Why You Should Aim for
Stress-free Meals

Friends Enjoying a Meal

Stress!  Not something anyone should feel when they are dining.  Negative conversation, complaining, or picking a fight can literally make a meal “gut wrenching.”

Any time a meal is shared, being relaxed is the desired state of mind.  Whether you’re enjoying a simple family meal, having people over, dining out with friends, attending a business lunch or gala dinner, creating a stress-free emotional climate where positive interchange can occur is always the goal.

Family Meals

Meal time for many families has become a precious commodity, not to be wasted.  With so many varied work schedules, extracurricular activities and sports events, only concerted effort can regularize mealtimes. 

As family meals might only be scheduled once or twice weekly, all the more reason to focus on creating positive emotional climates for those meals.  One of the most popular methods for achieving this is establishing rules around limiting technology distractions to encourage cooperation.

  • No cell phones or earbuds at the table.
  • Diners remain at the table until everyone is finished—an old rule that has strengthened in practice due to anxiousness to get back to the cell phone.

Once everyone gets used to such guidelines, settling into a comfort zone of what’s expected leaves room for anticipation.  

If changing collective habits is the issue at hand, resistance is natural.  But kindly spoken rule change may encourage cooperation, “We’re going to make our mealtimes memorable, so thanks for welcoming the changes.  Our stomachs will thank us.”  This may need to be a mantra until everyone settles in.

Business Meetings During Meals

Conducting business during a meal must be handled with care.  This is why most negotiations take place in offices or conference rooms. 

There is nothing wrong with a business meal, but it is best to share them under specific circumstances:

  • When colleagues or associates are getting to know one another.
  • To sign a contract that requires no further negotiation.  The meal is a celebratory one.
  • To offer an employee a raise or promotion.
  • Only when you can be assured that any business discussion will remain pleasant.

It Matters That Calmness Prevails During Mealtime

The table is where people traditionally gather to share the good parts of their day, discover how others are doing generally, and update one another on their current events and concerns.

Positivity should be the general rule during meals.  While there may be times when a cloud hangs over the dinner table due to a family crisis, a business deal lost, or an absent friend or family member, every effort should be made to enjoy the meal and have at least a few moments of pleasantness.

  • Digestion and tranquility go hand in hand.  Our digestive systems are sensitive to emotion. 
  • Controversial topics and uncomfortable conversations can be upsetting emotionally, and thus trigger symptoms in the gut.  Healing or relief from GI disorders cannot occur when anxiety, anger, or irritation are expressed or exacerbated with tense conversation.
  • Complaining is a habit that should never be exercised at the table.
  • If your steak is a little on the overdone side, simply cut smaller bites to make it easier to chew. 
  • Bringing the horrors of the work day to the dinner table is not a good topic of conversation.
  • If your child spills her milk, not to worry.  If possible, she may want to help by getting some paper towels and everyone can help cheerfully tidy up.

Benefits of Pleasant Meals

Science agrees with etiquette when it comes to the mental and emotional benefits achieved from positive mealtimes.

  • Sharing meals on a regular basis encourages food creativity, shared responsibilities, bonding, and helps friends and family associate food with a non-threatening and stress-free environment. 
  • Relationships develop and are strengthened with positive mealtimes, creating a sense of belonging.  Evidence suggests that those who eat slower and talk more, actually eat less. 
  • Planned meals, rather than grazing and snacking, offer time between bites to talk.  The focus is not on the food, as eating communally is purposeful.  Bad eating habits that lead to compulsivity around food can be curbed. 
  • Research indicates that children who are raised to regularly experience happier emotional climate mealtimes may make healthier food choices.
    “Having more positive mealtimes, where people are enjoying themselves, where there’s mutual warmth and engagement, makes it a little bit easier for children to approach healthy food.  When you have a negative family mealtime, you don’t want to sit there and try new things, enjoy a new texture . . . families who are more positive at their mealtimes have kids who seem to be eating a little more healthy food.” 
    (Jaclyn Saltzman, health scientist who investigates family and child health, particularly in nutrition and obesity.)

During your next meal with colleagues, friends, or loved ones, notice the tone of the conversation at the table.  If it slips into negativity, interject with a positive conversation topic.  With intentionality for pleasantness around mealtimes, the negativity generated by complaining won’t ever have a place at your table.

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