Mindful Eating: Cooking with Awareness

This is the fourth post in the Mindful Eating series. To view other posts, please visit:

(1) Learning to Eat Mindfully
(2) Thinking about Food
(3) Choosing the Foods We Eat
4) Cooking with Awareness
(5) Serving Food Thoughtfully
6) Preparing to Eat
7) Experiencing the Meal
(8) Cleaning with Intention
9) Conclusion

And I begin to wonder, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’

What a gift amidst all the turmoils of life –
life-threatening automobile and bicycle accidents,
family illness and death,
relationship disjunctions and housing dislocations –
to find a simple way of expressing warmth and kindness:
the offering of bread.

~Edward Espe Brown

potatoes - mindful eating

Preparing food is an especially sacred act. It is how we nourish our bodies and minds. It is how we care for others, how we help. It is an elemental part who we are as humans. When you choose your foods carefully, when you boil the water, when you peel the onion, slice the carrot, sauté the garlic, when you spice the dish, taste it, add salt, you can do these things with mindfulness.

Staying present with the food – the aromas, the textures, looking deeply into a potato or a fig or a clove of garlic – this is such a simple act. In fact, there is little that is simpler. Taking care of the present moment, though, takes practice. First, you must be aware of what you are doing – slicing peppers or washing fruit or adding pasta to the water.  You must look deeply into the food and understand its connection to you, to other beings, to the Earth. You must recognize that this food will nourish your body and mind and that it will become a part of you.

With this understanding, you can properly prepare your meal with your full attention.

Your Space

Bstovetop - mindful eatingefore it’s time to cook, walk into your kitchen and take a look around. Is it conducive to the work that needs to be done there? Do you have a cutting board? Properly sharpened knives? Pots and pans without chemical coatings? Are your counters cluttered with gadgets? Can you find what you’re looking for when you need it?

Stand in the middle of your kitchen and take stock of what you see. What serves you? What doesn’t? What sort of space would you like to work in? What can you do to make this small space just right for you?

bottles in window - mindful eatingConsider creating a small kitchen altar. It can be anything that speaks to you: a candle, a photograph, a flower, a statue, a fortune from a cookie, a special stone you picked up – anything that makes you feel calm and centered and happy, anything that can serve as a reminder to pay attention and truly experience your time in the kitchen.

Choosing What to Cook

When deciding on a meal to prepare, we are limited by factors such as time, how many people we must feed, how much money we have to spend on the food, what food is on hand, the particular likes and dislikes, allergies, etc. of the people for whom we are preparing the meal, and our own skill in the kitchen. Within these confines, our creativity can blossom, and the result can be a meal that is not costly, whose preparation fits comfortably into our day, and that tastes sublime.

dough - mindful eating

Some days, we have the time and the inclination to prepare an intricate four course meal. Other days, we put together a sandwich or warm up leftovers.  No matter how complicated a dish is, we can prepare it with mindfulness. The preparation of a humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as sacred an act as the preparation of pistachio encrusted eggplant with sautéed summer vegetables and a ginger pear sorbet.

If you are used to eating meat, you may want a main dish to center the meal around. If so, consider how you can do this with plants, instead. A stuffed vegetable such as an acorn squash or bell pepper is certainly a main dish, as are casseroles, pastas, hearty soups and many rice or bean dishes.

Preparing the Meal

Once you’ve chosen the foods you’ll prepare, it is time to work with them. Leave enough space in your day so that you can thoroughly enjoy the act of cooking. Don’t think of this as a time to rush through, but as a series of exquisite moments that require your full presence and attention.

peeling garlic - mindful eating

As you wash each fruit or vegetable, as you slice the bread, as you spice the soup, know that this food will nourish your body and mind.  Acknowledge the rain, the sun and the soil that helped it to grow. Imagine the farmer who planted it, the combine driver who harvested it, and all the materials and people it took to create that combine. Imagine the small animals and insects that were killed or displaced during the harvest. Imagine the worker who packed the food into crates, the truck driver who delivered it to your store. The food you’re holding in your hands is a result of the entire cosmos.

When you turn on the tap, water flows into your sink.  You do not have to haul water from the river each morning. How wonderful! When you turn on the stove, there is instant heat.  There is no need to chop wood to make a fire.  Allow yourself to feel gratitude for these things.

Continue to look deeply as you chop, heat and sample.  Notice your breathing, your movements, the sounds of the food cooking, the vibrant colors, the textures, the subtle or pungent aromas. Be aware of what you are doing and of what is happening to the food.  Notice the meal change as it cooks, the textures softening, smells mingling and colors fading.  Be present with the meal and with your participation in creating it.

heart shaped cookie cutter - mindful eatingCook with gratefulness, love and mindfulness, and you will be nourished by gratefulness, love and mindfulness. Cook with impatience and anxiety, and you will be nourished by impatience and anxiety. It is a choice.

When the meal has finished cooking, spend a moment recognizing the transformation it has undergone.  Remember that everything started as a tiny seed, and with help from the entire cosmos, those seeds eventually became the dish you have just prepared. This is truly a miracle.

Don’t lose sight of that.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful series, Shana. Your view of the interconnectedness of being and the beauty inherent in living a simple and mindful life are uniquely approachable. I will keep reading and I look forward to “In Harmony: A Book on Living Simply.”

  2. I’m especially drawn to a favorite corner of the universe – my kitchen – with its bountiful, well used spice rack, the solidness of its faux granite counter-top, and the stove that is joyfully always at the ready. You’ve reminded me of the special relationship I have with that space and how to see its inherent sacredness. I so look forward to brewing my next cup of tea, or preparing my next bowl of homemade soup. Thanks.

  3. I love the simple way you have of painting pictures with words, Shana. But I also appreciate the beauty of the photographs you have chosen to illustrate your thoughts. Well done! I want everyone I know to read this 🙂

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