Cooking Up Calm

Finding Mindfulness and Meaningful Connection Through Food

For many of us, the last few months of the year can seem especially hectic. Between work or school, the upcoming holiday season, and other stressors going on, our brain and schedules can feel like they’re going a million miles a minute.

Often, we find ourselves living for the future or in the past – focusing on the upcoming weekend, replaying past scenarios in our head, or worrying about all the things we need to get done. When this kind of autopilot happens, it can be hard to feel connected or truly present in any given moment.

During these times, one of the best things we can do for our mind and body is to give space to the here and now. By practicing mindfulness in our daily routines – like cooking – we can connect the nurturing power of food to the therapeutic benefits of present-moment awareness.

Cooking & Mindfulness: Food for Thought

Mindfulness is a grounding technique that helps us bring awareness and attention to the present moment without judgment.

It comes in many forms and looks different for everyone – from going on a walk, practicing breathing exercises, listening to music, and much more. It doesn’t necessarily matter the activity, so long as you’re fully present and authentically engaging in what you’re doing.

When we’re mindful, we’re better able to separate distractions and intrusive thoughts from our ability to enjoy the moment. This willingness to “go with the flow” – even for brief moments throughout your day or week – can produce a state of tranquility and help us manage stress, alleviate anxiety, and even reduce pain.

So, how does cooking with mindfulness connect us to the present moment?

Cooking is a sensory experience that bonds us to ourselves and each other, just as food often bonds us to our traditions, cultures, and heritages. It produces the fuel that keeps our minds and bodies going while also nourishing social connection and creativity.

According to Scott Clawson, a counselor with North Range’s Youth and Family Intensive Services team, we can enrich the cooking experience by simply fostering attention and intention while making our next meal.

The Five Senses

To become more mindful while cooking, consider watching Scott’s Cooking Up Calm video and ask yourself these questions regarding the five senses:

Sight

  • Where are you? What do you see?
  • What kinds of things are around you, in your area? Is it your family? Is it your pets? Or just you?
  • Have you set up your ingredients and cooking materials (knives, cutting board, pots/pans, etc.) – or do you prefer to lay it out as you go?
  • What are the colors of the ingredients? What does the end product look like on the plate?

Touch

  • What kind of things can you sense through touch -- is it the food? The heat of a stove?
  • What kinds of different textures or consistencies can you feel? Are some ingredients, like spices, gritty or fine?
  • Do certain actions – like cutting vegetables, or chopping herbs – produce a sense of calm?

Smell

  • What kind of things can you smell around you? Is it the food you're preparing? The smell of warmth? The smell of sautéing something? Is it the smell of the season?
  • How do the scents change, as you combine and cook ingredients?
  • Do any of the aromas feel comforting or familiar? Or are you experiencing something new entirely?

Sound

  • What kind of things can you hear in your environment now? Do you like to listen to a podcast or play music in the background? Or do you prefer the background sounds of cooking – like something sizzling in a pan?
  • Is there a natural song that cooking produces – like the clinking of utensils, whisking a mixture, or sprinkling of a salt or pepper shaker?

Taste

  • What are the tastes you’ve experienced throughout cooking? Have you been testing blends of dressings or marinades or ingredients that might go together? How about seasonings?
  • How are the flavors interacting with your taste buds? Are they savory, sweet, spicy, juicy, tangy, or something else?

“These are the hallmarks of being in a moment in any situation, it doesn't have to be cooking,” says Scott. “Take a minute to look at the things around you and at what's going on - be in the moment.”

Another piece of advice from Scott? Don’t be afraid to have fun and try something new or add your own personal flare to a recipe! He recommends branching out and trying new dishes, and making use of tutorials and resources like Bon Appétit or Peaceful Cuisine on YouTube.

Cooking doesn’t have to be a hassle and you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to practice mindfulness in the kitchen. While cooking your next meal, be sure to engage in the present moment to feed your body, mind, and soul.

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