family fun

Relationships: How to Connect with Others Through Food

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If you think about life's different occasions, food is most likely at the center of each one. We use food to mark special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, graduations and weddings. Food is used to offer comfort to people who are mourning the loss of a loved one. It is prepared for the special family members and friends in our lives who need extra help while recovering from an illness or after having a baby. Food also plays a significant role in our daily lives: having breakfast with the kids before school, a lunch meeting with co-workers, or dinner with our spouse.

No matter what our cultural background is, the preparation and eating of food is something we all have in common with one another. But food is much more than nourishment; it is the vehicle through which we communicate sentiments, express our creativity and create memories. And it is in the sharing of food with others that keeps us connected.

I grew up in an Italian family where the preparing and sharing of food was the way we celebrated and maintained our Italian culture. I was fortunate enough to grow up near both sets of grandparents, and I spent most of my summer vacations traveling to Italy with my parents and younger sister where we would visit great-aunts, great-uncles, cousins, and friends. Many of my fondest memories both Stateside and in Italy involve food. Regardless of which side of the Atlantic Ocean I found myself on, food has always been an integral part of my life, so much so, that it is a large part of my identity and plays a significant role in how I define myself, relate and connect with others.

When I talk to people about food, I find out so much more than ingredients and recipes. I learn about traditions, cultural differences and similarities, relationships, and I start to hear stories that give me a glimpse into people's lives. The same thing happens when people ask me about food: I give them a glimpse into my life and my Italian heritage through my stories and experiences with food. There is almost always a story tied to food, and it is the stories that connect us.

The kitchen may be known as "the heart of the home," but the table is equally important. In our busy, plugged-in and over-scheduled lives, eating meals at the table together is often neglected for meals "on the go." The table is where we gather, not just to eat, but to talk, share, and connect. Food gets people talking; it facilitates conversation and debates, prompts people to ask each other questions and acts as the medium by which we strengthen and nurture our relationships. Gathering around the table is also a way we can show others hospitality, teach children manners, preserve traditions, and create memories; it is one of life's greatest joys.

How to Connect with Others Through Food

Here are some ideas for connecting with others through food and gathering:

Prepare Meals Together

Make a weekend pancake breakfast with your children or spouse. Give every family member a specific (and age-appropriate) meal preparation task. Involve dinner guests in meal preparation—most everyone likes to help in some way!

Eat Together as a Family

Make it a point to eat meals (especially dinner) together. Eating dinner together is a great way for everyone to catch up with each other and share stories about their day. Turn off the TV, cell phones, and other electronic devices and use the time to talk, practice table manners, and extend hospitality.

Plant a Garden

Whether you have a dedicated space of your back yard with raised beds or a few small pots on the patio, grow something yourself. Teach children how to care for plants and how to harvest the fruits or vegetables. There is a great sense of accomplishment that is felt when you eat something that you have nurtured and grown yourself.

Introduce Variety

One of the great things about food is that it can be made to be portable, so gathering together to eat doesn't have to just happen around a kitchen or dining room table. Pack a picnic and take it to your local park or to the beach. Take a weekend camping trip. Host a potluck. Organize a progressive dinner party.

Serve Food Family Style

If your table is large enough, bring the food you have prepared to the table with each component of the meal in its own bowl or platter. Pass the plates of food to each other and help serve the food to the person sitting next to you. This is a great way to get people talking, for table manners to be put into practice, and for hospitality to be extended to everyone around the table.

Make it Special

It's very easy to give in to the go-go-go nature of our daily lives, which is all the more reason to slow down at mealtime. Set the table with placemats or a tablecloth. Forgo using paper plates and disposable cutlery and use your dishes and flatware. Place a candle at the table. Use cloth napkins. Wait to start eating until everyone has been served their food. Say grace together before eating.

James Beard reminds us of the power food has to connect us in this quote: Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

Do you eat meals together with your family? Have you noticed a difference in your relationships from family meals?

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

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