“Mindfulness” can be defined as a technique of “focusing full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations, but not judging them.” While not easy to master, practicing mindfulness has many benefits to physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. It can reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, and even increase satisfaction with life!
Preparing meals may not be something you’d normally associate with mindfulness practice but shifting your mindset about cooking can be life-changing. Think about this — when you prepare food, you are preparing the fuel that powers your body, mind, and spirit. That is a pretty powerful thought! The process of cooking, from gathering ingredients to chopping and measuring and mixing and kneading, can be meditative on its own, and when mindfulness techniques are applied, you can become more present in the kitchen, tap into an inner clarity, and even produce tastier food!
What is mindful cooking?
Mindful cooking means being present in each moment, with each task, experiencing and bringing into awareness the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and tactical sensations of each step in the process. It literally epitomizes the four pillars of Nature’s pHarmacy: Eat, Drink, Think and Do.
Let’s use chopping an onion as an example. As you grab the onion from the pantry, feel it in your hand. Notice the texture of the paper-thin outer skin. Wash the onion in the sink to remove any dirt, feeling the temperature of the water as you scrub. Once washed, remove the outer papery skin, listening to it crackle and crunch as it’s removed. Does the smell change as the outer skin is peeled away? Grab your knife and cut off both the root end and the stem end, feeling the sensation of the knife as it cuts. Is there a stronger scent now? Cut and chop into desired size noticing any changes in sensation. Does the smell get even stronger? Do your eyes start watering? This is just one example of staying present and mindful as you cook. Practicing this type of focus on what is happening in each part of the process from the perspective of each of your senses will help keep you centered and will cultivate awareness as well as clarity and contentedness.
Where do I start?
Cooking mindfully truly begins at the grocery store with the ingredients selected. We recommend always choosing organic/biodynamic. In the kitchen, you’ll want to prepare your work area to have minimal distractions; we recommend an organized space with no clutter. Also remove any electronics like your phone, laptop, or TV so you can truly focus on the task at hand. Some people find that soft soothing music (e.g., a classical symphony) helps them concentrate. Print out your recipe or open your cookbook and gather your ingredients.
I’m ready! Now what?
Now you will prepare your meal! As noted in the onion example, you will use your senses to identify and process what is happening in each moment, as you focus on each step in your cooking or baking process.
What do you see? The bright colors of the vegetables and spices you’re using can be beautiful to behold. Look at the textures and shapes. Observe how the vegetables and proteins react to heat when placed in a pan.
What do you smell? Breathe deeply and let the aromas fill your lungs. Can you identify individual components (peppers? onions?) or have they all blended together to create a new magnificent bouquet? Let the smells fill the room and be proud that you’re creating a dish that will nourish and fulfill you when you eat.
What do you hear? Listen carefully from the moment you start preparing your ingredients. Does the sound of chopping carrots differ from the sound of chopping celery? What else do you notice? Do sizzles from the pan, or bubbles from boiling water catch your ear? If you chose to listen to music, let it blend with the sounds of the food cooking around you to create a beautiful symphony.
What do you feel? Feel the texture of each unique ingredient: the smoothness of a tomato, the scales of a salmon as you remove them, or the fuzziness of a kiwi. Feel the weight of the knife or spatula in your hands.
What do you taste? Depending on what you are preparing, you may have the opportunity to taste your creation along the way. Is your soup too bland? Does your pasta sauce need more garlic?
Stay focused and present in each moment as your recipe comes together and your meal is prepared. You may find your mind wandering at first as you begin to become more mindful. That is completely normal! Perhaps you are thinking about something you need to do after dinner or how hungry you are. Make a mental note of where your mind wandered to, and gently and consciously shift your focus back to something in the present; a sight, a smell, a sound.
Being mindful while preparing a meal can provide many benefits. It can turn something once stressful into a peaceful practice in your everyday life. No matter how long the recipe takes or how complicated, there’s always time to be present. If you’re preparing the meal for yourself, be excited that you can eat this delicious meal that will fuel your body in the best ways possible. If you’re preparing a meal for others, feel comforted in the fact that they will notice how much time and consideration you put into the meal.
Now it’s time to mindfully eat what you have prepared. How does the food look on the plate? Examine the colors and shapes and textures. Take in the aromas of the plated meal and breathe deeply. Touch your fork or spoon to your food and pick up a mouthful. Take a moment to express gratitude for the ingredients on your plate and how you have lovingly turned them into a beautiful dinner. Feel the different textures and temperatures in your mouth and savor the various flavors.
As you become more mindful over time, you will begin to pay more attention to the ingredients you choose. Where did they originate? Were they organically or biodynamically grown? Are they acidic or alkalinizing? As you become more curious, you may become more selective of what to put into your body, and you may become more appreciative of the source and the steps and people involved to bring them from their origin to your kitchen.
Finally, as you master mindfulness, you may experience inner calm, clarity, and peace. You may find that your cardiovascular and GI health improve and that you experience less stress. Both mindfulness and cooking are truly acts of self-care, and together can provide a healthy understanding of patience, gratitude, and non-judgement… as well as true enjoyment of the meals you consume.