Sacred Nutrition – The Spirit of Mealtime

(special feature for Lilipoh Magazine winter 2011 issue)

Celebrating Mealtime
As a child, I remember how important mealtime was in my family. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a stay-at-home mom, so all my meals were enjoyed in the comfort of my own home.  At dinner time, the whole family gathered together every night.  This was an important time for our family; conversations were had, the day’s events were shared, decisions were made, and chores and duties were discussed.  Much laughter and many tears were shared around our kitchen table.  Mealtime was a daily celebration in my family, a ritual that I still hold dear to my heart even today, and it was an opportunity to be nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Celebrating this ritual of mealtime with our children in class is an important aspect of Waldorf Education.  As written in The Fourfold Path to Healing, “the activity of eating involves far more than just putting food into one’s mouth.  It invokes the pleasure of many senses – smell, touch, taste, sight, and even hearing – and affects the life of the soul and mind, as well as the Physical and Life-Force Bodies.”  Gathering around the table also creates a sense of community.  Children not only benefit from the food served at the snack table, but from the bonds that are created with their classmates and teachers.  It is an opportunity for them to experience an in-breath, “digest” the morning’s events, and truly celebrate the day.

Rhythm and Seven Grains
The kindergarten snack is an integral part of a child’s day at a Waldorf school. As stated by Lisa Hildreth in The Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book, “snacks are not only an important activity of the day, but they are the day!”  While the kindergarten snack may seem simple, much planning and thought goes into each meal.  Not only is it important to decide what foods will be used and how they will be prepared, but also when in the morning the snack will be enjoyed and which snack will be prepared on which day during the week to create the important rhythm and routine children need at this stage of life.  In her book, The Incarnating Child, Joan Salter stresses that “the importance of rhythm in nutrition is highly underestimated.”  Adam Blanning MD also explains in his article, Sensory Nutrition, that “regular mealtimes help the child’s digestive system know when it is time to be ready for a meal, and when it is time to relax into the slower and more delicate process of absorbing good nutrients and excreting the wastes”.  The snack rhythm allows children to establish a healthy rhythm in their own life and physical body, which in turn facilitates their incarnation.

This rhythm also gives children a sense of security and allows them to find their place within the day and week.  Children will learn to recognize the days of the week by attributing them to the snacks eaten on a particular day.  This weekly rhythm can be created by following the “seven grain” schedule, of which there are many variations.  For example:

Monday – Rice Day
Tuesday – Barley Day
Wednesday – Millet Day
Thursday – Rye Day
Friday – Oat Day

Each teacher will discover which schedule works best for him/her and may create many other variations.  For example, “Porridge Day”, “Bread Day”, “Soup Day” and “Muffin Day” are also popular snack themes for the week; each day integrating one or more of the important grains into the snack prepared.  Children become so familiar with this routine, that they are often heard exclaiming “tomorrow is Soup Day!”; or when asking the teacher what the next day will be, a teacher may respond “tomorrow is Porridge Day” and the child will instantly know how far into the school week they are.

Following seasonal and cosmic rhythms should also be considered when preparing a meal as this will help our bodies attune to these cycles.  For example, eating fruits and vegetables that are in season will naturally help one to align to the rhythms of the earth.  Also, by adhering to this philosophy, one can “create healthy eating habits in rhythm with nature that (lays) the foundation for clarity of thought, stability of emotions, strength of motivation, and a healthy sense of well-being,” as noted by Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt in Cooking for the Love of the World.

Snack Preparation – From Field to Table
Snack preparation is also an important aspect of the day in an early childhood classroom.  Children learn the importance of work and develop an appreciation for the foods they eat by seeing the teachers lovingly prepare snacks.  Singing happily while chopping vegetables, carefully tending to meals prepared on the stove, and sharing in the joys of cooking a snack together set a wonderful example for the children, while creating an atmosphere of warmth, gratitude and reverence in the classroom.

Children also benefit greatly by assisting in snack preparation themselves.  Activities such as grinding grain, chopping vegetables, kneading dough, stirring batter, etc., nourish the child’s physical body by allowing the child to develop healthy motor skills.  Participating in the preparation of snack, also gives children a sense of accomplishment and belonging, and allows them to feel an important part of the class environment.

 Taking the appreciation of snack one step further, it would also benefit children to experience and learn where food comes from as part of their Waldorf education.  Schools fortunate enough to have their own garden, or access to a nearby farm, can allow children the experience of participating in the harvesting of their own vegetables in the beginning of the school year and planting seeds and seedlings in the spring.  Other schools that lack these resources can still experience this process by organizing a field trip to a farm or orchard.  Not only will children benefit from being outdoors in nature, but they will learn firsthand where food comes from as well as learn how much work is involved in growing the foods we eat.  This will allow them to gain a great appreciation for the farmers in the community, as well as the foods they eat each day.  Experiencing the whole process from field to table is invaluable.  The work involved in these activities strengthen a child’s physical body, and experiencing the natural world in all phases of life from seed, to plant to fruit, contribute greatly to the healthy development of a child’s own etheric body as well.

These experiences will also create cherished memories for the children.  I, myself, fondly remember my kindergarten field trips to farms and apple orchards, as well as the yearly summer excursions with my own family throughout my childhood.  I was also fortunate enough to have my very own vegetable garden and many fruit trees in the backyard.  And although, at the time, (and even years later), I complained about the work my parents forced me to participate in by gathering and shucking peas and beans, picking field berries, and harvesting other fruits and vegetables, today I am extremely grateful for these experiences in more ways than I ever thought imaginable.

