Column: On the Table with Tine Roche
Cooking and eating together pays dividends both at home and at work, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche
September brings back routine to daily life. In most households with children, the weeks are so busy that family spreadsheets are required to keep up. For many parents, it becomes impossible to fit in family dinners, so snacks on the go replace the family meal.
In the workplace too, grabbing a quick and solitary bite at the desk, bought from supermarkets orsnack vans, is what passes for lunch. Gone are the, admittedly none too healthy, days of going to the pub for lunch and far too few employers offer good staff canteens where colleagues, managers and their teams, can sit down over lunch and talk about other things than work. Sharing lunch with colleagues, and with people of different seniority, is a great way to find out what people do outside work, which interests they have, their likes and dislikes.
This transition from established communal meal times within families as well as at work has been nothing short of catastrophic for our health - both physical and mental. One could simply say that the input is reflected in the output: poor fuel and energy input results in falling efficiency, a lack of communication, increasingly isolated individuals and missed opportunities to boost a sense of belonging.
Numerous studies show that eating together helps us to handle the stresses of daily life. In the home sphere, children learn to sit down and ask and respond to "How was your day?" and the same goes for us adults at work. Shared meals should be viewed as an opportunity to listen and to make others feel heard, seen and valued and it provides parents/leaders with an opportunity to pick up on a myriad of issues which combine to make people anxious, disengaged or disruptive - as well as the opposite.
In a high pressure environment it is often difficult for staff to bond with each other as well as with their team leaders and bosses. Eating together offers an unrivalled opportunity for strengthening vital team/family bonds. This in turn lessens the risk of mental health issues, as the stronger bond with parents promotes adolescent health. The same can be applied to our professional lives - where teams share daily meals, individuals are less likely to feel isolated, worried and stressed.
The benefits of shared meals are not just psychological but also physical. Numerous studies show that people who frequently eat alone choose less healthy options. Preparing a meal for one can feel very uninspiring and when we eat alone we often do it while checking social media, reading emails or watching something on a screen. This means that the brain is not fully registering the process, and we tend to feel hungry again within an hour or two of eating and so we are more likely to snack.
The meal itself does not have to be complex or elaborate. Sharing a soup, a salad and some bread is just as beneficial as sharing something more elaborate. If time is of the essence, aiming for simple food which can be on the table in minutes is clearly the way to go. However, the time honoured process of preparing food together with others bring huge rewards. Just as children and teens go through phases of finding communication awkward, so some employees are less likely than others to feel able to make their voices heard. By engaging in simple tasks such as peeling, chopping and stirring, with the shared goal of producing something delicious to eat, less keen communicators often find it easier to talk and the adult or person in charge is presented with a hugely efficient tool for fact finding and problem solving.
We have been running our award-winning corporate team sessions for more than 10 years now and our shared cooking and eating “Master Chef” experiences never fail to deliver happiness among teams. There is simply something innately satisfying about creating delicious, and often unexpectedly superb, food with work colleagues and to then sit down and share the success.
Less senior team members may excel, senior bosses may admit to lacking knowledge and so patterns, assumptions and pecking orders established at work can be loosened up amidst laughter, tasting, sipping wine and stirring pots. Everyone wants to try their hand at being a Master Chef contender and, when done in a supportive and humorous fashion, cooking is an unrivalled team activity.
Pictures by @ianolsson courtesy of @indiecamb
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