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Five Ways to Use Food as a Tool for Practicing Mindfulness, Fostering Connection, and Centering Joy
Alexander Hardy reunites with National Trainer Lee Berlinquette, who led his first MHFA Instructor Training. (April 2022, MHFA Summit).

Alexander Hardy reunites with National Trainer Lee Berlinquette, who led his first MHFA Instructor Training. (April 2022, MHFA Summit).

As a grits-powered mental health programming developer, facilitator and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor, food is more than a source of sustenance for me. It’s an ice-breaker and a way to get friends, attendees and strangers to talk about feelings. Through food, you can tap into your creativity and build culinary confidence. You can establish connections and bridge gaps. Food is a vehicle for joy. 

Whether I’m on a partnership exploration chat; facilitating a grief and loss workshop or a Mental Health First Aid training; or on a group video chat with friends, you can expect me to ask you about the delicious things you’re eating or making, what meal represents your current mood or what you’re doing to find some joy. 

These covert food-based wellness check-ins are part of the GetSomeJoy experience: You get a reminder to take off your superhero cape and recharge. I get new recipes to consider and an unintimidating entry into conversations on wellness. 

Here are a few more ideas for using food to inspire or share joy at home, work, school and beyond.

Prepare or order a meal that represents joy to you.

There is so much power in a pot of rice.

My mother is a Panamanian-born product of the Platano Belt and preparing and sharing food is our language. Rice is a way of life for us.

It fills my belly and blesses my soul as a co-star or the main attraction. But each pot of rice I prepare contains decades of family history, years of learning from afar as the grandson of the Janet Jackson of rice and countless kitchen lessons from my mother. Each pot represents culinary anxieties I’ve overcome and inspires gratitude for life and stable housing in which to celebrate whenever my rice isn’t a mushy, ancestor-shaming mess.

That’s a mighty mound of grains. 

Frying plantain, loving on a pot of grits or rice or experimenting with empanadas brightens my mood, every time. Those familiar foods and flavors calm my nerves, remind me of home and cultivate a sense of safety and familiarity in times of uncertainty.  

  • What dishes represent joy or safety to you? Why? 
  • Write about it. Ask a loved one and use that dish to brighten their day.

Reflect and write about your family and cultural food traditions and history.

Who holds your family’s most cherished recipes? How did they learn to make that beloved dish? Are there dishes you make better or differently than those before you? What recipes has your family lost? 

  • Marinate on your family or community’s connections to food in your journal, or explore this question with community members, students or coworkers. 

Host a virtual cook-along with family, friends or co-workers.

Bringing your community together for a virtual cook-along is an easy way to keep Sunday dinners going, create new traditions and combat pandemic-flavored isolation.

  • Pick a date, choose a dish and share the recipe ahead of time. Even if you’re each making something different, going through your individual processes and even enjoying your meals together via the group video platform of your choice removes distance as a barrier to connection. 

Practice mindful eating by not working or scrolling while eating.

Next time you’re enjoying a meal, even a snack, don’t do anything else while you’re eating.

Don’t write that email or build that bookshelf between bites. Give your food your full attention. Focus on the gift before you.

  • What spices or ingredients can you smell? Notice the crunch or the softness in that first bite, how the flavors and textures harmonize (or don’t). Who or what do the flavor or food combinations bring to mind?
  • Appreciate the flavors that linger on your tongue, and the work, creativity or love that brought the meal to your plate. Do a celebratory dance if the spirit moves you.

Experiment with one new recipe per week or month. 

Learning new cooking skills and broadening your culinary repertoire is a great way to find new things to look forward to. Keep a list of ideas in your phone, journal or a list in your kitchen. 

It doesn’t have to be a holiday-level spread. Try a new sauce or find a copycat recipe of one of your favorite restaurant meals. Go ahead and try something you’ve always wanted to cook or bake. A personal wedding cake? Go for it. It’s your world.


Alexander Hardy is an Adult, Youth and Spanish Mental Health First Aid instructor and a grits-powered writer, home cook, dancer, lupus survivor and co-founder of GetSomeJoy, a creative wellness agency. He supports communities and organizations with joy-flavored wellness trainings, experiences and campaigns. 

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