Raise your hand if the number of meals you eat solo outweighs how many you eat with friends or family. We get it: Life is crazy busy which means dinner often looks like hummus and pita chips scarfed down on the couch or sad takeout eaten at your desk when you’re working late. But here’s the thing: Eating with others can make you feel healthier and happier—which is why you should try to do it whenever you can. Eating sushi (or Freshly!) with a friend on the floor of your new apartment totally counts. Here are some of the science-backed benefits you’ll reap:
1. You’ll feel happier and less stressed
Coming together for a meal means talking, laughing, confiding, celebrating and otherwise feeling more connected to people, which is invaluable for your mental health. A survey commissioned by a British grocery chain revealed that eating alone was the strongest link to feeling unhappy other than having a diagnosed mental illness.
2. You’ll eat healthier—and be healthier overall
Multiple studies show that eating alone is associated with poorer-quality diets and an increased risk for health problems. For example, in a survey of 8,500 adults, people were more likely to consume inadequate nutrients when eating alone, and those who ate alone more often had lower-quality diets overall, according to a study in Nutrition Journal. Other research found that adults over 50 who eat alone filled up on fewer vegetables.
3. It could help you live longer
Whether you’re dining with a friend or your mother-in-law (well, most mothers-in-law!), relationships are strengthened when you eat together, according to a paper in Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology. And having a high level of social support has been shown to boost longevity by 50 percent, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS One, which reviewed data from more than 300,000 people.
4. You’ll improve your deal-making skills
This is especially true when you eat family-style. Sharing dishes and asking to pass the potatoes requires connecting and coordinating with another person, which comes in handy outside of mealtimes, according to researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Their studies found that people negotiated and reached a deal more quickly when they ate from a shared bowl of chips and salsa versus an individual serving.
5. It’s the secret sauce for raising happy, healthy, successful kids
The research is clear: If you have kids, the more you eat with them—no matter their age—the more benefits they’ll reap. Starting with pre-schoolers, family meals and the conversation they inevitably create boost vocabulary and reduce the risk of obesity while increasing odds of eating healthy foods. For older kids, a review of 14 different studies by Canadian researchers found an inverse association between the number of family meals and feelings of depression, eating disorders, alcohol and drug use and violent behavior. Increased self-esteem and better school success was also related to frequent family meals.