As new diets continue to make headlines, promising weight loss, wellness and more, I wonder – do we spend too much time and energy on exactly what we eat and not enough on the rituals and values that surround food? 

A few years ago a magazine article on the latter caught my attention. In ‘Eat like an Italian’ Australian nutritionist Susie Burrell summarised what she learnt about the true meaning of food during a stint living with an Italian family. It’s an article I kept and came across again recently sorting through a growing ‘reading material to keep’ pile.

Here, taking inspiration from Susie and her article, I wanted to share three key things we can learn not just from the Italians, but from the broader relationship the Mediterraneans have with food.

1. Make dinner at the table a daily ritual


The whole family should eat the same food at the same time around the table – without distractions from the TV or gadgets. It takes the meaning of dinner beyond just food – instead it becomes precious time for sharing and laughter. I recently met a lady who spoke proudly of her family’s daily ritual – over dinner she asks each of her children to talk about the best and the worst thing that happened to them during the day. I love this idea as a simple way of connecting over food. And, if a daily family table gathering sounds too ambitious, start small and aim for a few evenings a week.

2. Live by the values of simple, quality, fresh


Cook simple food, with quality fresh ingredients. Banish anything processed, take-away and sugar laden. It’s not that hard. Firstly scale back your pantry to healthy essentials like tinned tomatoes, dried legumes, spices and vinegar. Then change your shopping behaviour – read every label and stay clear of anything with added sugar, vegetable oils and strangely named additives.

Remember, the values of simple, quality and fresh don’t mean resigning yourself to boring food. As Susie learnt from living with Italians – ‘even the plainest food could be turned into taste sensations with just a few simple ingredients’. Ingredients like olive oil, chilli flakes, garlic and (my top pick) Parmesan.

3. Be mindful – stop, be present, slow down


Too often we eat on the go – way too often I see people rushing on-the-go and stuffing down food at the same time (and often on their phone as well). With so much going on they can’t truly appreciate what they’re putting into their body. To be mindful with food we need to slow down – and not just over the dinner table, but at breakfast and lunch too. This means being still, free of distractions and chewing properly. By savoring each bite we feel more satisfied (plus our digestive systems will thank us for it too).

My top 3 food rituals

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