Cooking is one of my great passions… with a few caveats. I love to cook when I have the time and space to sink into the process and not hurry my way through. When I’m not rushing around, those seemingly annoying tasks like chopping onions or washing lettuces transform into a meditative reprieve from the demands of the day. As I move through each step of a recipe, I can find my flow and embrace the process instead of hurrying my way through it.
Over the past year, I’ve been looking for ways to build more of these moments of ritual into the everyday moments of life. As Kate Waitzkin shared in her article about weaving rituals into our days, it’s not about a formal ceremony—rituals can be an unspoken way of living.
“Rituals are a way of seeing, engaging with, and welcoming the world. It’s not saved just for the precious or seemingly monumental life moments. It’s a chosen perspective expressed and woven into the fabric of even our most ordinary days.”
Since most of us prepare at least a couple of meals every single day, that adds up to 14 micro moments a week (or 40 times a month!) to take something that could feel like a chore, and turn it into a joy-sparking, soul-replenishing moment in our day. Here are a few ways that I practice what I’ve come to refer to as “mindful cooking,” which is simply bringing more awareness and attention to my time in the kitchen.
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What is mindful cooking?
The meditation experts at Headspace define the art of mindful cooking as, “an opportunity to anchor the mind and focus attention on the senses, tuning them into the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the culinary task at hand.” I love that. Each time we prepare a meal, no matter how simple, it’s a chance to slow down, stop multitasking, and bring more awareness to whatever it is that we’re cooking and eating.
Benefits of Mindful Cooking
I like to approach cooking and meal preparation as an act of self-care. Just think about it: in the same way, we nourish our bodies when we take a bath, rest, or exercise, the food that we prepare and eat is the ultimate act of nourishment. Not only are we providing our bodies with what they need to thrive, but taking time to enjoy the process is a small gift we can give ourselves multiple times a day.
Home-cooked meals are also healthier and full of more beneficial nutrients than what we generally get in a restaurant. And if we’re cooking for other people, they get the benefits, too. There’s a great saying that I heard once, and it stuck with me:
No one wants to eat a cake you hated baking.
It’s an idea that applies to much more than just cooking, and it’s true: when we bring more love and care to the food we prepare, it’s more nourishing, more delicious, and more pleasurable to eat.
How to Practice Mindful Cooking
Mindful cooking is all about being more present while we’re cooking. It’s taking a moment to calm our nervous system and let go of any overwhelm or anxiety from the day’s activities. Like meditation, mindful cooking is a chance to train the mind to learn to be more present and focus on what’s happening in the here and now. Below are a few practical ways to put it into practice.
Shift Your Perspective
Choose to see this moment of preparing a meal as a sacred ceremony. So often, creating ritual in our lives is a simple shift in perspective—the actions may be the same as any “normal” day, but the attention we bring to the process is what changes. It’s opening our eyes to the beauty that’s around us at any given moment.
Prepare More Home-Cooked Meals
Choosing to cook more meals at home is a great first step. So often, we think of cooking as being more time-consuming than grabbing food to go, but when you eliminate the decision fatigue of deciding where to go, what to order, and getting there and back, cooking a simple meal at home often gives us more rest and spaciousness to slow down in the evening.
Turn on Music and Embrace the Experience
Taking time to turn on some calming music transitions me out of the stress of the workday and into a more relaxed state. It also helps me get into my flow state while I’m going through the steps of a recipe. Sometimes I play a chill playlist that lets me zone out a bit. Other times, I want something upbeat that I can sing along to and raises my energy.
Before you rush straight into prep, take a moment to prepare yourself and make the process more enjoyable. Review your recipe, get out the ingredients, and pour yourself something to drink. (It doesn’t have to be wine—a kombucha, tea, or water with lemon slices does the trick!)
Savor the Sensory Qualities of the Food
As you move through the act of preparing a meal, chopping, slicing, stirring, or tasting, be aware of how the ingredients taste, smell, and look. Have you ever noticed how attending a wine tasting or a multi-course meal enhances your enjoyment of it simply because you’re slowing down enough to pay attention to the sensory experience? That glass of wine is transformed into a ceremony as you take in the flavor profile and appreciate the many layers of flavors and scents bottled up in one sip. When we mindlessly go through the motions of eating, we miss out on the fullest experience of what it could be.
It certainly doesn’t have to be a fancy meal to fully appreciate the tastes and smells of our food. Beauty can be discovered in the simplest of things when we choose to create an experience out of the ordinary.
Notice the ingredients and feel grateful for the way they nourish your body. I love growing my own food in a garden or shopping at a farmers’ market. Something about seeing where the ingredients come from gives me a deeper level of appreciation and respect for what we’re putting into our bodies.
My challenge for you: As you head into the weekend, try setting aside one meal to practice mindful cooking. It’s not another thing to add to your to-do list, rather it’s an opportunity to gift yourself the joy of being fully present, relishing the fun of cooking, and the pleasure of eating delicious food.