Mindful Holiday Meals

By Katie Paulson, MS, RND, LD, Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines

Awareness is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Pausing for moments of mindfulness can help you be more aware of the present – how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way.

There are opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout the day, including mealtime. Being present, engaging with the food in front of you and slowing down can improve your relationship with your food and nourish a healthy lifestyle of awareness.

Practicing Mealtime Mindfulness

“When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide a universe of sensory experience.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Before eating, take a moment to take three deep breaths and give thanks for the food before you. Taking a moment to recognize those who grew and raised the food, transported it to the grocery store and prepared the meal can help you be more aware, release tension and show respect for the food you’re about to enjoy.

The first few bites are the most flavorful. Take a moment to savor the taste, color, smell and texture.

It takes your body about 20 minutes to recognize feelings of fullness, so it’s key to slow down. Find what works best for you. Chewing food thoroughly, setting down your utensil between bites or enjoying conversation with friends and family are mealtime habits that can help you slow down. When you slow down, it’s easier to recognize when you’re satisfied. Honor that feeling.

Part of mindful eating is recognizing your hunger cues. It’s important to identify why you’re staring at the fridge. Is it because it’s time to eat? Are you stressed? Are you bored? Are you truly hungry? Understanding your hunger cues is key to avoiding mindless or reactive eating.

  This hunger scale can help you recognize your hunger cues. Work to stay within the 3 to 7 range to avoid extremes. Credit: Mercy Medical Centers - Des Moines

This hunger scale can help you recognize your hunger cues. Work to stay within the 3 to 7 range to avoid extremes. Credit: Mercy Medical Centers - Des Moines

Mindful Eating During the Holidays

Even though your calendar may be full of family potlucks, company Christmas parties and neighborhood socials, your mindful eating practices don’t have to go out the window during the holidays. Here are some strategies for mindful eating during the most wonderful time of the year:

  • If you’re at a potluck, scope out all the food options before filling your plate. This will help you be mindful in prioritizing your food choices. Nothing is worse than filling your plate with the first option in a buffet line, to soon realize your “must-have” items were at the end of the line!

  • Seek out the fruit, vegetable and meat and cheese trays. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and select lean proteins like pork, turkey, eggs, beef, chicken and low-fat cheeses. Protein and fiber helps you stay full longer, which may help you avoid indulging in too many high carbohydrate options.

  • Don’t go to holiday parties hungry! Enjoy a balanced meal beforehand, so you’re not filling up on potentially unhealthy holiday food options.

  • If you’ll be at an all-day family event, plan activities to help you avoid grazing all day long. Take a family walk, shoot hoops or organize a board game tournament to reduce the time spent snacking.

  • Savor your favorite holiday treats! There’s no harm in enjoying your favorite holiday dish. When you choose to splurge, just take the time to be mindful – slow down, taste and view it as a special treat.

Need a holiday potluck recipe? Try this edamame hummus. It’s a protein-packed dip that works perfectly with sliced cucumbers, carrots, celery, olives or crackers. Please note, by clicking the link, you will be leaving a partially funded checkoff site.