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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Does it matter where we eat? What difference does a table make?

A drawing of a table and two chairs

Where do you eat most meals? Is it at a table, or somewhere else? How often do you eat on the couch watching TV? Or at your desk? Or in the car? Or on a bleacher watching a sport?

We eat in many locations. I’ve eaten at all the above and more. How about you?

Does it matter where we eat? This story suggests it does…

As many schools do, our sports teams have team meals before games, sometimes the day of the game, sometimes the day before. As the mother of 3, I’ve fixed lots of team meals, some eaten at school, some eaten on buses. I had never hosted one in our home. Until…

In 2005-2006, we hosted a German exchange student, and Yannik played on our high school basketball team. That team had a tradition of having team meals in the team member’s homes on a rotating basis the night before each home game.

When it was our turn to host the meal, I hadn’t yet helped with any other meal, so I didn’t know how they usually did it. When I’m going to host 25 people for dinner, I access every available space and set up tables. It didn’t really occur to me not to have them eat family-style around tables.

The photos below show the team eating lasagna spread out all over our house. It was early January. They had a great time and even stayed around to play “Catch Phrase” and some other games that were under the Christmas tree, which was still up.

I didn’t think this was anything unusual until the two moms who had volunteered to come help me serve and clean up commented that they’d never seen the boys stay and relax and enjoy eating so much.

In every other team meal, the food was set up buffet style and the boys sat wherever they could find space holding their plates in their laps. When they were finished, they left. The mothers said sometimes they swooped in, ate, and were gone in minutes. Many of these boys were in our home for a couple of hours.

What was the difference? The tables.

Four photos of high school boys sitting around tables in a home eating dinner.

What difference does a table make?

A big difference. Consider the situation pictured above. These boys were not Yannik’s lifelong friends. He was not the star player. They weren’t used to visiting our home because our children were in different grades. Lasagna was a very typical team meal, nothing unusual there.

The only difference I can think of is the tables. What do you think?

That experience brought home to me the role of tables in promoting family meals and inadvertently promoted family-style meals in our high school.

I wonder if the boys noticed the difference. These young men are grown up now, many with families of their own. Do they eat with their families around a table today? I hope so.

Tables make a difference. Sitting around tables encouraged taking longer to eat and making conversation that night in January 2006. Tables still make a difference today.

Tables slow our eating and encourage connections.

Research related to family meals makes the case for eating around a table and suggests that tables serve to slow down the meal and provide a setting where eating companions can connect over the meal.

Sitting around a table promotes more mindful eating, especially if we eliminate distractions such as cell phones or the television. We can focus on the food and our enjoyment and satisfaction in eating.

A table also configures eating companions so that conversation is encouraged. Sitting face to face leads to stronger and more meaningful connections than facing a television, the road, or a ball game. Body language and eye contact contribute to the verbal message and voice tone.

Can you eat with others at a table sometime soon?

If you work with families or have young children, I created an assessment for how and where children eat meals. Find it along with other resources for promoting shared meals.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” ~ Ronald Regan

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Sep 22, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I loved this post. As an RD who also has hosted a few team dinners, as well as a mindful eating instructor, this is a great example of the magic that can happen when we sit down to eat at a table!

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