Category Archives: Simplicity

Simple Meal Planning

English: Kuaichap (Thai script: ก๋วยจั๊บ) is a...

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Eating healthy often requires that you prepare your own meals.  Fast food, restaurant fare, and prepared foods at the market are usually laden with salt, fat, sugar, and chemicals.  While eating these foods from time to time won’t cause any lasting harm, daily consumption is hardly recommended.

But preparing your own food may seem like a difficult task.  You may not know how to cook, you may not have the time, or you may not have the interest.  Relax, you don’t have to be a health nut and master chef with loads of time on your hands to be able to feed yourself well.  The key is to create a meal plan that’s simple and easy to follow.

Here’s how my family eats:  Breakfast is a routine affair.  It involves little or no cooking.  It’s usually one of three things: cereal with milk, whole grain bread with peanut butter and/or Nutella, or whole wheat crepes that I make on the weekend and serve during the week.  If I cook other things like oatmeal or french toast, I always make enough for at least two meals.

Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  Only reheating or assembly is needed!  Again, I purposely make more so there will be enough for two meals and perhaps some for the freezer as well for those weeks when there’s no time to shop or cook.

Snacks vary, including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese, yogurt, popcorn, and occasionally cooked items such as hard boiled egg, corn on the cob, or baked sweet potato (yum!).

So in reality, I only cook dinner.  Some examples of meals that work for my family include curry chicken and veggies over rice, pasta with tomato sauce, wonton and veggie soup with noodles, veggie and sausage fried rice, tuna and green apple sandwich.   Dessert is usually fresh fruit.

To make your own simple meal plan, do the following:

1) Come up with a list of breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner foods that meet all the following criteria:

  • You must enjoy eating them.  Why suffer?  How are you going to stick with a plan and motivate yourself to do the work involved if you don’t like what you’re eating?
  • The food should be reasonably healthy and meet your needs, whether that’s no carb or vegetarian or low salt, etc.  Minimize use of processed foods when you can.
  • The food should be fairly easy to prepare, preferably taking less than 30 minutes of hands on time and not require fancy ingredients or equipment.  This minimizes shopping and clean up time.  You can search online for simplified versions of your favorite recipes.  If you’re a new cook, see #5 for some resources.

2)  Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance.  Figure out exactly what you’re having each day to eliminate the need to think about it later when you’re tired and hungry.  Fill in a chart like the one below if it’ll help you.  You don’t have to plan something different for each meal.  If you are okay with leftovers, you can eat the same thing for several days.  You decide how much variety you need.  Plus, you might want to plan on having a couple of meals out each week for the sake of sanity or variety.  This is especially important if you’re new to cooking.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast
Lunch
Snack
Dinner

3)  Comb your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have and what needs to be purchased for the week ahead.  Make a shopping list and buy everything you need all at once.  There shouldn’t be any extra trips to the store during the week.

4)  Do any prep work you can ahead of time.  For example, bookmark recipes, chop vegetables, put snacks in single serving containers.  Some people cook a week’s worth of food on Sundays.  Some cook everyday.  Some set aside a whole weekend to cook and freeze meals for the month.  Do what works for you.

5)  Once you’ve gotten the hang of creating and following meal plans, try something new every week or every month.  This expands your repertoire and keeps your diet interesting. Allrecipes.com has an extensive database of user rated recipes, including “healthy” and “quick and easy” categories.  In his New York Times piece, Mark Bittman lists 101 foods that you can cook in 10 minutes (okay, maybe 15 if you’re not Bittman).  And then there’s Rachael Ray with her 30 minute meals.  I’d love to hear if you have other food resources to suggest.

Preparing your own meals does take time but it’s not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your wallet as well.  So invest some energy in planning healthy, tasty, and easy meals so you aren’t as tempted to hit the fast food joints.  The benefits are well worth it.  Happy eating!

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How to Say No

Say Yes!

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Last week I wrote about making time for what truly matters to you and a key part of that is being able to say no to less important things.  I know, this is easier said than done.

For the longest time, I knew I needed more sleep yet time and again I would catch myself staying up way too late to watch movies.  And usually, they weren’t even all that good.  In my sleep deprived state, I’d kick myself for doing that.  But next week, I’d do it again.  Why?  It wasn’t until I realized that I was afraid of missing out on a really good movie that I was finally able to break the habit of turning on the TV before going to bed just to see what’s playing.  Sure this fear is irrational in the age of on demand movies but most fears are.

