Lots of people show love through cooking or providing food for others. It’s an act of love as old as humankind. Feeding a baby is one of the first acts of love a mother bestows on her child. Helping an aged parent get a spoonful of soup to his or her mouth is a tender and touching turnabout that many of us experience. Throughout the lifecycle, we have many and varying opportunities to demonstrate our love and care through nourishment. Nourishment itself, however, goes further than nutrition, of course. Feeding the loves in our lives provides benefits you might not have considered.
Satisfying “Skin Hunger” Through Feeding
The University of Miami Touch Research Institute lists the benefits of touch as including enhanced attentiveness, reduced stress hormones, reduced pain, improved immune function, decreased depressive symptoms, and increased weight gain in pre-term infants. On the other hand, when the desire for physical touch (which has been dubbed “skin hunger”) is unsatisfied, there are detrimental effects on well-being. This is true for all ages. If you’re talking about feeding as a means of touch, it’s easiest to observe this with a breast-fed infant. Breastfeeding is an important bonding activity for mothers and babies, and it incorporates plenty of tactile moments. Even bottle feeding provides opportunities to stroke an infant’s face. And of course, just holding a baby during feeding demonstrates safety, security, and care through touch.
Touching someone while assisting them with eating doesn’t stop with children, of course. Older people and those with certain disabilities can benefit from human touch during feeding assistance as well. Touch decreases stress hormones and thereby helps boost the immune system. This is something people of all ages can use. Unfortunately, our society is becoming increasingly touch-deprived, as more relationships are technology-assisted. It doesn’t take much to provide someone with the benefits of touch. Guide someone’s hand while holding a spoon. Help someone reach for and hold a drink steady. Small acts can be a beneficial touch circumstance for an adult.
Enhancing Dexterity and Motor Skills
While it seems like a lot of the food we provide our toddler-aged children ends up as art and entertainment, all that playing brings benefits and builds skills. Offering nutritious finger foods give a child chances to touch a variety of foods. They experience different textures, shapes, and temperatures with their hands and mouths (and faces!). Fine motor skills are practiced and developed during feeding time. As they transition to a spoon and then a fork, these skills become more refined. And, of course, that look of pride on a child’s face once they master self-feeding is a nice reward for the adult.
I’ve previously discussed the role of food and mealtimes for helping families establish and maintain traditions. The inclusion of this topic in the post is just another plug for the family meal. Family meals are not a lost art, as many of us who are eating and cooking at home more often can attest. Cooking and eating with children impart benefits such as teaching manners, math, and instilling in them a tolerance (or love!) for foods other than mac and cheese. It also benefits the family as a unit as well. Increased family bonding, the tendency to eat more healthful meals, and the chance to enjoy family food traditions give every family member a boost. Eating together as a family is a group act of love that doesn’t require anything fancy. Although healthy food is a good idea, the benefits of eating with your family go beyond nutrition.
Showing love through the preparation of good food and the sharing of that food with your family and loved ones is the essence of nourishment. And, selecting the most healthful and appropriate foods for your family members is easier if you follow the Guiding Stars— no matter what the menu is. Next time you’re cooking together as a family or sitting around the dinner table together, you can feel good about all the benefits—and love—that come along with your meal.