In retreats, we usually offer a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, as children tend to get hungry often. It is important to serve healthy snacks, like fresh or dried fruit, nuts, pretzels, natural crackers or cookies. We can serve water or juice in re-usable cups to avoid creating a lot of trash. We can prepare basins of water so that each child can help wash their cup.
We can introduce the practice of snack meditation and sit together in a circle and enjoy eating together for a few minutes in silence. Prepare the snacks on a tray or in bowls and invite the children to pass them around, each child silently serving the child next to him or her, sort of like tea meditation. You can also teach the children to bow before taking the food and really look each other in the eyes and appreciate each other’s presence. We ask them to wait to begin eating until everyone has gotten a snack and a drink. Then we all begin together and enjoy our snack quietly. After a few minutes, we can pass around the snack again and ask them to look deeply into their snack.
Reflecting on the snack
Sometimes I ask them which food they enjoyed the most, or what was the tastiest, or what was the most fragrant, or what food/drink do they think took the longest amount of time to grow, or which food traveled the farthest to reach them.
Then you can choose just one thing, the cookie or the juice and invite them to reflect on what the apple, for instance, is made up of. They will say, the apple seed, the apple tree, the farmer, the rain, the earth, the sun, etc. It is really wonderful to ask them if when they drink their apple juice, they can taste the sun, the rain, the earth. Also you can prompt them to look even deeper, asking them questions like, “and who brings the apples to us when they are ripe? Who drives them to us and sells them?” or “And what insects help an apple tree grow?” and they may say, the bees who help pollinate the trees, or the worms who aerate the soil. So all these are part of the apple and they become a part of us when we eat it.
We’ve also had interesting discussions investigating how old our apple or piece of fruit is. How long does it take an apple to grow? Technically, several months. But before that the tree has to grow several years maybe before it can bear fruit. So you could say the apple is several years old, not just a few months. And before the ‘mother tree’ was there, it had to come from the ‘grandmother tree’, so you could say the apple is the age of the grandmother tree, and on and on, back to the very first apple. So actually the apple we are eating is thousands and thousands of years old. Wow, it makes it pretty special to eat this piece of apple! And after all those years, we eat it in just a few seconds! So we can take our time and enjoy it, since it took so long to come to us.
So you can direct the conversation of looking deeply into the snack or just ask a few questions and then let them share and ask questions. They also bring up very interesting topics, sometimes food related, sometimes not.
If you are in a place where you can safely enjoy foods from nature, either from a garden, orchard, or growing wild, this is a very memorable and enjoyable thing for everyone. Like picking berries in the fall, or gathering chestnuts, fruit, etc.
It’s also wonderful if you can have access to an oven, to make cookies with the children, allowing each child to help measure ingredients and stir and spoon the batter onto the baking pan…and clean up! This can be a wonderful exercise of exploring interbeing, as we see the origins of each ingredient and see how they come together to make the cookie. You can also make snacks that don’t need to be baked, like peanut-butter balls. (see recipes below). When adding each ingredient, you can use it as a metaphor for us as people and all the different things we are made up of. Or different groups of people, of different colors or religions, being able to mix and live harmoniously together, and create something even more delicious in their coming together.
Organizing a special or Formal Lunch during a retreat with parents
If the retreat circumstance allows, you can organize a special lunch for parents and children during the regular retreat’s formal lunch. Arrange cushions and mats in a circle with a beautiful centerpiece of flowers, candles, etc. Before the lunch begins, invite a child to read the contemplations for young people. You can invite some children to be greeters and stand in two lines at the entrance of the room greetings parents and children as they arrive with their food. Have everyone be seated in silence. Once everyone is seated, a child can invite the mini-bell and you can welcome them and explain that we have a lovely opportunity to all be together as a big family, made up of small families. You could also sing a song all together, to help focus the energy. Invite everyone to eat quietly for 10 or 15 minutes in order to deeply appreciate the food and the presence of our beloved ones. Then a child can invite the bell before a child reads the below food contemplations:
Food contemplations for Young People
This food is the gift of the whole universe: The earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun.
We thank the people who have made this food, especially the farmers, the people at the market and the cooks.
We only put on our plate as much food as we can eat.
We want to chew the food slowly so that we can enjoy it.
This food gives us energy to practice being more loving and understanding.
We eat this food in order to be healthy and happy, and to love each other as a family.
After 10-15 minutes in silence, the bell-master child can invite the bell and you can ask the children and their parents if they enjoyed the food and how they felt eating it in (relative) silence, and if they would like to continue this at home. Some families enjoy a weekly meal with the whole family that begins with a few moments in silence. You could also ask them if they were aware they were eating a vegetarian meal and how they feel about this, that no animals had to die for their sake. If it is possible in the morning, the children can make a snack, like peanut butter balls, or oat-carrot-carob-raisin balls* and offer it to their parents for dessert at the end of lunch. The older kids really enjoy carrying around platters to serve the group. Or if you have done artwork in the morning, the children can present it to their parents and the group. To close the meal, you can sing a song, then have the bell-master invite the bell, then stand up and bow to each other and to the altar.
Peanut butter (or soy nut butter for those with nut allergies)
Powdered milk (or powdered soy/rice milk)
Stir peanut butter, honey and powdered milk together in a bowl until it’s dry enough to form into balls. I don’t know measurements, but peanut butter is the biggest quantity, then powdered milk, then honey. Form into balls. You can serve some just like this. Spread coconut flakes on a plate. Then roll some of the balls in the coconut flakes until completely covered. Enjoy!
Oat-carrot-carob-raisin balls (super healthy!):
Finely ground nuts of any kind (optional)
Peel and shred carrots before hand. Stir all dry ingredients together, except coconut flakes. Pour in enough apple juice so that batter holds together, thick and firm, but not too dry. Form into balls. Spread coconut flakes on a plate. Then roll some of the balls in the coconut flakes until completely covered. Serve some with and some without coconut flakes. Yummy!
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