• Avi Efrat and his family talk about the importance of coming together at mealtimes during lockdown. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
“The dinner table is a place where I feel relaxed and loved. It is the place that gives me the power and motivation to keep going during lockdown and continue to the next day.”
Yasmin Noone

30 Aug 2021 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2021 - 3:19 PM

“Imagine working from home with food cooking in the oven for half of the day,” says Avi Efrat, a Sydney businessman who has been forced to work from home during the Greater Sydney COVID-19 lockdown. “You can just smell the aroma of the food travelling throughout the house. The energy is so nice and warm.

“Meanwhile one child is studying and the other one is watching TV. My wife might be elsewhere with the baby. But when it comes time to eat, we all come together at the table. Mealtime is when we can just ‘be’ together.”

Efrat's depiction of what it’s like to work from home is romantic. After all, he's describing a scene of life in lockdown in 2021, which is full of hope and a sense of wellness, when the reality of the current restrictions is quite tough.

Yet Efrat acknowledges that working from home is no party – especially when he’s only doing it because he had to temporarily shut down six shopfronts throughout Greater Sydney due to COVID-19. As a result, he’s endured retail losses of at least AU$200,000.

Challah is just one of the foods attracting Efrat's family to the table on Friday evenings.

The current restrictions have also affected Efrat’s practice of Shabbat on Friday evenings. Prior to lockdown, around 25 family members including elderly grandparents would gather at his house for the Jewish practice. Now, the Friday night tradition is capped at his household’s five residents.

But, Efrat says, despite his financial and social losses, there has been one saving grace during lockdown: he gets to spend more time with his wife and three children during the week, thanks to the unifying power of dining together.

“It’s amazing to see my immediate family more and make more memories with them. When we all sit together at the table, the children share more stories and communicate more with us.”

"But when it comes time to eat, we all come together at the table. Meal time is when he can just ‘be’ together.”

Efrat explains that the social aspect of eating together as a family is helping him to cope. Mealtime also provides a valid distraction to encourage everyone to forget about COVID-19 for a while.  

“I have a very strong character,” Efrat says. “But no matter how strong you are, what’s going on now is affecting me just like it’s affecting everyone. We want to get out of this situation. But when we sit at the dinner table, I am reminded how my heart gets filled with the gathering of family over food.

“The dinner table is a place where I feel relaxed and loved. It is the place that gives me the power and motivation to keep going during lockdown and continue to the next day.”

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How to use mealtime during lockdown to boost positivity

Although Efrat’s family meals during lockdown have occurred quite organically, experts say that mealtimes could be used as an intentional way to buffer against the negative mental health effects of social isolation.

“There's certainly evidence that frequent meals with the family (when possible) improves the mental health of adolescents and children,” Beyond Blue’s lead clinical advisor, Dr Grant Blashki, tells SBS. There’s also research to support the idea that eating together as a family is actually good for the mental health of everyone.”

Dr Blashki explains that during lockdown, dining with family or friends  – whether that’s in person or over the Internet – can really help to boost our mood because of the social dynamic of eating and the cultural significance of food.

“Food is one of the luxuries we have in lockdown. It runs deep in terms of comfort, culture and sense of family. To reap the most out of it, you can make eating at the table extra special by talking about positive things that are not related to COVID-19.

“Talk about movies, books, hobbies and where you’re going to travel to after lockdown. You could even put some music on afterwards.”

“Remember, emotions are contagious as well as viruses.”

Founder and CEO of The Positivity Institute, Dr Suzy Green, also flags that mealtime could be used to protect against the negativity of our times. To do this, she recommends using food as the focus of a gratitude practice.

“Meal times provide an opportunity for everybody at the dinner table to talk about something that went well today or something that they've got a sense of appreciation for,” clinical psychologist, Dr Green, tells SBS.

“When we start to reorient our mind onto the things that we do have and the things that are going well, rather than be overwhelmed with all the negativity that we're bombarded with at the moment, we are able to feel a lot more joy.”

Of course, if it’s too stressful to get your family around the table during the week, consider doing it on weekends when there may be more time.

“We need some positive emotions, which the research has shown, helps us be more creative, make better decisions and function better. We function better when we're experiencing joy and gratitude.

“Remember, emotions are contagious as well as viruses.”

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @yasmin_noone.

If this article has raised an issue for you or you're in need of support, please visit Beyond Blue online or call 1300 22 4636, or Lifeline online or call 13 11 14.


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