The Importance of Healthy and Whole Foods
No one can refute the fact that the foods we eat are vital to our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.  What we put into our bodies can either heal or harm us in many ways, concluding that the quality of our food very much determines the quality of our lives.  Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt writes in Cooking for the Love of the World, “a diet of wholesome, locally grown seasonal foods lays a foundation for clear, open, and living thinking, a healthy inner life of feeling, and a strong will to fulfill our life’s task and purposes.  A strong flexible body with a healthy inner life is the chalice and instrument for true listening and receiving of soul/spirit wisdom.”

When considering what snacks shall be prepared in the kindergarten class, one must pay careful attention to which foods should be incorporated and which foods should be avoided.  One must, of course, also pay attention to the individual needs of each child and take into consideration sensitivities and allergies.  Organically and biodynamically grown foods should be used whenever available to avoid ingesting foods that have been grown or treated with pesticides, insecticides and other harmful chemicals, foods that have been genetically modified, and foods that come from animals that have been given antibiotics, hormones and other growth enhancing drugs.  Whole foods, as opposed to processed foods, and foods free of preservatives are also more beneficial.  In A Guide to Child Health, Dr. Michaela Glockler recommends including the following foods in a child’s diet:  cow’s milk and other dairy products, grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as eggs, meat and fish.  She also suggests the ever important factor that food be appetizing to a child and that special attention be paid to the preparation of food itself.  Snack time should be an enjoyable time and not one dreaded by the children due to unsavoury foods.  Other foods that should be limited or avoided by children may include processed foods, margarine and hard fats, high fibre foods, processed sugars and sweeteners, and excessive salt.  According to Rudolf Steiner, potatoes and bananas should be limited, and according to Joan Salter, nightshades should be avoided as well.

It is, however, important to take these statements and suggestions as recommendations and not as law.  Each school and teacher will individually need to establish what is most feasible for them in terms of availability, financial feasibility, and parental requests.  Most importantly, the preparation and eating of food should be a joyous process and experience for both child and teacher, for it is in this happy and healthy sharing of mealtime that the child will be best served.

The Snack Table
“It’s all about presentation!” This common statement is not only true when it comes to the way we present the snack and meal to the children, but the presentation of the snack table itself.  The snack table should be beckoning, comforting and inspiring.  It should welcome the children and make them feel at home as well as nourish their imagination.  Whenever possible, a natural wooden table should be used.  Depending on the size and structure of the classroom, one will need to decide what shape of table will best fit the classroom.  Attention must be paid to the height of the table and chairs and personal space as well; a comfortable snugness is fine, but one must avoid crowding – no one likes to feel squished when eating a meal.  The snack table should obviously be clean and free of clutter, but may also be decorated with a small and appropriate themed centrepiece, which can change with the seasons.  Many classrooms also have a wonderful cluster of hanging branches over the table where delightful things can be hung such as leaf fairies in the fall, snowflakes and angels in the winter, flowers and coloured eggs in the spring, etc.  These added touches will not only make the snack table more attractive to the children, but a child’s imagination can also be nourished with the many stories that can be created from these simple objects.  Teachers may also incorporate the decorative objects into a mealtime story to help children quiet down and stay settled before or after mealtime.  It goes without saying that the snack table is therefore, just as important as the snack itself.

Blessings and Grace
The snack blessing is a perfect way to teach a child gratitude and reverence.  Giving thanks for the foods we eat, the farmers who grew them, the cook who prepared the meal, and the divine source that made it all possible is an important part of the ritual of mealtime.  In Seven Times the Sun, Shea Darian writes that “when we enter into prayer together and recognize the Divine Spirit among us, the effect is liberating”, and that “saying grace becomes an invitation to showing grace to all around the table”.  The lighting of a candle is a way of inviting this Divine Spirit to the table in a subtle way the children can understand.  The reciting of grace itself can be expressed through a common prayer, a verse, and even a song.  It is important that these blessings be repeated each day to allow the children to fully live into them and so that the children can learn them in order to participate in the saying of grace.  Holding hands during grace creates a feeling of community and togetherness and unites the energy at the table.  Moments of silence at the table are also important for they allow a quiet and calmness to envelop the children in a protective and nurturing way.  Teachers who are trained in energy healing modalities such as reiki and pranic healing may also wish to infuse the foods being prepared with their own special blessings and healing life force energy to make them even more nourishing for the children.  Whatever method is used, it is extremely important to exhibit a sense of gratitude for every meal shared together, no matter how great or small.

Concluding Thoughts
On a personal note, I strongly feel that teachers need to honour the importance of mealtime every day not only for the sake of the children, but for their own.  It is during this time that teachers are fully able to wrap their loving and nurturing etheric energy around every child at once.  The encompassing embrace that is felt at the snack table is palpable and it is this essence that makes mealtime so very special and a true celebration of everything we are and everything we do, each and every day.

Daniela’s Grace
Dear Mother Earth and Father Sun,
We thank you for the food that’s come
From seed and plant and fruit and tree.
For this, we give our thanks to thee.
Blessings on the meal!

Works Cited
Blanning, Adam MD “Sensory Nutrition” Unknown Source
Cowan, Thomas S. MD The Fourfold Path to Healing Washinton, DC New Trends Publishing Inc. (2004)
Darian, Shea Seven Times the Sun Gilead Press (2001)
Fryer Wiboltt, Anne-Marie Cooking for the Love of the World Benson, NC Goldenstone Press (2008)
Glockler, Michaela A Guide to Child Health Floris Books (1990)
Hildreth, Lisa and Valens, Jo The Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book Great Barrington, MA Bellpond Books (2006)
Salter, Joan The Incarnating Child Gloucestershire, UK Hawthorn Press (1987)