The secret ingredient...
is people!
2020 has given mealtimes a new lease of life. After the coronavirus pandemic forced a pause from the rush of the everyday, enjoying a meal around the table has become a ritual again for lots of us. We look at why it’s a life-long habit that’s worth keeping and other ways to make your dining-at-table routine even more beneficial to you and your family’s wellbeing.
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Take the chance to reconnect
A fun dinner with time spent chatting around the table with family or friends can be the perfect way to let off steam or relax. And while for some of us, our usual go-to meal might be a quick TV dinner or on-the-go sandwich, almost half of people enjoyed reconnecting with family or friends at the kitchen table over lockdown. “For some people, lockdown may have shown what we had lost,” says Dr Kaori O’Connor, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. “Eating together used to be a central part of life, but family meals have been in decline. The recent lockdown took some of us back in time and some people may have felt they’ve rediscovered their families; and also begun to rely on meals as grounding moments.”
Meet the Experts
Dr Kaori O’Connor
Dr Kaori O’Connor is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. Her research interests include the anthropology of food and she has written many books on the subject.
James Vickers
Vitality Expert James Vickers is a qualified Nutritionist. He helps members to make the most of Vitality and engage with their own health a little more, improving it through nutrition and lifestyle. He has also worked in public health to improve activity levels and obesity.
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Feel like part of a community
The more we eat with others, the higher the chances of being satisfied with our lives. This is because the opportunity to bond with loved ones or friends helps us to feel like part of a community. “Shared mealtimes emphasise the fact that you are not alone,” explains Dr O’Connor. The regular chance to talk, listen and interact can also help us feel content and secure, according to Mental Health UK. If you live alone, why not arrange to hook up with friends or family over dinner using Zoom. Subject to current social distancing rules, if you’re looking for more people to share meals with, you could offer to host a bring-a-plate dinner with friends. Or look into meet-up groups in your area; find a local supper club or event at
Take it in turns to talk
Meal times are a great opportunity to catch up with your partner, and the bonus? Research* tells us that couples who eat together are more likely to be happy in their relationship. According to the relationship charity Relate, one of the most common goals couples have is to improve communication. Their advice is to take it in turns to talk and listen so you both get a chance to share your views. Why not make the most of it and choose something different to chat about in between courses?
Kids can pick up good habits if you eat together
“When children eat at the table without distractions, they can learn to recognise when they’re full which helps reduce overeating,” says Vitality Expert James Vickers, a qualified nutritionist. “Children being exposed to other people eating a variety of different foods, such as fruits and vegetables, could also help to encourage healthy habits.”
This advice resonates with a study published in the American journal Pediatrics*, which reported that children and teens who ate with their family three or more times a week were more likely to be in a healthy weight range and eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
Get everyone involved in meal prep, too; research shows children who’ve helped make dinner, with age-appropriate tasks such as stirring the mixture or peeling the carrots, are more likely to enjoy their food.
Home-cooked can be the healthiest
The healthiest way to eat together tends to be at home or with home-cooked meals. “The reason is mainly because we can control lots of different factors,” says James Vickers. “For instance, the method of cooking, how much sugar, salt, oil or fat you add, the portion sizes, as well as the overall balance of the meal.”
Tired of the same-old? Try a new type of cuisine (you’ll be introduced to new ingredients and cooking techniques), start meal planning, or make one small change to your go-to meals, such as using fish instead of poultry in your curries.
Keep the table a screen-free zone
Snacking in front of a screen has been linked to weight gain so make the table a scroll-free zone. This will help you to eat mindfully, rather than mindlessly, which is a smart eating strategy as it means taking time to eat slowly, enjoying each bite and focusing on the taste and smell of food, which research has shown can help prevent overeating. Using all your senses – sight, touch, smell, taste and sound – can help you fully appreciate the experience of eating, so chat about what you’re enjoying, and mealtimes will become even more satisfying.
We eat more together – so be mindful
One thing to be wary of: research by the University of Birmingham* has suggested that we can eat more when with groups of friends and family than when dining alone. One reason might be that it’s more enjoyable to eat with others than when solo, so we consume more than normal. The trick to keep it under control? Make sure there are plenty of healthy things to snack on at the table, whether that’s vegetables, salad or olives.
Keep the room relaxed
Whether you’re a classical, rock or pop fan, consider the ambience in your dining room. Studies have found that the faster the music and the brighter the lights in restaurants, the faster you eat , so use this knowledge to your benefit at home by keeping the music chilled and the lights low.
Pull up a chair
We’ve all been there – gulping down food on the go and then crashing out in front of the TV with a takeaway in the evening can play havoc with digestion. But when we eat at the table we sit upright on chairs, which helps our bodies digest our food. We also stop and focus on our food, meaning we’re less likely to rush our meal, while talking and interacting also helps slow the eating process. Ensure there’s plenty of water to drink and avoid going to bed straight after eating a big meal; the NHS suggests eating our last meal of the day at least 2 or 3 hours before lying down.
Nicola Down
rEAD TIME: 5 Min
This Middle Eastern-inspired vegetarian dish is finished with a generous sprinkling of dukkah, which is a condiment made from a blend of dried chick peas, mixed seeds and spices and is good for sprinkling over dishes such as houmous or pitta breads for a flavoursome finish. To add variety, try roasting other root vegetables such as parsnips or beetroots as an alternative or addition to the carrots.
James Vickers
- vitality nutritionist
“A great recipe to do something different with chick peas – a source of protein – and vegetables. Combined with the wholewheat couscous you will get some important fibre from this meal too.”
  • 2 small cauliflowers, cut into small florets
  • 500g pack Chantenay carrots, trimmed and quartered
  • Olive oil spray
  • 4 tsp Cooks’ Ingredients ras el hanout
  • 2 x 400g cans Essential chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 Beldi preserved lemons, diced
  • 700ml vegetable stock, hot
  • 200g wholewheat couscous
  • 2 Cooks’ Ingredients black garlic clove
  • 4 tsp Cooks’ Ingredients tahini
  • 300ml low-fat natural yogurt
  • 150g pomegranate seeds
  • 28g pack fresh coriander
  • 4 tsp Cooks’ Ingredients dukkah
15 minutes
50 minutes
2 of your 5 a day
Low Fat / Low in Saturated Fat / High in Fibre /
Source of Protein
1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C, gas mark 6. Put the cauliflower and carrots in a large roasting tin, spritz with olive oil then sprinkle with the ras el hanout. Cover the tin tightly with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. 2. Stir in the chick peas, lemons and hot stock, then return to the oven, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Push the vegetables to one side and stir the couscous into the stock. Cover with foil and leave to sit for 5 minutes until the couscous is tender (add a little more stock if you need to). Meanwhile, in a bowl, mash together the black garlic cloves and tahini, then whisk in the natural yogurt.
3. Stir together the couscous and vegetables, then drizzle with the tahini dressing and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves and dukkah.

