Editor’s Note: Communal dining is coming back to senior living communities in phases. Ashton Place follows all guidelines and safety recommendations necessary to keep our residents safe, whether they come from the Department of Health or other governing bodies. We look forward to fully reopening our dining room, but we must respect the safety requirements placed on all senior living communities. Our mindset is “not yet, but soon!”
As of the time of publication, communal dining is only permitted with social distancing in place.
Why Eating With Others Is So Special
Losing communal dining to lockdown safety measures was a blow to community health. Social distancing provided protection against the virus but came at a significant social cost. Now, vaccines are making dining together safer for seniors. Things are turning a corner and slowly returning to normal. There is a lot of good to look forward to as we come back to the dinner table—eating with others has more than just nostalgic benefits. Shared meals serve human needs, add helpful structure to our days, and deepen our connection with others.
Eating Together Serves Human Needs
The first reason that communal dining’s return is important is that meals address multiple human needs. Eating alongside others does more than satisfy our appetites. People are social beings, and we need to spend time socializing. Like a honeybee without a hive, sitting and eating by yourself just can’t come close to the joy of stories and laughter shared around the dinner table.
The beauty of sharing a meal with people you know is that it combines relaxation, conversation, and nutrition all into one event. Sitting down to eat is a uniquely positive break from other activities. Whether you’re returning from a walk or taking a break from writing the next great American novel, meals change up the pace and help you slow down. Shared meals give you a chance to talk, too, even if you only chat about food. Those conversations can spark anything from dessert plans to life-changing ideas like MRI technology (famously scribbled down on a napkin by Nobel Prize winner Paul Lauterbur). Eating with others combines the best aspects of food, company, and leisure, making for something truly special.
Communal Dining Provides Routines
Meals also add a pleasant cadence to daily life. Structure helps humans live better. It lets us focus more by removing the need to pay attention to everything all the time. That’s why we organize into groups, make rules, and follow routines. Observing regular, communal meals is one of the positive structures we’ve developed over the ages. Structure also brings us comfort in trying times, like turning to family for consolation after a tragedy. Whether our need for structure is grave or simple, patterns in our lives make for much more pleasant days.
Regular mealtimes have practical roots—it’s easier for a cook to serve a meal once than it would be to make up a whole new plate of food every time someone became hungry. But, what probably started out as a simple convenience has become a cornerstone of modern life. Many of the great speeches have been given at banquets. Statecraft, artistic creativity, and romance have all found room to flourish within the structure of shared meals. The best part is that we can all benefit from dinner plans without any lofty schemes or palace intrigues. In a way, simply participating in dinner is carrying the torch forward.
Set mealtimes also give us something to look forward to every day. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed when you have a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast to look forward to—and almost certainly a cup of coffee too! A lunchtime sandwich or bowl of soup helps even the most energetic to rally midway through the day. And, nothing caps off a good day like a hearty meal, whether it’s steak and potatoes, chicken pot pie, or a plate of spaghetti, meatballs, and homemade sauce. Meals turn a procession of hours into a real day, the way that punctuation turns a jumble of words into a sentence.
Meals Turn Friends Into Family
Mealtimes are a powerful catalyst. They deepen our friendships in a way that few other activities can compare to. All it takes is time—share enough meals with someone and they might start to feel more like family. Almost everyone can remember a childhood friend who spent so much time at your dinner table that they started to seem like another sibling. Some of us may have even been that friend who became an “adopted” sibling.
The reason we’re better at connecting when we’re eating is because we’re in a different mindset. Our basic need for food is a strong motivator, so it’s easier to relax while eating. With those lower-level needs met, the next step is to improve our relationships and better understand our table mates. The comfortable pace of mealtime conversation allows for profound understanding to grow between you and the people you’re sharing the table with.
On the flipped side, food is fun! Sometimes meals are the best time for comic relief and laughter. It’s easy to feel good and lighten up a little when our body is getting the nourishment it needs. A glass of wine or a cold beer doesn’t hurt either, especially when they’re paired well with the menu. Whether it’s levity or deep conversations that draw you closer to your friends, meals offer the best opportunity to strengthen your connections.
Better Times Ahead
Shared meal have more to offer than you might think. It’s especially important that residents of senior living communities can spend time with each other around the dinner table. After weathering such a difficult year in various forms of isolation, social bonds are more crucial than ever. The health of the community stands to benefit in multiple ways: happier residents, better conversations, and people growing closer to their friends and neighbors.
A Routine To Return To
Meals are the most important daily routine we have. Now that vaccines are providing an extra level of protection for senior living communities, residents are looking forward to enjoying dining with their friends and next-door neighbors. While social distancing is currently required, eventually that will change and all three meals will be back in the dining room. It will be a real improvement and add a lot of energy back into our community. There’s just something special about eating together. You never know, the next great medical advancement could end up happening on the back of an Ashton Place napkin!
If you have any questions about Ashton Place please read our Questions page or give us a call at (315) 462-3140.