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What is mindful cooking and how to practice it

Cooking. For many, it can sound like a chore, especially for parents who are always rustling up some dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But even if you love cooking, where is your mind while preparing the ingredients? Or when stirring the soup or sauce?

Cooking doesn’t have to be a rushed experience, or something we do on auto-pilot, distracted by thoughts, feelings, and inner-dialogue. In fact, of all the tasks we do in our daily lives, cooking offers a wonderful opportunity for us to train the mind to be present.

From meal prep to making the actual dish, the experience of cooking can be almost meditative on its own, if you know how to cook mindfully.

Whether you’re chopping, slicing, whipping, marinating, or kneading, the art of mindful cooking presents the opportunity to anchor the mind and focus attention on the senses, tuning them in to the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the culinary task at hand. In applying attention to the details of what you are doing, you will likely discover an increased calm and clarity in the kitchen. You never know, it might even make everything a little tastier, too!

It’s easy to get distracted in the kitchen as your mind wanders to plans for the future or memories of the past, but with the use of mindfulness techniques, you can become more present in the kitchen. When you do, you may well enjoy the process of cooking more than you could have ever imagined. Here’s everything you need to know to practice mindful cooking.


How mindful cooking works

When you approach preparing a meal as a mindfulness exercise, we experience the present moment through every task, and in whatever utensil we are using. It could be chopping an onion, stirring/tasting soup, mixing spices to make a sauce, or bringing rice to the boil. In following the recipe — on the page or in our mind — and staying present with the process, step by step, we cultivate awareness and, in turn, discover calm, clarity, and contentment.

How do we cultivate our awareness? Instead of using the breath to anchor the mind — as you would in a meditation — allow your focus to fall on the particular step of the recipe. When you cook mindfully and become generally curious about the food you are making, you’ll naturally be in the here and now.


The benefits of mindful cooking

Mindfulness meditation — whether it’s practiced in the kitchen or on the couch — is proven to increase happiness and improve focus and satisfaction with life while reducing stress and irritability.

Cooking is an act of self-care, and reminds us that we are worthy of a home-cooked meal. What’s more, when you’re mindful of the ingredients you choose to cook with, the food you prepare will come out nourishing and deeply satisfying. And when you’re cooking mindfully for others, they will undoubtedly notice the care and consideration you’ve poured into their meal.

In the words of Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe: “Whether it’s the warmth of the sunshine on our back, the sound of the food sizzling on the grill, or the sweet smell of spices wafting in the breeze, cooking outdoors can be a magical affair. With such a rich environment for our senses, grilling out is the perfect activity to remind ourselves of what it means to be mindful — relaxed in the body, at ease in the mind and just that little bit more connected with the world around us.”

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Try this 5-minute mindful cooking exercise

Mindful Cooking Meditation

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Techniques for mindful cooking

Use these three techniques to bring a higher level of awareness, focus, and clarity to your cooking:

  1. Remove your smartphone from the kitchen: Attempting to do too many things at once decreases your ability to switch between tasks and makes you less able to focus on any one activity. The mere presence of your smartphone in the room, even if you’re not actively looking at it, reduces available brainpower, according to a study published in The University of Chicago Press Journals in 2017. Before you even begin cooking, put your phone on silent and place it somewhere far away from the kitchen. While you’re at it, turn off the TV, radio, and Alexa.

  2. Be aware of the food with all your senses: Instead of being lost in thought, allow yourself to be entirely present with the sounds, smells, textures, and physical sensations of the kitchen. Let’s say you begin thinking about how hungry you are, or how much money you spent at the grocery store. First, take a minute to acknowledge that your mind has wandered off and notice where your mind wants to travel (this technique is called noting). Then, gently return your focus back to the kitchen, perhaps to the smell of pasta sauce simmering or water boiling. This type of mindfulness training — whether it’s practiced inside or outside of the kitchen — is accessible through meditations and exercises on the Headspace app.

  3. Be mindful of the ingredients you cook with: Consciously think about each and every ingredient you cook with. What is its taste, smell, and texture? What will it add to the dish? Where does it come from, and how was it grown or produced? When you become curious about the ingredients you’re using, you’ll begin to appreciate those ingredients more, and source and handle them with extra care and consideration.


Two types of mindful cooking

The process of making an oven-baked dish (think peach cobbler) is different from making a dish that requires you to be constantly involved (think fried rice). But you can practice mindful cooking no matter what dish you’re making. Here’s how:

  1. Inactive Cooking (Little To Do)

After you’ve prepared your dish (for example, peach cobbler), place it in a preheated oven and set a timer. Sit not too far from the kitchen in a comfortable position. Note the constantly changing smells, sounds, sensations, and thoughts while gently focusing on your breath. Notice when your mind becomes preoccupied and where it wants to travel to, then gently bring your awareness back to your breath when it does.

When the timer goes off, instead of simply assuming your dish is cooked, return to the kitchen and use each one of your senses to determine if your dish is ready to be pulled from the oven. Is it browned to your liking? Does it smell delicious? Can you hear the filling bubbling inside? Once you take your dish out of the oven, pause to acknowledge the wholehearted attention and care you’ve put into to your mindful cooking practice.

  1. Active Cooking (Lots To Do)

From the very first moment you step into the kitchen, anchor your mind on the physical senses and the task at hand. Be aware of how your mood and thinking changes, and after you have observed how your mind behaves, gently bring your concentration back to the sounds and smells of the food you’re cooking.

Don’t let your mindfulness meditation stop once the food is prepared — you can bring the same mindfulness to eating and enjoying the dish you’ve created.

How Headspace can support you in mindful living

If you’re looking to live more mindfully, the Headspace app offers a free 10-minute exercise in mindful cooking. Bring mindfulness to other aspects of your daily life with Headspace meditations on housework, gardening, sleeping, and writing.

If you’re looking to become more aware of your relationship with food in general, explore this 30-session mindful eating course (only available to logged-in Headspace subscribers). As you delve into these guided meditations, congratulate yourself on the time and effort you’re investing in your own well-being and the well-being of others. Sign up for free today, and start experiencing the powerful benefits of meditation and mindful living.

Read Next: How to Start a Morning Meditation Routine

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