So what are some reasons it’s so hard to say no, both to others and to ourselves?

  • we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings
  • we worry we’re going to miss out on something
  • we don’t want to appear selfish or unhelpful
  • we want to be liked or needed
  • we feel pressured to do the socially acceptable thing
  • we worry we won’t be asked again in the future
  • we don’t want to create conflict

The bottom line is that we have a hard time saying no because of fear in some form.  It’s important to recognize what you’re afraid of.  Be compassionate and acknowledging your concerns.  Then focus on what you have to gain by saying no.  There are opportunity costs to every decision.  By saying no to the less important, you have a chance to say yes to what really matters to you.  This is true not just of time but also money.

So how do you graciously say no?  I once heard author and healer Judith Orloff say, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”  It’s a great line but we humans are biologically and socially programed to care about what others think so it’s not as simple as that.  The key is to be direct.  Don’t over explain but don’t lie either.  Here’s some language you can try:

  1. Sorry, I can’t.  I have other plans already (even if your plan is just spending time relaxing at home)
  2. I have a full plate right now.  I’ll call you if my schedule opens up.
  3. I need to check my calendar (or check with my significant other) and get back to you.  (This is a last resort.  It’s best to just decline immediately and get it over with.)

Take a look at your current commitments.  What would you say no to if you knew there would be no negative consequences?  This helps you see what you should be letting go of.  Of course in real life there are negative consequences sometimes but usually it’s not that big of a deal, either for you or for other people.  The dinner party will go on without you.  The charity project will be completed without your help.  Your friend will find someone else to bail them out.

It’s okay to change your mind after you’ve said yes.  If you’re someone who reflexively says yes, it’ll take time for you to learn to respond differently.  In the mean time, give yourself permission to change your mind and let the other person know.  As you make better decisions and stop agreeing to things you don’t want to do, you’ll need to change your mind less often.

Being able to say no comfortably is an acquired skill.  It just takes practice.  Learn to say no so you can say yes to the life you really want to live.

Making Time for What Really Matters

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

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In recent weeks, I’ve written about eating healthier, becoming financially stable, and letting go of clutter.  That’s all good but most of us lead very busy lives.  When do we have time to do those things?  Some of us barely have time to eat, much less cook.  It’s all we can do to keep track of our wallet, much less create a second source of income.  How do we make time for additional activities?

The answer is we don’t.  Trying to do more and more is foolish.  Not only is overloading ourselves stressful, it takes the joy out of living.  It’s an illusion to believe that through better time management, we can do, be, and have everything.  While time management techniques may give us a boost in productivity, the real key to having time is to do less.  It’s really about prioritization and self management amidst demands and distractions.

How do you actually spend your time right now?  It’s best to keep a time log for a week to get the most accurate information.  If you really can’t manage that, then estimate how much time you spend on different activities each day of the typical week.  How long do you spend sleeping, showering, grooming, working, socializing, running errands, taking care of others, commuting, web surfing, watching TV, volunteering, having fun, being with loved ones, praying, cleaning, cooking, relaxing, etc.?

After a week, take a good look at your log and be honest with yourself – what adds little value to your life?  What adds excessive stress?  If you really enjoy a TV show, keep watching.  But is it worthwhile to watch the show after that and the one after that simply because the TV is on?  The volunteering you do at your kid’s school – are you doing it out of love or guilt?  That old friend who likes to do nothing but complain, do you really want to continue having coffee with them?

What can you let go of all together?  Can you delegate household chores more equitably so you don’t have to do it all?  Leave a friendship that drains you?  Are there activities that you can spend less time on?  Can you work less?  Spend less time online or watching TV?

Like carving in marble, you chip away what is not essential so that the beauty of your life can take shape and shine forth.  It takes courage and strength to do this.  It’s a process of learning to say no to less important activities in order to say yes to what you really value.  Choose joy, meaning, and fulfillment over busyness.

As you reduce and eliminate activities, give yourself some breathing room before filling up the time with other things.  Allow some space in your life.  This helps you get in touch with what truly matters to you.

Ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to spend more time on?   This could be anything, such as being with family, having fun, growing a business, or simply sleeping more.
  2. Are there areas that need my attention such as health, finances, or spirituality?
  3. Knowing that I have a limited amount of time on earth, what is most important to me?

