Think back to when you were a kid. Did you have rituals when eating certain treats? Most people can relate to rituals like twisting open an Oreo and licking the filling before eating the chocolate cookies. I used to eat an ice cream sandwich by licking around the edges and getting as much ice cream out of the center before I ever bit into the sandwich cookies. Even now when I have the occasional ice cream sandwich, I still eat it that way. It’s fun. It makes the ice cream sandwich better somehow.

Rituals, it turns out, have a direct impact on the enjoyment of eating. A recent study found that rituals enhance consumption. What does that mean? NBC News sums it up well by saying Singing “Happy Birthday” makes the cake taste better.

Researchers performed four experiments and found the following results:

  1. Participants who engaged in ritualized behavior, compared with those who did not, evaluated chocolate as more flavorful, valuable, and deserving of behavioral savoring.
  2. Random gestures do not boost consumption as much as ritualistic gestures do. It further showed that a delay between a ritual and the opportunity to consume heightens enjoyment
  3. Performing a ritual oneself enhances consumption more than watching someone else perform the same ritual, suggesting that personal involvement is crucial for the benefits of rituals to emerge.
  4. Rituals enhance the enjoyment of consumption because of the greater involvement in the experience that they prompt.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to family dinner. Family dinner itself is an important ritual. Sometimes, getting everyone to the table, however, can be difficult. Maybe adding simple rituals to the dinner will make family members look forward to the time together more. What type of rituals? Here are a few easy ones to start with:

  • Have a discussion question each night. Stay away from “how was school?” or “what did you do today?” Make it specific. Not sure what to ask? Try one of these 150 family dinner discussion questions.
  • Start with gratitude. It could be a traditional prayer, but if your family doesn’t pray in the traditional way, it could be a few words of thanks to the farmers who grow the food and the cook who prepared the food.
  • If the gratitude suggestion is too formal for you, try starting meals by raising glasses and simply saying “Cheers” before the meal starts. There’s no rule that says you can only toast with wine.
  • Light candles.
  • Create a family dinner playlist in your iTunes or on Spotify and play it softly in the background during dinner. Change the songs up from time to time, but keep the ritual of music consistent.

These are simple ideas, but rituals place importance on an activity. Since the rituals surrounding eating food can also make eating more enjoyable and the food seem to taste better, it makes sense that adding rituals to dinner time can enhance the whole experience.

Do you have any rituals that you do at the family table at meals?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Will adding rituals to family dinner make it more enjoyable?
A recent study suggests the rituals that go along with eating can make food taste better and eating a more enjoyable experience.