In a society offering increasingly more opportunities for movement – new activities and sports, travel and transport, technologies, etc. – quality time around the dinner table can sometimes fall low on one’s list of priorities.
...But it shouldn’t!
As eating on the go also becomes more accessible and easy to do, taking time to put aside our busy lives is more important than ever. Making time for community, family, and self – away from the hustle and bustle – is an act of mindfulness. Whether you are able to take time for mindfulness at dinnertime, at breakfast or at lunch, making mealtime purposeful and intentional offers benefits that can only be understood (and reaped!) once you make mealtime a mindful routine.
Why is mealtime such an important time for mindfulness? We’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat,” right? Well, you are also how you eat. Not only does what you’re putting in your body affect your mindset and energy, but how you are eating does, as well. If you’re standing up or walking while eating, your senses are more tuned into what’s going on around you than how food tastes and whether or not you feel full, for example. Similarly, eating while watching TV or driving, perhaps, can lead to mindless eating (cue: hand in bottom of chip bag). On the other hand, considering how you are eating – everything that surrounds the meal itself, including sounds, lighting, air temperature, comfort, etc. – and how those factors affect the mind and body inevitably will prompt more mindful practices around mealtime. Pausing all other activities to slow down to sit and eat with those you care for (even a pet!) allows you to enjoy the flavors and feeling of a meal while engaging in a way that is meaningful to you.
According to my own experience growing up in a family that honored the nightly tradition of “family dinner” – which I now continue as an adult with my partner – here are some actions you can take to foster a mindful mealtime with bountiful benefits.
Naturally, the first step to having a mindful mealtime is to press pause on all the moving parts of life that, really, can wait. And naturally, this is the most difficult to do! Based around obligations, set a specific mealtime to start, and hold yourself accountable to making this time for nourishment in all senses – good food and drink, a break from your phone/computer/work, and conversation and connection. A pause is always well earned, after all.
Make the process of preparing a meal inclusive and cooperative. For families, get the kids to peel some carrots or stir the quinoa; for singles, invite over a friend or neighbor or turn on your favorite podcast or news station for a little extra entertainment and education. Whether you’re a family or cooking for one, preparing a meal together – even it doesn’t turn out perfectly – is a great opportunity to build stronger relationships through communication and teamwork.
Literally – clear off the kitchen counter, table, or wherever you plan to eat. Doing this quite simply clears those other distractors from your view so that you may focus on taking pause at mealtime. Make it a habit of setting the table or lighting a candle so that the space you’ve created for mealtime is intentional and special…and soon enough you may become conditioned to clear other spaces as well!
Carefully selecting what you will make for a meal is equally as important as taking a pause for mealtime. It’s one thing to set aside time to eat a carb-packed meal without a speck of green in it, but it’s that much more beneficial to select and plan a well-rounded meal with protein, vegetables, and a grain or carb. Taking the time to compose healthy meals is paramount in determining the how of eating.
Similarly, eating slowly and consciously is also crucial during a mindful mealtime. There should be no reason to rush through the pause you have granted to yourself! Doctors recommend that we chew softer foods 5-10 times, and more dense foods, like meats and vegetables, up to 30 times before swallowing. Properly chewing food is necessary for the release of digestive enzymes in saliva, and conscious, slow eating prompts proper mastication!
Time around the table, I’ve found, is the best time for intentional connection with friends and family. Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving, after all? Mealtime is meant for sharing, connecting, telling stories, and most of all LAUGHING. Even after your plate is empty, conversation may continue…connection fulfills a different sort of appetite, for the soul.
Mealtime, when taking a pause from the business of the day, is absolutely ideal for taking a moment of gratitude. Not only are you blessed to have food in front of you, but you are blessed to have a warm home in which to eat it, a chair in which to sit, arms to eat, and a mouth to taste the wonders of your healthy meal. Pause to give thanks for the simple things in life that nourish you and those around you.
As summer approaches, mealtime is the best time to invite and share with friends. Food is a biological necessity, and so it is easy to bond with others over a tasty dish, or by inquiring about a recipe or grill technique. Share the love and gratitude with others by making mealtime more about community.