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A positive light during COVID: Families are eating more meals together

Mark Legg is a freelance writer and content intern at Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. He eventually wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor in philosophy.

A mother and father with their daughters cut vegetables on a table
© fizkes/stock.adobe.com

Are you suffering from COVID fatigue? 

The media constantly barrages us with news about it. You probably already know about the pandemic’s effects on mental health with the rise in isolation and depression. 

Though we should never ignore the terrible effects of COVID, we also need to combat the pandemic by finding joy and taking positive steps forward and out. We can choose to lighten our days by celebrating the little things and by taking joy in our families.  

One positive result of the pandemic is that many families are growing closer, as they’re being forced to spend more time together. Families have specifically been eating together and cooking more, especially during the heavier times of lockdown.  

One study showed that “seventy-one percent (71%) of people who have been eating more in-person meals (and 70% having more virtual meals) agree that ‘I feel more connected to my family since the pandemic has started.’”  

The same study had hopeful news for the American family: “85% of Americans plan on eating family meals more often or the same amount as they did before the pandemic when things return to a new normal.” 

Most families in the US eat several meals a week together. However, in one study, the average family is distracted about half of the mealtime, often by technology. So, as the pandemic looks more hopeful, and things start to return to normalcy, we should fight to keep the healthy habit of eating meals together, while also fighting against the ever-present distraction of technology.

Let’s make these practices a part of our “new normal.”  

Family dinners help raise healthy children and relieve stress 

Generally, eating meals together indicates a healthier family. Eating together often relieves stress, helps cultivate better diets, and improves mental health. In fact, children whose families have consistent meals together tend to get better grades, and, miraculously, teenagers will start to open up more in conversations. 

Another study found that the root of the positive benefits from eating together was a strongly interconnected family. This study also points out that substance abuse in teens is inversely correlated to consistent family mealtime.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Parents ought to take ownership of training their children well, providing intentional time to raise them in wisdom and show them love. 

The importance of meals in the Bible

Paul’s confrontation with Peter reflects the importance of eating together. 

In the book of Galatians, Peter shows favoritism toward Jewish Christians by dining with the Jewish inner circle while neglecting Gentile Christians. This would have encouraged the strong sense of superiority that the Jewish Christians felt they had over the Gentile believers. 

Paul calls Peter out for this hypocrisy in no uncertain terms, saying that Peter’s favoritism for the Jewish Christians at mealtime is fundamentally opposed to the gospel (Galatians 2:11–14). The fact that Paul so strongly reproves another apostle shows the importance of mealtime in the first-century church. 

To the same point, Jesus showed his commitment to the culturally loathed tax collectors by dining with them, to the deep offense of the area’s religious leaders (Luke 15:1–2, Mark 2:15–16).  

Eating together is an impactful time where people meet around a communal, life-giving act (you have to eat to live, after all). It’s a powerful symbol that Christ called for his disciples to “break bread” in remembrance of him, interpreting the Passover meal to refer to his own body and blood (Luke 22). The early church made a frequent practice of “breaking bread”; it was central to the early church movement (Acts 2:42). 

Living as followers of Jesus means eating meals with friends and family, especially among the body of believers.  

Rest and make good food 

Even during COVID, you may feel overwhelmed by work. With such crammed schedules, full of soccer practices, leftover work from the office, and extra loads of homework, making time for meaningful family time is difficult. The deeper problem may be our neglect of true rest. 

I am personally tempted to overwork and ignore the most underrated of the ten commandments: to “keep the Sabbath holy” (Exodus 20:8–11). It’s odd to think that murder, adultery, and stealing are wrong, but we seem not to consider keeping the Sabbath “relevant” anymore. 

They say it well at the Bible Project, “As followers of Jesus, we aren’t required to follow the laws given to Israel by God exactly. . . . Yet the wisdom of those laws is enduring, and the law of the Sabbath is pure gold. It is not a commandment we are bound to; it’s a promise we’re invited to.” 

That promise is to rest in God’s presence by stopping work. To make time for meals is in the spirit of Sabbath, which leads to rest and opening space for God’s presence to meet us. 

How do we rest well at mealtimes? 

If we take time to set aside distractions as best we can, especially technology (screaming babies aren’t always avoidable), we can love each other well over a meal that is prepared with care (1 Corinthians 10:31).  

We can enjoy food as a gift of God and cooking as an act of worship; through cooking we get to enjoy God’s good creation. Paul addresses false teaching in the Ephesian church that requires abstinence from marriage and certain foods. He strongly rebukes it, saying, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 3:4–5). Let’s receive mealtime with thanksgiving.  

Start setting aside time in the day and fight busy schedules to rest, sit down at the table, and eat together. It’s a habit your family can start today. If it’s one that’s long-established, press on. 

COVID has been devastating. For many, family has been an invaluable refuge. Now that COVID rates are decreasing, we ought to remember to make time for family, whether we’re busy or in lockdown. Conversation and community over a home-cooked meal are a few of the best ways to bring about that loving connection the Lord wants for us. 

Mark Legg is a freelance writer and content intern at Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. He eventually wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor in philosophy.