Americans increasingly eat alone—and we like it that way. According to a recent study by Hartman Group, more than half of all breakfasts, nearly half of lunches and about a quarter of dinners are eaten solo. The primary reason? People are starting to look at meals as “me” time, a chance to catch up on reading or watch TV shows they enjoy.
Unfortunately, the research isn’t there yet to definitively say whether this is an unhealthy trend. For youth, the answer is probably yes: Research abounds suggesting that kids who regularly eat meals with their family are more likely to eat healthy foods, perform well in school and have positive family interactions, and are less likely to exhibit delinquent behavior or be depressed.
As for adults, studies show that people who both live and eat alone tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more packaged meals. Adults also eat less-healthy meals when they’re eating alone on the go. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that eating while watching TV or multitasking tends to make people eat more, both during the meal and later on. On the other hand, a review article from Georgia State University found that people also tend to consume more calories when they eat with others. Until science catches up, we suggest always being mindful of what you eat—whether you’re eating with friends or Friends reruns