4. Serve and enjoy!
per serving
1288kJ / 306kcal / 6.7g fat / 1.4g sat fat / 44g carbs / 14g sugars / 9.2g fibre / 14g protein / 0.6g salt
Spiced cauliflower and carrots with preserved lemon and tahini yogurt
As an alternative to the cooked chicken here, you could use leftover cooked meat such as shredded roast beef or pork. The flavours would also work well with cooked prawns. Any leftover salad will make a great lunch the next day.
James Vickers
- vitality nutritionist
“Keep your lunch interesting by trying new dressings on salads. Adding in some spice and citrus will give a lovely flavour. Eggs and chicken will help to fill you up and provide a high protein content.”
1. Place the eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 8 minutes until hard boiled. Drain and run under cold water then remove the shell, halve the eggs and set aside. 2. Cook the beansprouts in a separate pan of boiling water for 1 minute then drain and cool. 3. Place all the dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously until the peanut butter is well blended. 4. Place the beansprouts and salad in a large serving bowl and toss together with the cucumber and salad onions. Tear the cooked chicken into strips and scatter over the top along with the boiled eggs. Drizzle on half of the dressing and toss. Serve the remaining dressing in a jug alongside the salad.

5. Serve and enjoy!
Cook’s tip
Any leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
per serving
1265kJ / 301kcal / 19g fat / 3.5g sat fat / 7.4g carbs / 6.6g sugars / 3.1g fibre / 24g protein / 1.2g salt
1 of your 5 a day
high in protein
20 minutes
10 minutes
  • 6 Waitrose British Blacktail large free range eggs
  • 300g beansprouts
  • 2 x 120g bag mixed salad leaves, such as wild rocket and baby kale
  • 1 Essential Waitrose cucumber, halved and sliced
  • 2 bunches salad onions, shredded
  • 2 x 200g pack Waitrose British cooked chicken
  • 2 skinless breast fillets

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
  • 2 heaped tbsp crunchy peanut butter 
  • 4 tbsp reduced salt soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 28g pack fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 lime, juice
Thai-style chicken salad with peanut dressing
This dessert is great as it can be assembled in advance and finished in the oven just before serving to guests. The vanilla helps bring out the sweetness of the pears. Try these pears at other times of the year, using raspberries as an alternative to blackberries. They also make a good breakfast when served with natural yogurt.
James Vickers -
Vitality Nutritionist
“Using fruit as part of a dessert provides natural sweetness. Almonds are a great way to add flavour. They help reduce sugar content and also keep this recipe lower in saturated fat instead of using too much butter.”
10 minutes
1 hour
  • 8 Conference pears, peeled, halved and cored
  • 2 vanilla pods, halved lengthways, or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 400ml pressed apple juice
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 20g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp light brown muscovado sugar
  • 20g butter
  • 300g blackberries
  • 1 of your 5 a day
    Low Fat / Low in Saturated Fat / High in Fibre
    1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C, gas mark 6. Put the pears in a large roasting tray (or two ovenproof dishes) so they sit snugly in a single layer. Add the vanilla, then pour over the apple juice. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes until the pears are tender (the timing will depend on how ripe your pears are). Meanwhile, put the almonds, flour, mixed spice and sugar in a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter to form small clumps. 2. Scatter the blackberries over the pears, then sprinkle with the almond crumb mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.

    3. Serve and enjoy!
    per serving
    899kJ / 215kcal / 6.6g fat / 1.7g sat fat / 32g carbs / 27g sugars / 7.7g fibre / 3.3g protein / 0.1g salt
    Vanilla pears with blackberries and almond crumb
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