About My Two Hats

Thoughts on child health from pediatrician/mom, Dr. Heidi Roman.

Simplify Week 3: Meal Plan and Prep

img_2880I got so many questions about my meal planning and prep strategy after the nutrition post last week that I decided to focus on it for this week’s simplify theme. I did most of the leg work on this task last year- but I did take some time to go through my recipes and start writing down my list of go-to’s that are always winners by category, which I think will be really helpful. I also tossed any recipes that I hadn’t made in the last few years and found a couple of old cook books to take to Half Price Books. Now to the real stuff.
First, a few caveats (this is the most important part):
  1. One size does not fit all when it comes to meal prep. If you see all of those Pinterest worthy posts of pre-prepped breakfast, lunch, and dinner boxes and it is totally overwhelming then don’t do it that way! There are lots of ways to approach this. If you even do one of the steps below, I promise it will simplify your life.
  2. I personally think the meal planning is THE MOST important part. It is a huge stress reliever not to come home after work and only then start thinking about the age old question of “what’s for dinner?” or end up stopping for take out on the way home because I know we don’t have anything. If you only do one of the steps below, make it Step 1.
  3. Having a chest freezer where I keep prepped freezer meals, frozen vegetables, back-up staples, etc is KEY.
  4. My approach requires a love of leftovers and being okay with eating the same thing a few times a week.
  5. Give yourself a lot of grace. I do all of the below when we have a fairly free weekend and it makes the next week 100% better. But, if I have a lot of work or we are traveling or life is very full, I just do what I can and leave it at that.
So, here goes. Meal Planning and Prepping 101:
Step 1: I sit down sometime on Saturday and pull out a few cookbooks and my Pinterest page and plan out dinners for the following week. I’ve lately fallen into nightly themes, which takes some guesswork out of it. Sunday Grill, Monday Meatless, Tuesday Fish or seafood, Wednesday Simple, Thursday Leftovers, Friday Take Out, and Saturday Variable. I check my calendar for the upcoming week to see if I have any evening events, in which case I leave that night blank. When choosing recipes I’m lately really emphasizing trying to use ingredients already in my kitchen- both to save money and also accumulate less stuff.
Step 2: I plan my work lunches and my son’s school lunches. Sometimes I know I’ll have enough leftovers for lunches, but most often I actually plan a separate recipe and pack 3-4 lunches when I do prep on Sunday. I usually eat the same thing for lunch all week- see caveat #4. And, the honest truth is that my son eats school lunch most of the time- I aim for packed lunch a couple of times per week, but school lunch is free, easy, and he likes it- so despite the fact that my packed lunches are quite likely more healthy, I often cut my losses on this one and try to make sure all of his other meals are nutritious. This is an area for improvement, for sure.
Step 3: Craft grocery shopping list based on above recipes + any needed staples and lots of produce. We heavily emphasize fruits and veggies when it comes to snacks. I use the @evernote app for grocery lists (and everything else 🙂 ). I love that it syncs phone and laptop so I can add items whenever I think of them.
Step 4: Grocery shopping! Stick to the perimeter where the healthy stuff is and go heavy on the produce.
Step 5: Meal Prep: Things I prep- workday lunches, Monday night dinner (I LOVE coming home on Monday to an already cooked dinner), my son’s breakfasts and (some of) his lunches, and (when I have time) any sauces or grains for other dinners that week. All of this typically take me under two hours start to finish (including distractions). Things I don’t prep but have on hand ready to go- my breakfast (which is typically a smoothie), and my afternoon snack (which, as my co-workers can attest, is almost always carrots and hummus).
Step 6: Relax! The above may look like a lot, but once you’ve got a system down, it is a huge stress reliever. It saves me time, money, and mental gymnastics at the end of busy weekdays when I’m already feeling decision fatigue. We eat far healthier now than before I started doing this regularly. I love sitting down on Sunday evening feeling ready to tackle the week.
What are your strategies?

Simplify Week 2: Nutrition

img_2710This week I focused on simplifying nutrition. We already eat pretty healthy around here, thanks to some changes over the last couple of years, but I have found this area to be one that requires continual attention and tweaking in order to stay on track.

