We've all heard of mindful eating, but could mindful cooking be the next step in our love affair with food?
Dietician and mindfulness coach Lulu Cook says mindful cooking is simply another way to take care of ourselves. "Mindfulness is at its most powerful when we're letting it percolate into our lives, across everything we do and not just in yoga or practising meditation," she says.
"Preparing a meal with awareness is a really different, satisfying experience."
Seems like this mindful cooking thing is worth a try, all in the name of eating healthy, delicious food.
So, how do we do it?
Be mindful of each step in the cooking process
Mindful cooking starts right from the meal planning stage.
"Bring your conscious awareness to think about what you're going to eat today, or what you're going to feed your family this week," advises Cook. As you choose your meal, shop for the ingredients and get back into your kitchen, each step is an opportunity to be mindful.
Set your intentions
For those of us charged with cooking dinner each night (seriously, who invented families that want dinner every single night?), this might sound too good to be true.
Many of us feel like it's a drag to cook the daily meals, but a bit of fun to bake sweet treats. I mean, I've read Marian Keyes' cookbook, Saved by Cake, and I agree that a cookie or five seems far more cheerful than a side of broccoli.
But Lina Mbirkou, cooking facilitator from Mindful Cooking, says, "It's about setting an intention and asking yourself why you are preparing the food you're preparing, and then noticing your state of mind as you're about to prepare the food. Are you seeing food preparation as a chore or as an opportunity to be creative, can you become aware of your mood and accept it as it is without judging it? How hungry are you and how aware are you of the sensations of hunger in your body?"
Appreciate the food
Part of the mindful cooking experience is a sense of gratitude for the wonderful food we have access to.
"Become aware of the ingredients that you are choosing to put in your body, looking at them with beginner's mind … and seeing what new things you can notice about them," says Mbirkou.
"You might wonder where they came from and how far they had to travel to finally be in your fridge or pantry, or considering how many people were involved in growing the food, carrying it and selling it. Then, as you peel, chop and prepare the food, can you appreciate the colours, the aromas, the sensations on your fingers, the sounds, the changing textures? Can you focus on what you are doing moment by moment as if it was the only thing you ever had to do? As zen teachers say: 'When you cut the carrot, cut the carrot' – can you pay attention to your whole experience as it is happening?"
Focus on just one thing
While something like music can make the cooking experience fun, there are other habits we bring to the kitchen that detract from our mindfulness. It's time for those things to be switched off.
"Turn off the distractions: the YouTube video, TV or podcast," Cook says. "Turn off the things that are pulling you out of the experience, so you can be present with what you're doing."
Tune in to yourself
The ultimate way to get into mindfulness – whether it's while cooking or in meditation – is to consider each of your five senses as you do the activity.
"Tune in to your senses," says Cook. "How does it feel in your hands when you're rinsing the grapes? How does it sound when the water is coming to the boil? How does it smell when the onions hit the frying pan?"
"Dialling in to that sensory experience brings you right into the moment."
Start to enjoy cooking and eating
While it's not realistic to think you can be mindful while cooking every single time – after all, there are kids needing help with homework or baskets of washing to fold in between turning saucepans on – it can be a useful way to rethink your approach to food.
"We come from such fraught messages about food, what's healthy and what we should eat, and this can make food a real battleground," Cook says. "But if you start to use your mindfulness practice to make some choices about what you cook, that becomes the habit over time."