This blog is a sharing of ideas for mindful eating and saying a secular ‘grace’ at mealtimes. I
can’t say our family practices this regularly, but we aspire to incorporating it more. It isn’t
tradition in either of our families to say grace, and we grew up with parents of different religions. With my husband’s long work-day, my son often eats before he gets home making dinner together –and saying grace–more challenging. However, we are making an effort, and here are some of the blessings I’ve found. I’ve written this with the secular parent in mind, for families that aren’t rooted in a single religious tradition that would give its own version of a meal blessing.
Activity idea: make these gathas or poems into decorative paper placemats (sort of like you get at restaurants) to make it an activity for kids. Or have them design one and laminate it, making it into a placemat for them to remember the words and be reminded of the aspect of saying grace. This could also be Charlotte Mason-style copywork practice, leading up to the final work that gets laminated. I have a couple of examples that I made with oil pastels in designing some for our kitchen table.
A ‘gatha’ from Everyday Blessings by the Kabat-Zinns
Earth who gives us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dear Earth, dear Sun
By you we live
Our loving thanks
To you we give.
Food Contemplations from Thich Nhat Hanh: These are considerably longer than the one in Everyday Blessings, so I divided them into five segments when putting it on paper for the activity. It is long enough I wanted to give both the words and to give the possibility of having multiple family members take turns reading. If you have Planting Seeds (the Plum Village book) there is an illustrated page you can copy. This is my abbreviated version below, a simpler-to-pronounce version that I like better with my six-year-old.
This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, the rain and the sun.
We thank the people who have made this food, especially the farmers, the people at the market and the cooks.
We only put on our plate as much food as we can eat.
We want to chew the food slowly so that we can enjoy it.
We want to eat in a way that nurtures our compassion, protects other species and the environment, and reverses global warming.
This food gives us energy to practice being more loving and understanding.
We eat this food in order to be healthy and happy, and to love each other as a family.
From the Dalai Lama
Viewing this food as a medicine
I shall enjoy it without greed or anger
No out of gluttony nor out of pride
Not to fatten myself (if this triggers someone, the sentence can be left out. Not to edit His Holiness, but I can see it being a not-helpful message to someone working on body image issues.)
But only to nourish my body
Mindful eating can involve a structured eating meditation, or eating in silence. The first time I ate an entire meal in silence was at a yoga teacher training, and while odd at first, it was interesting to try it multiple times and see how the dynamic of eating changed drastically when conversation with others was not an option. Obviously phones, TV and books were also not allowed. While I love the tradition of mealtimes as a time of all being together and sharing a meal and conversation, there could be times of quiet meals or quiet portions of the meal.
Other books that we’ve talked about on the MCM blog have instructions and/or guided eating meditations, including Planting Seeds and Sitting Still Like a Frog. These eating meditations involve a simple food, like a raisin or an apple, and eating it as a slow, mindful experience. Taking quiet, reflective time to wonder at the process of eating and to give all our attention to the tastes and textures of the food. In our culture of fast food and restaurants having on multiple TVs and radios (sometimes simultaneously!), and of emotional and social eating, letting our family have a true slow food experience is part of having a healthy relationship with food.
Our family has other traditions that conflict with modeling mindfulness while eating. For example, our Sunday morning ritual is to have a long breakfast while reading the Sunday paper. I am determined to raise a kid who loves books and reading (and succeeding so far!). We started subscribing to an actual newspaper (despite the sacrifice of trees) because my husband reads mostly newspapers and magazines, and usually on a smartphone. I wanted to reinforce that, yes, daddy reads print as well, and to let our kiddo see us reading all kinds of materials on a regular basis.
Mindful eating doesn’t have to happen every meal, every day. It can become a practice, a family ritual on a certain day or something we introduce as a mindfulness exercise in a structured way until we know how to make it happen in real life.