Last year I really focused on meal planning and prepping, which was a total game changer in improving my ability to eat healthy lunches and dinners and seriously minimized work day stress. It sounds like it could complicatethings, but it actually makes everything much simpler. If you ever want to talk meal prep- I’m your girl! I’m a meal prep evangelist. 😉

This year I’ll be doubling down on lessons learned last year- notably the importance of meal prepping and decreasing sugar- but will be adding:
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1. More VEGGIES!: I already eat a decent amount of veggies, but this year I’d like to focus on incorporating more meatless meals. All of the evidence is that this is better for our health AND better for our planet. When my son told me one of his goals this year (which I share due to fears about rapidity of climate change) was to do “more for the environment”, little did he know this meant more vegetables. 😂If you have some favorite meatless meal recipes, that still have a decent amount of protein, please send them my way! So far we’ve had a butternut squash soup (that wasn’t a huge hit) and tomorrow we’ll be trying lentil curry (which I’m pretty excited about).
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2. More FARMER’S MARKET: We have one not far away, but I rarely get there. To be honest, I sometimes just forget because it is not in our routine. Working on changing that, because Farmer’s Markets are win/win/win when it comes to good nutrition.

Okay, so I’ve realized that my first two simplify goals have been pretty, well, simple. I love thinking and learning about nutrition and yes, I actually enjoy organizing cupboards. I’m going to start having to tackle more treacherous terrain like simplifying “paperwork”, “email”, and “legos”. If you have strategies around these areas, send them my way!!

Simplify

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At the start of each new year I not only focus on goal-setting, but for the past five years or so I’ve also chosen a word or set of words that I hope will frame the upcoming year. Often these words become a mantra of sorts; and when I reflect back they do often seem to influence the direction of my life in that time period.
For 2019 my word is “simplify“. This was a no contest, very easy word-picking year. 2018 was not my favorite- it was messy and complicated in many ways. It also taught me a lot and it helped draw into clear focus what is truly important.
So, I’m ready to build on that focus and simplify. It may not look all that different from the outside- I still have work and home responsibilities that aren’t going anywhere- but I’m really hoping that internally things will look different. From finances to fitness, from my daily routines to long-term planning, from how I interact at work to how I interact with the environment, I’ll be asking myself what is truly aligned with my values and necessary to think about and what can be tossed, automated, or pared down. Simplified.
The goal? Mental space and time to spend on the good, juicy, important stuff and with the people I love and who need me to be at my best. I’ll let you know how it goes! What is your word for 2019?

Musings on “having it all”

poolsideThrowback to yesterday- I prepped some slides for a big talk later this week, finished a few time sensitive tasks related to patient care, made it through a couple of high level meetings, and then rushed off to relieve a sick babysitter. That’s how I ended up sitting poolside in a blazer and heels, with the amazing bonus of getting to watch this guy swim some laps (which rarely happens).

There’s a conversation happening over at #doctorsofinstagram about having it all and whether that’s even possible. Here’s my take, formed by more than 10 years in full-time practice and 8 precious years as a mom, but still a serious work in progress:

First, each of us can only define what it means to have it all for ourselves. Working full time and not having kids might be having it all for one person, staying at home with kids and not working might be having it all for another. And everything in between. It’s all okay. We define happiness and life goals for ourselves.

Second, I think you can have it all (defined for me personally as having both a successful career and a fulfilling life with family outside work), but I don’t think you can have it all in every part of your life all at the same time. What I mean is this- if you see me being successful at work, I am probably missing something at home. If I’m having a great day as a mom, which I loosely define as spending quality time with my son, I probably have open clinic charts that are waiting for my attention. There are hours, days, months, years, when I need to lean in at home and others that I lean in to work. And, that’s okay. Shonda Rhimes writes eloquently about this in her great book, “The Year of Yes”.

Third, I’m at the point where instead of aiming to have it all, most days my goal is to simply have it together. For me, the term “having it all” suggests we should try to “be it all” and do it all perfectly. This sets working parents in particular up for an unattainable goal and feelings of overwhelm. Instead, increasingly my aim is to try to do my best with everything on my plate, and make peace with all of the times that things don’t go exactly as planned (which occurs pretty much daily). And it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve gotten back to any semblance of a fitness routine and some time for self-care without feeling guilty. This is after repeated readings of “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown (if you think at all about these kinds of things, please go read ALL of her books right now :))

Finally, I’ll say this- anyone who looks like they have it all probably has a lot of help. I only survive (and sometimes thrive) because I have an amazing team of people both at work and at home who I partner with to keep it all running and I’m extremely privileged to have them in my life.

What does having it all or living your best life mean to you?

Page Turners for Grade Schoolers

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My 7-year-old is now at the point where he can easily tackle chapter books on his own, but we still end each day spending some time reading together at bedtime. It is a treasured moment- very often the best part of my day.

We are now at the point where he’s well beyond most picture books- although I will never be 😉 -and not yet ready for most YA material. The elementary years are a time when reading ability sometimes outpaces readiness for the mature themes found in some chapter books. I had started to feel that we had a dearth of good options, until I asked my friends (a group that luckily includes elementary teachers, librarians, and any number of voracious readers). They quickly reminded me of some wonderful authors and books from my own childhood that I had not yet shared with my son, and also introduced a number of great new options.

