness, and psychological functioning. Mauss, IB., Shallcross, AJ., Troy, AS., et al. University of Denver, Denver. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Apr;100(4):738-48
  3. Don't hide your happiness! Positive emotion dissociation, social connectedness, and psychological functioning. Mauss,IB., Shallcross, AJ., Troy, AS., et al. University of Denver, Denver. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Apr;100(4):738-48
  4. Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Tugade, MM., Fredrickson, BL., Barrett, LF. Department of Psychology, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. Journal of Personality, 2004 Dec;72(6):1161-90
  5. The Association between Family Meals, TV Viewing during Meals, and Fruit, Vegetables, Soda, and Chips Intake among Latino Children. Andaya, A.A., Arredondo, E.M., Alcaraz, J.E., et al. National Institutes of Health. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2010 Oct 20
  6. The Association between Family Meals, TV Viewing during Meals, and Fruit, Vegetables, Soda, and Chips Intake among Latino Children. Andaya, A.A., Arredond, E.M., Alcaraz, J.E., et al. National Institutes of Health. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2010 Oct 20

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