Judging by the numbers on the bathroom scale, I had a very good holiday season. So here I am in this New Year, trying to be more careful about how much and what kind of food I take in each day.
I’ve noticed one of the popular themes lately is something called “mindful eating.” The idea is that rather than absent-mindedly jamming food into one’s mouth, we take the time to unplug from our assorted electronics, sit down and actually pay attention to the food we’re consuming. No more eating off a paper towel over the kitchen sink, shoveling in supper while staring at screens of any sort, or scarfing down finger foods while driving. Mindful eating involves deliberately planning meals around healthy choices, using real dishes and cutlery, arranging the food in an appealing way and savouring every bite. The practice is said to enhance the enjoyment of food, improve digestion and curb over-eating by allowing the body to register feeling satisfied before a person eats more than he or she actually needs.
Sounds simple. In fact, it sounds like what most parents used to routinely tell their children about mealtimes. But now I’m going back in time, to an era when family suppers were a normal part of daily life.
My mother worked afternoon shifts when I was a kid, but my father, my brother and I sat down every night at the table together. You had to have a really good reason to miss supper. The only TV in the house was in another room, the radio was turned off and people just didn’t make phone calls between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. because it was “supper hour” – culturally hallowed ground.
The real value meal
In Jack’s family (and I suspect in most Christian homes back then), meals began with prayer and ended with Bible reading. He has vivid memories of times when his great-uncle John would visit, usually staying for several weeks at a time. Since Uncle John lived alone, he viewed family mealtimes as the perfect opportunity to share stories of his days as a young immigrant, or adventures as a prairie farmer in the dirty 30s. Jack and his sister would wait impatiently as Uncle John prattled on and his food grew cold. Their hope of escape rose as he lifted his fork, then fell as he put it back down and continued with his tales. The kids fidgeted, poking each other and sometimes getting into arguments. Their mom would intervene, but the house rule stood – nobody left the table until every plate was empty and the Bible had been read.
We carried on a similar tradition as we raised our own family. Supper time was more than a meal. It was time to talk and listen, to open up about problems, to read God’s word and to pray. It was a dependable part of life’s daily rhythm.
Obviously regular family meal times bring great rewards – healthier eating habits, less tendency to obesity and better family relationships, to name a few. Mindful eating also makes a great deal of sense. But of course, the culture we live in and the schedules we keep can pose significant challenges to either of these healthy practices. In many homes both parents have full time jobs and little time to linger at the table. Most teenagers put in full days at school, do homework, hold part-time jobs and participate in sports. Still, considering the potential benefits and the fact that we need only invest time and effort, isn’t it worthwhile at least trying to make the paradigm shift?
Why not strive toward living mindfully? Imagine being fully present in each moment, free to appreciate the blessings at hand instead of being distracted by the next item on the to-do-list, taking time to nurture relationships with family and friends, and truly tasting the every day gifts that God fills our lives with – like nutritious, delicious food. Wouldn’t all of that lead to a generally happier, healthier lifestyle? I’ll bet I could eat half as much food and enjoy it twice as much. Now there’s something to work at.