I’ve had a number of requests to share this list, which is by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to add your favorites!

Authors:

A number of authors were mentioned over and over again as tops for elementary readers, including: Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Madeleine L’Engle, and Judy Blume.

Series:

Recommended series included “How to Train Your Dragon”, The “Magic Tree House” books, “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, “Wayside School”, “Secret Agent Jack Stalwart”, “Ricky Ricotta”, and of course, “Harry Potter”. Classics like The Little House series and The Boxcar Children were also mentioned.

Resources:

A couple of wonderful resources were suggested including: Read Aloud Revival , Book Crush by Nancy Pearl, a list of read aloud books from Common Sense Media, and Jim Trelease’s Read–Aloud Handbook. Finally, Goodreads is my favorite place to curate books I’ve read or want to read. I’ve collected all of the recommendations I’ve received for elementary chapter books here, and there are any number of other compiled lists on Goodreads.

Happy reading and thanks to all whose recommendations got us back on track after a few duds (that shall remain nameless).

Routines, amended

Last week our family got a new puppy. We had talked about this for a very long time- years in fact. One of my major reasons for holding out so long was that I knew it would be a lot of work. A big change. But, we finally felt we were ready.

You know how people tell you that having a baby will completely change your life and rock your world, and you nod and say that you know and that you’re ready, but that you can’t really know and then it happens and you’re suddenly thinking “oh, that’s what they meant”? Well, it turns out getting a puppy is sort of a milder version of that. You can prepare, and buy supplies, and read about house training, but until you’re actually in it, you can’t know.

Well, now we know. Adding a puppy to our lives is an amazing mix of love and fun (seeing her with my son completely melts my heart) and a serious dose of chaos. She’s a fluffy tornado of affection and activity who requires constant supervision until she suddenly collapses asleep on the floor and we all take a breath until the next round. Hmm, this does sound a lot like having a baby.

Any change, even a joyful one, can present challenges. I, for one, am a creature of habit. I love my routines. My early morning workout session before the rest of the house is awake. My coffee and audio book on the morning commute. Reading to my son at bedtime. These routines approach the sacred for me. And there is decent evidence that sticking to certain routines can be very healthy and productive. Yet, there are times we must be flexible. This is one of those chapters.

So, I’m trying to open my mind to the possibility of amended routines. I’m thinking about how these new routines might even be better than the ones I had before. Initially I was sort of resenting the amount of time I was standing around outside waiting for the puppy to do her business, until I realized that I was standing around outside. I’ve seen a few beautiful sunrises that I would otherwise have missed. I’ve heard the morning birds. I’ve noticed things in our yard that I have never seen before. I’ve started taking a book outside with me and appreciating the extra reading time. I may not reach this level of acceptance at midnight, but it is working well the rest of the time.

So, maybe I’ll have a morning workout buddy who sometimes wants to join in on the yoga mat or chew on the weights (not happening, ma’am), but I’m still out there doing it. I may never sincerely enjoy house training, but I’ll take the trade-off of unconditional love that our little puppy is already sharing over my strict routines any day of the week. Just remind me of that around midnight. I’ll be standing around outside.

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The calm between the storms. 🙂

Excuses

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Until very recently I was among the nearly three-quarters of American smartphone owners who sleep with their phone next to their bed. I routinely spent a fair amount of time scrolling just prior to sleep. This, despite recommending to parents at least weekly in clinic that they get their child’s gadgets out of their bedroom if they wanted to increase sleep quality and quantity.

For about a year now (okay, let’s be honest, at least two) I’ve been telling myself I needed to make a change. I wanted more peaceful thoughts running through my head when I closed my eyes each night; instead of the myriad news stories that Facebook put in front of me, or the work email that I just couldn’t shake. I wanted to control my phone instead of it controlling me. I had done pretty well with this in other ways- taking periodic digital sabbaths and gradually decreasing my overall screen time by tracking it.

But taking this final step was elusive. I had an excuse. A rationalization. A road block. The thought that runs through your head when you know you need to make a change, but cannot do it, and so convince yourself that it makes sense to maintain the status quo. In this case? I didn’t have an alarm clock. I really needed my phone to be my alarm clock.

Then my son got a tablet for Christmas. I had pretty mixed feelings about this but it is a fairly simple model that he uses for homework (and of course his “videos”). We set up some screen time rules around its use and one of those rules is that the tablet has a bedtime. It charges in a docking station in the family room. Here I was, telling my son that his tablet had a bedtime but I couldn’t give my phone the same.

