Nutrition-wise blog

Enrich your life by sharing meals with family, friends

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. September 12, 2014

A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you've had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. Spending time with family and friends helps ward off loneliness, gives you a sense of belonging, and increases your sense of self-worth. Family and friends is our 9th habit in our series of 12 Habits of Highly Healthy People.

Many social activities and celebrations revolve around food. Optimize this time together by supporting efforts for a healthier lifestyle.

Opportunities to explore:

  • Eat together as a family. Family meals offer the potential to significantly influence children's behavior and development. Studies suggest that adolescents who share family meals have healthier eating habits and body weight, higher academic achievement, better psychological well-being, and lower risk of substance use and delinquency. Bring your family together 3 to 5 times a week for a meal and conversation.
  • Socialize at family gatherings. Planning and preparing healthy, tempting dishes is important, but so is taking the time to savor the food and visit with family and friends at these events.
  • Be active together. Round up your family and friends and get active together. Attend community events or races, volunteer and give back to others, go for a walk, or meet up at a park. Not only will you get some physical activity, but you'll have a new shared experience and build positive memories.
  • Nurture your friendships. Maintaining healthy relationships requires a little give and take. Try to respect your friends' boundaries, don't compete, and avoid relentless complaining as this can put a strain on your friendships. Adopt a positive outlook, take a genuine interest in what's going on in your friends' lives, and don't judge. Give your family and friends space to change, grow and make mistakes, and keep confidential any personal information that they share. Investing time in making friends and strengthening your friendships can pay off in better health.
  • Stay positive. Watch for situations that seem to drain your energy. For example, avoid spending too much time with someone who is constantly negative and critical. Steer clear of people involved in unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol or substance abuse, especially if you've struggled with addictions.

Dinner time may be the only time I can get my busy family together. I have found that a game of "I Spy" engages everyone and keeps them at the table. What games or conversation starters do you enjoy? How do you nurture the relationships in your life?

To your health,

Sept. 12, 2014