Nourishing Connections through Shared Meals — Bridgetown Baby

I can’t explain why, but I do know that a deep sense of connection seems to happen more with meals served family style. I had an aversion to eating buffet or plated style so strong that I once forced the group I was with to set up a 16-person table in a boulder field on a rafting trip just to try to recreate that sense of connection (I learned more to go with the flow since then).

We first learned the science when we met Bridgetown Baby’s founder, Merriah Fairchild, who highlighted that, just as breastfeeding causes the release of oxytocin (the “love” hormone), eating together causes also the release of oxytocin. It was a lightbulb moment that led us down the rabbit hole to learn about the impact of eating together on mental and physical health, family connection, child development, group bonding and more. We also delve into the science of how to prepare and serve foods in a way that maximizes the benefits and what ingredients have been shown to increase oxytocin. We continue to be amazed at what we learn. It turns out that there is a tremendous amount of reputable scientific research on the subject.

From what we’re learning, it seems that eating family-style meals together should be considered an extraordinary therapy and preventative medicine for so many of our ailments – from stress, anxiety and depression, healthy relationships to food for children and adults, children’s self-confidence and ability to handle bullying, family bonding and marital success, group problem solving, and much more.

You’ve probably been to a dinner party at some point where you felt an outpouring of love and felt like you were friends with the people there afterward. Merriah is thinking about something. Eating together family-style causes the release of oxytocin, sometimes to levels similar to those released by a mother while breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that triggers bonding and connection. On the other hand, eating together significantly reduces stress and provides an outlet to discuss life’s daily challenges in a healthy way. Surprisingly, 80% of surveyed teenagers say that family meals are the time of day when they are most likely to enjoy talking with their parents. Family meals together are in our DNA and appear to be a critical part of how we evolved as a species and were able to process our existence, problem solve and form bonds unlike any other. species.

But, as you’ve probably guessed, the benefits of eating together aren’t always there just because we’re chewing our food in the same room. The benefits come from the human connection that exists when we collaborate and connect around our food. Studies show that eating family style, where we sit around the table, cut into the casserole or turkey, and pass the food around is much better at helping build bonds. It is a ritual that relaxes us and connects us to the people around us. I’ve always loved the sound of someone saying “can you get over x.” I am filled with heat just thinking about it.

Other rituals that accompany family-style meals are also important. Growing up, we always held hands and someone said a prayer of thanks. These prayers and holding hands are so powerful in connecting us and putting us in a thankful mindset. We are not religious today, but can still create this kind of connection through a short story, poem or a cheer at the beginning of a meal. Speaking of cheers and clinking glasses, it’s not just something for parties. The ritual of holding a mirror while making eye contact and saying something positive about the people at the table is a powerful way to connect with people – forced eye contact alone has enormous benefits and is likely to lead to more open and meaningful conversation. We are excited to let our children take the lead in saying a cheer just like my parents prayed for our children when I was young. Everyone will have their own rituals around eating together – maybe it’s a question to start the conversation (“how was your day?” or “what was the best thing that happened today?” ) or it’s a bad joke – and you still get a lot. the benefits without any kind of forced ritual. It’s nice to know that rituals around eating together are critical to our evolution as a human species and there’s a science behind why we do things like make eye contact when we’re having fun.

Our mission is to help people connect with family-style meals at home.

When we first started testing Wolfella, we knew in our hearts and from experience that to help people connect with foods, those foods needed to be easier to plan and cook. Coordinating a multi-course meal where the pieces fit together and the food remains interesting is too much work for the average two-working-parent household (and the burden still falls heavily on women ). After testing for six months, we are now very clear on our mission – and we will continue to improve, adapt and iterate to achieve it.

Too much commercialization of family meals has taken us away from the core purpose and benefit of eating together. Our mission is not to help people set the perfect table and impress (read “intimidate”) others with the set, setting and food. Nor is it to create the most convenient solution. Even though we can make heat-and-feed options, we will always include a part that requires you to participate as a cook because that part is essential to the benefits we want you to get. Our mission leads us to help you create food that will facilitate the many benefits of cooking and eating together, cause the release of oxytocin, and lubricate conversation and connection – but in a way that is achievable in a busy world now.

As we continue to look for the best ways to enhance the benefits of family meals, we will take you on this learning journey and provide some articles in our emails to help. May I suggest just starting as we did and Google “the science behind eating together” or “scientific benefits of eating together.” You will find pages and pages of reputable articles and studies showing a wide range of positive benefits. To help you get started, here are some that help back up what I’m talking about:

How Eating With Others Enriches Us In More Than One Way (Washington Post) – a great summary of both the culture, history and science surrounding food together today.

7 Science-Based Benefits of Eating Together as a Family (Parents Magazine) – presents 7 of the benefits of eating together for children and families, with links to scientific studies or articles promoting each.

The Hidden Power of Eating Family Meals (Psychology Today) – summarizes three studies showing that people who share plates of food (instead of taking individual plates of food) are more likely to work together well afterward.

Breaking Bread – The Functions of Social Eating (National Institutes of Health) – summary of studies showing that communal eating, whether at feasts or everyday meals with family or friends, is a human universal, however it attracts surprisingly little attention to evolution. Data from a UK national stratified survey tested the hypothesis that eating with others provides both social and individual benefits, and the author showed that social eaters were more likely to feel happier and are more satisfied with life, are more trusting of others, are more committed. in their local communities, and have more friends they can rely on for support. Evening meals that resulted in respondents feeling closer to their dining companions involved more people, more laughter and reminiscing, as well as alcohol. Path analysis suggests that the causal direction is from eating together to bonding rather than the other way around. Conclusion: social eating may have evolved as a mechanism for facilitating social bonding.

Why Family Meals Are Important (Stanford Children’s Hospital) – summary of benefits and how to hold family meals to take advantage of them.

The Importance of Eating Together (Atlantic Magazine) – lays out some of the benefits and the history and data why Americans go so far when it comes to eating together.

Food Sharing Is Associated with Increased Oxytocin Levels in Chimpanzees (NIH study) – Summarizes how people excel in exchanges with unrelated individuals. Although this trait is essential to the success of our species, its evolution and mechanisms are poorly understood. Other social mammals also form long-term partnerships between non-kin, and recent evidence shows that oxytocin, a hormone involved in parent-offspring bonding, is likely to facilitate non-kin- son as well as kin bonds. In a population of wild chimpanzees, we measured urinary oxytocin levels following a rare cooperative event—food sharing. Subjects showed higher urinary oxytocin levels after food-sharing events compared to other types of social feeding, regardless of previous social bond levels. Also, urinary oxytocin levels following food sharing are higher than following grooming, another cooperative behavior. Therefore, food sharing in chimpanzees may play an important role in social bonding under the influence of oxytocin. We propose that food-sharing events engage neurobiological mechanisms that have evolved to support mother-infant bonding during lactation, and may act as facilitators of bonding and cooperation between unrelated individuals. through the oxytocinergic system in social mammals.

Oxytocin and Overeating (Fitness Genes) – Two studies show that oxytocin helps regulate our eating and reduces overeating and the reward signals that come from eating unhealthy sugars.

The Wolfellas (Margaret Wolf and Jeremiah Centrella) believe that sharing food with others, whether between spouses or across cultures, is the foundation of good connection and strong community. Wolfella Food Company’s selection of diverse, delicious, restaurant-quality home-delivered flash frozen kits make it easy to quickly create delicious multi-dish meals for loved ones. Learn more here.

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