How Eating With Others Can Make You Happier and Healthier

“Harvard study, almost 80 years old, has proved that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.” – The Harvard Gazette

One of the hardest things about living in residence in first year was not being able to cook my own food. By the end of the year, I was going to Save-On Foods every week to buy rotisserie chickens and ingredients to make salads in my dorm room. I would return to UVic after visiting home with Tupperware containers full of leftovers. I perfected the art of the microwaved brownie. And because many of my friends lived off-campus or in different residence buildings, I ate alone more often than I ever had before.

Yes, I once ate rotisserie chicken at a bus stop. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

University can be very isolating – community rarely appears out of nowhere, especially when you have papers to write and exams to study for. But humans were made for relationship. And while having “alone time” is important (especially for introverts like me), it’s possible to have too much of it.

Barbequing in Utrecht

I grew up in a house where we ate dinner together every evening. Until moving away from home, I didn’t realize just how valuable those shared meals were. It gave our family an opportunity to take a break from our busy lives and hear about each other’s days – the good, the bad, and everything in between. It also encouraged healthy eating – research has found that shared meals lead to better nutritional health (see here and here).

One of my favourite things about being on exchange is living in an international student house where I get to sit down to a home-cooked dinner with my housemates every evening. Although I’m far away from home, it feels like living with family. It also means that I’m eating well-prepared food, and not just whatever I have left over in my cupboard.

Eating together is partly a practical solution – our kitchen isn’t big enough for 10 people to cook at once. But it is also a powerful way in which we connect with each other. Dinner is sometimes the only time I get to hear how my housemates are doing, as well as share about my own day with them. It’s amazing how quickly I forget about deadlines when I sit down to dinner, surrounded by friends. As an added bonus, I get to try new foods from all over the world!

Femke and I making pancakes for the house

When it’s my turn to cook, I feel like I am continuing my family’s tradition of connecting over food. There is such an amazing sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from serving food to others – especially if they say it tastes good!

I was sad to miss out on Thanksgiving with my family, so I made a carrot cake for my housemates

If you live with other people, I hope you’ll consider eating together. Even if you can’t do it every night, commit to having a meal together at least once a week. And if you live alone, invite people over! They don’t have to be friends – group brunches or dinners are a great opportunity to develop new friendships.

Dinner with friends in Victoria last year

If you’re nervous about cooking for others or worried about the cost, check out this post for some cheap, easy, delicious, vegetarian recipes. All of these have been made in my international student house, so they’re guaranteed to please a variety of tastes.

We all need to eat. So why not eat together?

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