Reflect on these questions.  Then judiciously add activities to your life that are of real value.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  It’s up to us to use it wisely.  Be selective.  As life coach Cheryl Richardson says, don’t confuse tough choices with no choices.  Make time by simplifying your activities, by doing less.  Make time for what truly matters to you.  Life is precious and short.   Live accordingly.

Why and How to Have Less Stuff

Living room clutter

Image by nilexuk via Flickr

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time sorting through my kids’ toys, clothes, and books to get rid of things they’ve out grown so there’s room for what they currently use.  Every time I do this, I’m amazed at how much stuff has accumulated, even when we’re not big shoppers.  It’s energy intensive to clear out things and that makes me wish we had fewer items to begin with.  But there are other costs to material things as well.

Everything you own has an environmental impact.  All material goods take precious resources in their production, transport, and disposal.  Once you get these items, you need space and sometimes more things with which to store them such as shelves, boxes, etc.  The more you own and the larger your home is, the greater your ecological footprint is.

Besides environmental impact, there’s also a personal cost in terms of money, time, and energy spent acquiring and subsequently maintaining the items we bring into our lives.  Clothes need to be washed, cars need to be insured and tuned, and knickknacks need to be dusted.  In addition, clutter is draining mentally, emotionally, and physically, regardless of whether we’re aware of it or not.  Having too many things can cause indecision, distraction, stagnation, and fatigue.

Now I’m not advocating you live like a monk, unless that’s right for you.  We all need some material possessions for our use and enjoyment.  The problem is most of us have too much.  We fill our homes with things we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t even want.  I’m not sure if it’s the hunter/gatherer in us who delights in shopping but I do know that over consumption is good neither for our planet nor for our soul.

There are so many benefits to having fewer things.  Amongst them are:

  • You can find what you actually need more easily.
  • You’ll save time and money because there’s less to clean, organize, and maintain.
  • You can help charity if you donate what you no longer want.
  • You can earn some money if you sell your things.
  • Other people get to use and enjoy what was cluttering up your home.
  • Moving will be easier (I’ve moved 3 times in the last four years so I know)
  • You can live in a smaller home if you choose thus decreasing your expenses and environmental impact.
  • You’ll feel better – calmer, happier, more free and energetic.
  • You’ll have more focus, time, and energy for what you truly value in life.

I actually enjoy decluttering because I feel better afterwards.  But that’s not to say it’s always an easy process.  We have a lot of attachments to the things we own, regardless of whether or not we actually use or want them.  It can be difficult to part with things we’ve spent money on, that we think we might need someday, or was given to us as gifts.  Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explores some of the reasons we hang on to things that don’t really serve us.

My criteria for keeping things are 1) I’ve used it in the past year or 2) I’m certain I’ll use it in the next 12 months, or 3) I love it.  Otherwise, there’s no point hanging on to it.  It’s better to free up physical as well as mental and emotion space.  Allow room for something new to enter.  Here are some strategies for letting go:

  1. Instead of overwhelming yourself with clearing your entire home, just do one drawer or surface at a time.  Remove everything from that drawer, clean the drawer,  then only put back what you want to keep in there.  Items that belong elsewhere should be put in their rightful place.  Items that you’re not keeping can be separated into categories of sell, give away, or throw away.  Enjoy the uncluttered drawer.  Keep clearing small, manageable spaces and eventually, you’ll be surrounded only by things that you value.
  2. Another strategy is to get rid of two or more things whenever you get one new item.  For instance, if you buy a pair of pants, let go of an old pair that you hardly wear and a book you’ll likely never touch.  This is a way to reduce your possessions without making a concerted effort to declutter.  Plus, knowing that you’ll have to get rid of things you already own will likely prompt you to be more selective about acquiring something new.
  3. On a regular basis such as monthly or quarterly, go through an area or room of your home and get rid of at least 10 items.  This is what I do and it’s one of my monthly tasks I actually look forward to.  Yes, as time goes on you’ll revisit the same spaces.  But the contents of the spaces change and your life changes as well so you won’t have trouble finding things to release.

Material items are a necessity but they need to be put in their proper place.  Your possessions should serve you, not the other way around.  Being unencumbered by excess opens you up to truly enjoy life.  Simplify.  Live lightly.  Be free.