Whether it’s a lobby vending machine, movie theater concession or a mall coffee shop, food is so ubiquitous in our fortunate lives that our inability to muster up gratitude for it seems inevitable. Parents try to encourage their children to develop healthy relationships with food, but how do we teach appreciation when we are busy worrying about our children being picky eaters (the bread, cheese, noodles and chocolate diet) or consuming too much junk or fast food? Not to mention the worries over our children’s growing list of food allergies…
Put a bowl of crunchy fresh popcorn in front of a group of five year olds, and you will undoubtedly witness feverish grabbing by the handfuls without regard for the gift of food before us. Perhaps in an alternate universe, you can witness this group of kindergarteners wait patiently while the popcorn is placed on the table, and a discussion begins about where the corn kernels come from, how it is prepared and what bracha (blessing) to say before any child takes a single bite. This “alternate universe” is a snapshot of snack time where a community of young, mindful eaters experience together the Jewish approach to eating.
That moment before we place the first bite of food into our mouths and ask ourselves did it grow on a vine, a tree or in the earth, is the time that we can capture the awe of our wondrous bounty, leading us to a deeper connection to our earth, G-d and each other. We are also reminded that food is the fuel that nourishes our body, preventing us from getting sick and healing us when we do. Eating mindfully helps us develop an attitude of gratitude which we can experience many times each and every day.
Accompanying our eating with the mindful process of saying brachot before and after meals also allows us to reflect on how we are eating. When we eat whole or unprocessed foods we notice how simple our brachot are. The more processed our foods are, the more we ponder “what bracha do I say?,” giving us a chance to consider the quality of that which we eat.
Teaching our children to say brachot over food may be as important as teaching them to eat healthfully, or reminding them to stop and smell the roses… or better yet, to stop and smell the oranges, or appreciate the blueberry, its source and beauty. Considering the nutritional benefits of these sweet antioxidants, it really does warrant a moment of gratitude. The added benefits of a mindful connection with our food goes beyond what we typically think about when we consider nutrition.
If you are looking for a simple, accessible way to connect with G-d, perhaps start with a simple bracha, and take a healthy step toward a spiritual connection with the divine gift of food.
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.