A Healthy Eating Rituals for You and Your Family

By Dawn Copeland, MFA, & Joanna Lindenbaum, MA

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have personal rituals regarding food and eating. Some of these behaviors support us, and some do not. At their best, eating rituals hold the power to connect us to the present moment and our inner selves. By beginning to look at these rituals, we start to see how mealtimes—and indeed how food itself—either connects or disconnects us from our families, our emotions, the present moment, and ourselves.

Eating rituals take many forms: Some of us, perhaps, always have salad before eating protein for dinner; others always finish what we like least on the plate first, saving the best for last. Some of us have our midday snack routine—we leave at a certain time, go to the same vendor, and purchase a particular snack. Or we may have unhealthy behaviors like purging what we’ve eaten, or a steady practice after dinner of devouring sweet after sweet until bedtime.

Take a moment and identify your current eating rituals. 1. How long have you had these rituals? 2. Do they serve to connect or disconnect you from yourself and your life? 3. What particular meaning do they hold?

Consciously Create Sacred Meals

Intentional rituals encourage you to get touch with your inner wisdom by preparing the way for change and manifestation. Rituals align your mind and body to a greater purpose by allowing you to symbolically enact what you want in life. We see this, of course, in the many communal and religious rituals regarding food—from Christmas dinner to Passover Seder to fasting for Ramadan. These are rituals about food, but they are also so much more. Take, for example, the Passover Seder; bitter herbs are eaten, not just to remember the painful plight of the Israelites in Egypt millennia ago, but also to reflect on the bitterness and hardships that we’ve endured, particularly in the preceding year. Food becomes the symbol through which we become more present to our lives.

Creating new rituals has the potential to establish food as enjoyable and sacred. Food and the act of eating becomes our way of taking time to appreciate all that we are and all that we have. We learn to give thanks, release stress, and mindfully nourish our bodies. Below are several ritual ideas that may be used together or integrated individually into daily meals.

Preparing the Meal

  • Before preparing food, take a moment to mindfully wash your hands. As you do this, imagine or say out loud that you are washing away the stress of your day. Release any anxiety that you may have about the upcoming meal. Let this cleansing be a time to become present to yourself and how you are feeling.
  • Create a sacred or special environment to cook in. You might want to play music that makes you want to dance, sing, and have fun; or choose music that makes you feel grounded and connected to yourself. Or you might need silence and time to be with your own thoughts.
  • As you prepare each part of your meal, give thanks to the food itself and its ability to nourish your body. Give thanks to the earth that provided this food, and all the people who grew it and who made it available to buy.

Eating the Meal

  • If meal times have been especially stressful, commit to radically changing the environment where you eat. This could include eating in another room, trying out a different seat at the table, or changing the dishes. Consider ways to make the table beautiful. From linens to centerpieces, choose items that make you feel comfortable, sacred, and nourished. The idea is to signal to yourself and your subconscious that you are ready and willing to have a different experience at mealtime.
  • Before eating, create an intention for your meal and light a candle as a symbol. If you’re dining with family or friends, share your intention out loud. This can be a beautiful ritual that allows each person to be heard and honored for exactly where they are today. A caregiver’s intention might be, "I will keep the focus on myself and enjoy each bite of food." For someone in recovery it might be, "I am willing to nourish my body with this food," or "I am committed to stop eating when I feel full." Then take some time to be together in gratitude for yourself, each other, and the food that you are about to eat.
  • Identify some quality you want in your life that day. Perhaps it is wisdom or courage or joy. Let the food become symbolic of that quality and imagine that with each bite you take, you are actually feeding and filling yourself with that quality.

Closing the Meal

  • When finished, close your meal by saying another prayer of gratitude for the nourishment of your body and blow out your candle.
  • Acknowledge the ways you have just taken care of yourself by saying out loud or writing down what has been accomplished. It could be as simple as "I acknowledge myself for eating dinner at the table" or "I acknowledge myself for really tasting the food in my mouth." Identify at least 3 ways that you took care of yourself. Over time, this is a powerful tool for seeing the gradual change that is taking place in your relationship with food.