Mindful Eating: Serving Food Thoughtfully

breakfast - mindful eating

This is the fifth 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

Before you sit down to eat a meal, there are several things to be done first. You must prepare the space where you will eat so that it is conducive to eating mindfully, with your full attention and awareness. When you are serving, you must choose how much food you will eat.  If you are with others, you must connect with them, joyfully, understanding how precious it is to have friends and loved ones with whom to share this meal. And, you must look deeply into the food you are about to eat, recognizing that it is truly a miracle that it has come to be on your plate.

Celebrating Meal Times

If you can, afamily eating rrange your schedule so that you have enough time to eat mindfully. This may be difficult when you are at work or caring for others, but do your best to leave enough space in your day to contemplate and truly enjoy your food. Take the time to nourish yourself.

Create a place that is conducive to this way of eating – a simple place setting, dishes you enjoy, a centerpiece, a candle, etc. Give your meal the attention it deserves, and think of this time as a respite, a gift. Even (or especially) if you are eating alone, treat yourself to the good china, the silver. Keep something beautiful on your table. Be kind to yourself.

Creating a space is especially important if you work away from home, but it can be challenging. Offices and stores often don’t keep the most beautiful break rooms or eating areas. You can remedy this by packing a place mat, a cloth napkin, and real dishes and silverware along with your meal. You may want to include a few stones and leaves or a photograph of someone you love. If the area is noisy, perhaps some soft music and headphones would help. I have learned from experience that this can all be set up very quickly, and if you have only a half hour in which to eat, you can still spend it eating with mindfulness and enjoying your space.

Having a space like this isn’t necessary for eating mindfully, of course. All you need is a place to sit and food to eat. If you do nothing else, however, make sure that you do not eat in your car or while going from one place to another, that you do not eat standing in front of your refrigerator or pantry, and that you do not eat while watching television, reading, or surfing the Internet.

If you are eating with others, work together for a few minutes to set the table. Switch off the television, and do not bring gadgets such as phones, tablets or computers to the table. Turn off all music, and, if it’s light outside, open the curtains or blinds and allow the sunlight to pour in. Make a promise not to discuss hurtful or divisive things during the meal.

You may decide this is a meal you would like to eat in silence.  This is a beautiful, peaceful practice that allows you to focus more easily on the food and its effects on your body.  If you are eating with others, ask if they might like to eat in silence, too.  If it is more comfortable, you can devote only a portion of the meal time to silent eating and reflection, and a portion to conversing with those around you.

Serving Food

serving strawberries

Take enough, and no more.

When you are surrounded by an abundance of good food, it can be  difficult to take only what you need.  You must recognize how fortunate you are to have this food to eat. So many people are hungry. Thousands of children die every day from starvation, and many others die from diseases caused and made worse by hunger. But, you are fortunate. You have enough. Serve yourself – and your loved ones – with this awareness.

If you are eating imported foods, remember that there are many people in very poor places who grow expensive foods for export, even though they, themselves, cannot afford to eat them. For instance, many cocoa farmers in Africa have never tasted chocolate. Recognize and be glad that you are able to afford luxury items like this.

One Bowl by Don Gerrard - Mindful EatingAlso recognize that eating too much food can be detrimental for your body.  You must be kind to yourself and eat only the amount your body needs.  When you are hungry, eat nourishing foods.  When you are full, stop.  Do not pile your plate high and eat more than you need. If, like many people, you have trouble with this, consider using a single bowl for most of your meals. One Bowl by Don Gerrard is a lovely book with detailed steps and wonderful commentary. Also, see the article here at Live Simply entitled Mindful Eating: Thinking About Food.

If you have loved ones to share this meal with you, recognize how precious that is, and allow yourself to feel gratitude. Understand that many people are lonely and don’t have anyone to smile and talk with as they eat their meals. If too many of your meals are eaten alone, choose to invite friends, acquaintances and even strangers to eat with you. Ask them to bring a dish to share, and you can be introduced to new friends and new foods at the same time. Sharing food is fundamental to being human and nurtures our hearts like little else does.


sprouts on a farm - mindful eating

When you sit down with your plate filled with food, take a moment to look deeply before you taste your first bite. If you are eating a plant-based meal (if you are not, please read the article Mindful Eating: Choosing the Foods We Eat here at Live Simply), think of each ingredient as a tiny seed, and see the farmer, the rain, the sunshine, and the butterflies, bees and earthworms that helped it to grow. Think about the machinery it took to harvest it and the people who toiled to make that machinery. Think of the long journey the food likely made between the farm and your home and of all the people and elements that were necessary to bring it to you. Think of the many hands and of all the hard work it took for this potato or pepper or piece of crusty bread to be on you plate, and allow yourself to feel a sense of profound gratitude.

Consider saying a blessing before you begin the meal. A simple “Thank you” is enough, though you may want to recite something more elaborate. A good blessing might be:

This food is a gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it. May we recognize and transform our greed and learn to eat with moderation. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings and preserve our planet.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

You can say all of this or part of it, or you can simply create your own blessing. It can be something you memorize or it can be something spontaneous, brand new for each meal – whatever best suits you and those eating with you.

mother and daughter smiling - mindful eatingIf you are eating with others, there is one more thing to do before taking your first bite of food: smile at those around you. Taking just a moment to smile at each person sitting with you is a very basic way of showing that you care, that you are here for her or him. Offering the gift of your presence during the meal, along with the nourishing food, is a very precious thing, indeed.