“Mommy, mommy, we forgot to hold hands!” my four-year-old son says. His twin sister echoes, “Yes, mommy, we have to do it.” I stop myself from saying, “But this is breakfast, and we are late for school,” and smile instead. My husband is always happy to slow down—it must be his Mediterranean blood. He puts his spoon down and takes my hand. Somehow, any formal “food prayers” seem a bit too contrived for the occasion. It is breakfast, after all.

“I am grateful for a digger truck and a pink unicorn,” my daughter says. “I am grateful for the nuts,” continues her brother. I hear my husband’s voice, “I am grateful for having such rascally children!” Is that a tear I see at the corner of his eye? I say, “I am grateful for so much laughter this morning.” Then we share verbal popcorn.

“Love you, mommy.”

“I love you, too.”

“Like your sparkly shirt.”

“Can I have pancakes instead of oatmeal because it’s a special breakfast?”

At the end, my son throws his hands up in the air and screams at the top of his lungs, “Hurray!!” And before we can think, we all yell together: “Hurray!!” not knowing why we are nearly jumping out of our chairs. What started as an ordinary morning meal spontaneously turned into a special occasion.

When we first started our “holy-eating” ritual, I had to force my kids to slow down and wait for me to say “food prayers” before we ate: a short gratitude I lead before meals.  A few times, they didn’t listen and ate as soon as food appeared on their plates. Very quickly, though, they realized that when we held hands and said a few words of gratitude and shared our loving connection, something special got added to the menu: joy.

“Holy” has the same the root as the word “whole.” The less fragmented we feel, the more we want to celebrate. When we hold hands before a meal, we collect best parts of ourselves and share a loving connection that charges our food and makes it nourishing not only for our body but also for our spirit, as well. This shared love is the secret ingredient—the ingredient that makes eating a truly wholesome experience.

Children don’t know about rituals or customs; they simply feel the spirit of the occasion. When I started integrating holy eating on a daily basis, my kids many times sang “Happy Birthday” when we held hands since, naturally, your birthday is when you have a special meal. They now know that any meal can turn into a special occasion if your heart is open.

You don’t need a big family to practice holy eating. Any meal you eat in the spirit of deep gratitude will nourish your heart.  Whatever comes to mind that you are grateful for, a parent, a pet, a beautiful place can help you feel joy. You can have a special meal by yourself with your favorite music or in silence and still be grounded in the spirit of celebration.

This holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or another tradition, remember to include gratitude when eating your meal to make it truly memorable. If you are able to slow down and connect to your heart, even in the midst of the holiday frenzy, you can tap into why you are there: to become more whole.

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