SHERIDAN — “I could sit around and not come out of the house,” Dorothy Johnson said. “But I wouldn’t enjoy that. You know, you live longer if you’re around people.”
Johnson has discovered there is more to eating than what’s on your plate. Dining with others not only offers nutritional benefits but other non-nutritional benefits as well.
Have you thought of dishing up a bountiful helping of conviviality for yourself at meal time?
You won’t find it on a menu unless someone invents and names a dish “conviviality.” So, what is it? And how is it beneficial?
Conviviality is the quality of being friendly and lively. With March being recognized as National Nutrition Month, what does conviviality have to do with nutrition?
If you haven’t figured it out yet, meal time is more than about the food. The ambiance of getting together may be even more important than the food itself. Studies show that the social health affects by eating with others are beneficial at all ages but become more important as we get older.
Johnson looks forward to sitting with friends for lunch at the Senior Center.
“It’s the spirit. Not so much to eat but to have fun,” said Sally Robbins, one of Johnson’s co-diners.
Robbins and her husband, Paul, enjoy dining with Johnson and friends Rich Reed and Paul Dubas several times each week at the Senior Center’s dining room.
Johnson and her husband, Farren, began participating in Senior Center activities in their hometown of Mountain View. They didn’t break stride getting connected to the Sheridan Senior Center when they moved to the area.
At the time, the only person they knew in town was their son.
“To get to know people, it’s good to come to the Senior Center,” Johnson said.
Johnson was appreciative of the invitation by new friends at the Senior Center who invited them to eat with them since Farren soon become confined to a wheelchair. The couple looked forward to lunch with friends at the center.
Johnson had directed a public health office for more than 20 years and found it hard to cook for two as Farren was diabetic. The balanced and nutritious — and diabetically adapted — meals at the Senior Center were just part of daily enjoyment for the Johnsons.
“It’s important to have a balanced meal and something you don’t have to eat three times a week,” Johnson said.
Nutritionally balanced meals thwart malnutrition in older adults, but studies show that dining with others in a convivial setting has other benefits.
One benefit is connection and feeling part of a community.
The routine can give people social connections with positive emotional perks to look forward to.
A sense of structure — such as dining together — can lead to a reduction in stress.
Conviviality is evident at all of the Senior Center’s meal sites in Sheridan County. Whether dining in Story on Tuesdays, Heritage Towers in Sheridan or in the Tongue River Valley Mondays through Fridays, or at Big Horn on Thursdays, the people who gather are there for more than the meal; they are there for the friendship.
“What a better way to meet than over food?” said Barb Blue, director of the Senior Center’s Day Break adult day care program.
Blue and the Day Break team try to seat the people they serve together with others of similar interests. Blue has seen friendships form over lunch.
“For me, lunch is an activity,” Blue said.
Jane Perkins, director of fun at the Senior Center, coordinates and schedules activities, including music and entertainment during the lunch hour.
“My hope is to make the atmosphere as positive as possible,” Perkins said.
It must be working. Johnson, Dubas, Reed and the Robbins enjoy their time together more than what’s on the menu.
“It’s the activities, too,” Dubas said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Yes, a bountiful helping of conviviality is on the menu.
By Lois Bell
Sheridan Senior Center