Tag Archives: self care

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!

How to Say No

Say Yes!

Image by erix! via Flickr

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.

Beat Fatigue

Sleeping, male baby cat. Red hair.

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When you feel exhausted, life seems like a burden.  Day to day activities feel taxing and nothing looks very interesting through tired eyes. You make silly mistakes and are accident prone.  You’re in a bad mood.  It can be heroic just to get through the day.

When you feel energetic, the world opens up.  You’re more motivated and joyful.  You have enthusiasm for life and all that it has to offer.  You’re calmer and better able to deal with challenges.  You feel better about yourself and the world.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced both states.  Who wouldn’t prefer to feel energetic and full of life?  Yet so many of us regularly drag ourselves through the day, barely hanging on as we’re running on empty.  How can we maintain a level of energy that allows us to live the life that we want?

The essentials to good health and energy are no secret: eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise moderately, and incorporate relaxation and recreation in your life.  But in today’s world full of demands and distractions, these elements don’t come easily.  Sometimes things out of our control rob us of time to exercise.  Other times, we’re simply unable to pull ourselves away from a bright screen to get adequate rest.  In what ways are you undermining your own health and energy level?

If you do take good care of yourself most of the time and you still feel chronically tired, consult a medical professional to see if you have an underlying condition that is robbing you of energy.  Physical and mental problems such as anemia, hormonal imbalance, depression, and anxiety can all keep you from functioning at your best.

Sometimes despite our best efforts, we feel awful.  Whether a sick child kept us up all night or we had an urgent deadline to meet at work, taking care of our needs often take a back seat.  Our first impulse may be to reach for a stimulant: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco.  While these things do make you feel better in the short term, they leave you feeling even worse once they wear off.  Then you need more stimulant to keep going thus creating an addiction.

It’s best to avoid these artificial energy boosts.  Having some healthier ways to recharge up your sleeve will help you do that.  Below are some ideas.  Try a few of them the next time you’re feeling exhausted.

  • Take a nap if possible.  Even a short 15 minute snooze can recharge your batteries for a few more hours.
  • Drink a big glass of water.  Sometimes we’re simply dehydrated and that leads to fatigue.
  • Take a few minutes to do some deep breathing, preferably in fresh air.  Slowly breath through your nose.  Focus on your abdomen and its expansion and contraction with the breath.  When we’re under stress, our breathing becomes shallow and we don’t get enough oxygen.  Slow, deep breaths also helps us relax.
  • Move your body.  Walk around or do some stretching.  Really get your blood moving and circulating.  Adjust your posture and make sure you’re sitting and standing upright to avoid muscle fatigue and strain.
  • Eat a healthy snack.  You could have low blood sugar from skipping meals or from crashing from a sugar high.
  • Do something relaxing.  Release tension by taking a warm bath or doing a quick self massage of your hands or scalp.
  • Wash your face or take a quick shower.  You’ll feel better, more awake.
  • Do something enjoyable for a short time.  If you’re feeling stressed out, worried, or upset, shift your mood by focusing on an activity that will lift your spirits.  Perhaps listen to up beat music or play with a pet.  This puts you in a better frame of mind to deal with the cause of your tension later on.

What else can you think of that will help you feel better when you’re really tired?  Jot down whatever techniques you’re willing to try and put the list in easy reach.  Hopefully by tending to your need for healthy food, exercise, sleep and R&R, you’ll minimize days of exhaustion.  But when those times do come, you’ll have some good ways to cope.