University is stressful! Between readings, midterms, and settling into the routine of university life, there are many demands for your time and energy.
Planning sit-down meals is probably the last thing on your mind. But what if I told you that prioritizing shared meals may actually support your mental health and help you succeed in university?
Most of the research in this area is centered on the impact of family meals on children and adolescents. However, given the evidence supporting the benefits of sharing meals, I encourage university students to continue the “family” meal after moving away from home. You can benefit from shared meals at any age!
Some benefits of family meals include:
1. Healthier eating habits
2. Better social support and connection
3. Better academic performance
4. Lower risk of substance abuse
Young adults who had frequent family meals as adolescents are more likely to continue sharing meals when they move out. However, if you didn’t do this often when you were younger, it is not too late to start and reap the benefits – which are especially valuable when dealing with stress.
Why is the frequency of shared meals declining?
The biggest barrier to shared meals is time. Priorities are shifting from home cooking and sit-down meals to prepared food and eating on the go. Weeknights can be especially tough when you have piles of homework to do before class the next day.
Simple ideas to work shared meals into your routine
Make it easier on yourself by planning your first shared meal on a weekend. Cooking together with friends can be really fun! Think beyond dinner: breakfast and lunch are great too.
- Organize a potluck where everyone brings a dish or an ingredient to contribute to a recipe.
- Make a nourishing “friendship salad” for breakfast. Everyone brings a different fruit, pre-chopped. Mix them all together, top with plain Greek yogurt, add a touch of cinnamon and maple syrup, and enjoy!
- Plan an oatmeal buffet with lots of fun toppings (i.e. anything you have in the cupboard or see on sale at the grocery store). If you live in a residence on campus, organize an event like this for your floor! A slow cooker makes great steel cut oatmeal, or swap oatmeal for muesli to nix the cooking altogether.
- Cook recipes like soup, vegetarian and meat-based burger patties, and curries in batches with friends, to prepare food for the coming week. Ensure there is enough for each person to get one meal. This allows you to buy in bulk, which will save money and give you lots of tasty new dishes to try! If you don’t think you will finish a dish within three to four days, consider freezing it to ensure food safety.
No need to cook? No problem.
If you live in a residence where meals are cooked for you, try to eat with others at meal times and focus on conversation and enjoying your food – not your phone. This goes for everyone: You will reap more mental health benefits if you eat “unplugged”.
Students in residences with mandatory meal plans can make use of kitchens available on campus to hold a cooking night with others. Take a break from the dining hall and introduce your friends to a meal you are missing from home!
No shop talk.
Try to keep “tension topics” off the table during meals. Everyone knows about that upcoming exam or the assignment that is due in two days. Keep conversation light and fun to make the meal more enjoyable and take a break from the stress of school. You will digest your food better if you are relaxed.
Sharing meals with others can help you create stronger social connections and thrive in university. Keep it simple and enjoyable. You will create positive food memories that last a lifetime!