Food is a powerful connective tool.
We build our bonds with friends and family over dinners, we go to restaurants on dates, we prepare food for others and with others. Even when we’re cooking and eating alone, food still connects us to the world. Whether it is a particular meal reminding us of home, or simply sustenance to get us through the day, food is never meaningless. Like music or literature, food is a shared cultural product. Our feelings and experiences with food help us build our connections with others.
Today, we're talking about the importance of creating rituals around food–making it, serving it, and eating it.
What Are Food Rituals?
According to family therapist William Doherty Ph.D., rituals are emotionally significant practices that are done every day, and that, “A mealtime ritual needn’t be time-consuming. Even the busiest person can bow her head for a moment before her smoothie.”
Here are a few examples of food rituals:
Saying a prayer or having a moment of gratitude for your food. Appreciating where it came from and what it will do to nourish your body.
Taking a few deep breaths before the first bite (or sip).
Having a sense of mindfulness as you eat. Chew your food slowly, noticing the flavors, smells, and textures, and how you respond to them.
Remembering to come up for air in between bites; don’t just inhale your food!
Even if you are busy, take in the atmosphere. Notice what’s happening around the table- are there birds chirping outside? Is there a painting or a picture on the wall? What does it smell like? Be in the moment; take everything in.
The Benefits of Food Rituals
Why make a ritual out of eating food? What makes it so good for us? The benefits are both physical and mental.
Food can (and should) taste good! Why else do people love Thanksgiving dinner? It’s not only because the food tastes good. The days leading up to them, and the rituals surrounding the meal itself are what give it a satisfying pay-off. We anticipate the meal knowing that it’s been carefully prepared all day and that we’ll be gathering around the table to savor it with people we love. Or think about homemade food. There’s something about the way our parents prepare treats and meals that makes them all the more special. Is it the whole foods, or the “secret” touch of a parent’s love?
We may never know for sure, but we do know there’s nothing like home cooking!
Being present through the grounding of rituals encourages us to focus on our food. When we focus on our food, we enter a state of rest and digest, which is known as the parasympathetic state. During this time, our body can fully optimize digestion and properly break down and absorb our food.
Likewise, the sympathetic state of fight or flight that comes from anxiety, fear, or nervousness is what hinders digestion. If we’re distracted by answering a flood of emails, texts, and social media notifications, we’re not fully entering a parasympathetic state. And as a result, we experience bloating, gas, indigestion, and discomfort.
Both the brain and stomach need at least 20 minutes to register feelings of fullness (satiety). If you’re wolfing down your meals like a starved animal and looking for extra servings, then you didn’t give your body the chance to acknowledge that it’s been fed. Before you go reaching for another bite, snack, or a portion, wait at least 20 minutes and see how your appetite feels then.
If you’re still hungry, then, by all means, eat! But you’re most likely going to feel satisfied after that amount of time. And where do food rituals fit in? They keep you focused on the meal. Not only does chewing your food and being in the moment support digestion, but it also gives your body plenty of time to tell you it’s no longer hungry. Those satiety signals kick in and tell you enough is enough.
Food rituals aren’t only for singles. They work even better when they’re shared in pairs or groups. At work, go out and eat with your co-workers. At home, have everyone pitch in with dinner. Say grace or give thanks together before meals.
Talk with each other and enjoy the tasty food. Meals are a fantastic opportunity to bond, whether it’s with your family, friends, or partner. What’s especially great is if you can spread the importance of healthy nutrition with them! Show them how healthy foods can be good for your body and taste buds.
What do you think about food rituals? Are you ready to make your meals more special?
If you're ready to take your mealtime rituals to the next level, try out one of our fun online or in-person cooking classes to level-up your skills in the kitchen. View the calendar here, or schedule a call to build your own cooking class with your coworkers or friends!