So I bought an alarm clock. Ten dollars later and I am free. It’s been almost two months since my phone joined the tablet at its docking station each evening and, wow, I’m never going back. Better sleep. Peace of mind. More reading. Less parental guilt. And no more excuses.

A Letter to my Younger Self, on the Eve of my 40th Birthday

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Dear Heidi,

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Forty years old is very, very young. Really, it is. You won’t believe how young 40 is.

Now that we have that basic truth out of the way, let me tell you some things I wish you had known a little earlier in life.

Pinot noir and gouda are both excellent.

Laugh more. Don’t take everything so seriously.

Getting pregnant and having a baby is a miracle. Never take it for granted.

Eat a little dark chocolate most days. It is delicious and is also apparently good for you. Win, win. Don’t eat very many other sweets. You don’t like them much anyway.

Trust your gut.

Being a mom is the most amazing thing you’ll ever do. Hands down. Cliche, but true. And the kid– wow. Just wait til you meet him.

There will be a day when you think coffee tastes better without cream and sugar. Crazy, I know.

You can’t go home again. Or, maybe you can, but it is a very long and winding road.

You’re wearing the wrong bra size (along with the majority of women). Go get fitted and spend some money on high-quality bras. Totally worth it.

Most people are so busy worrying about their own lives that they are not paying much attention to you. Don’t worry so much about what people think.

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Primary care for vulnerable kids is not the most glamorous part of medicine. No matter. Do not doubt your decision. This is your calling.

Lift some weights. You’ll love it. I’m not kidding.

You’ll make mistakes- in medicine and in life. Try your best to learn from them and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. You are still not very good at this.

Be kind. Be yourself. Love deeply. Let the rest fall away.

The Upstander: How They Stand Up to Bullying

The following post was written by guest author, Dr. Shelagh Dunn.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’m pretty sure I chose the research topic of my doctoral dissertation for personal reasons. I studied upstanders to bullying by interviewing middle school students who stood up to bullying in their schools. I thought I might someday be helping teachers and schools to lessen bullying. But it turns out that the students I was studying were my teachers. I learned so much about how to be an effective citizen and a decent human being from these student upstanders. You see, I used to see violence in the news and feel horror and pain but not know what to do about it. These students knew these feelings too but they also possessed a wisdom and resolve that I’m still only learning about. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you. We need their knowledge now more than ever.

Why am I talking about bullying right now? Well, it’s common to think of bullying in schools as “kids being kids” or to say “kids can be so cruel” and dismiss the cruelty of bullying as something that children grow out of. I don’t see it this way at all. What I’ve come to learn is that bullying is a microcosm of our society. Children are using their eyes and ears to absorb the world around them and they act it out with one another at school. It is not surprising to hear that right now there are increasing reports of bullying in schools targeting race, faith, and gender, when these very things are being targeted by politicians in the media.

But here’s the thing, stopping bullying is hard, in part because being an upstander is hard. As adults, we do not have this figured out. Most of us don’t know what to do when we witness violence, discrimination or hate, and even if we know what to do, we sometimes don’t do it. In the 1950’s a psychologist named Asch found that when a person is shown lines of obviously different lengths and asked to tell which line is the shortest, they can easily do so… unless they are in a room of people purposefully giving the wrong answer. In these cases, most people will give in and give the same answer as the group even when they know it is wrong. It’s just too hard to be the only one in a group saying something different. There is also another phenomenon acting against us called the “bystander effect” which shows that people will not come to the aid of someone in need as often if there are others around, because we believe that someone else will help. All of this means that there are incredible social forces acting on us to prevent us from intervening when we witness something like bullying, discrimination, or hate-fuelled behavior. We don’t want to be different, we think someone else will do it. Add in the threat of social and physical harm that can come with taking this stuff on and it becomes a very special and unique quality to be an upstander.

So how are some people able to be upstanders? Here’s what the students I interviewed had to say. They all told me that they had been bullied themselves at least once before and had a strong sense of empathy for others being bullied. They all told me that they knew bullying was wrong and they had to do something about it. They all told me that they didn’t care so much about what other students thought of them, they were not afraid to be different. Most of them used specific tactics to intervene using the means that they had available. Most of them took on what I realized was the identity of an upstander – it wasn’t just something they did, it was something they were. It became a part of their moral character to do the right thing even when it’s hard.

We can learn to adopt these qualities and teach them to our kids. Empathy. Resolve. Being unafraid to be different. There are strategies and places to start. As we practice using our empathy, using our voice, and listening to our own sense of right and wrong, even when everyone else around us is silent, here are a very specific set of instructions from these students to their peers and teachers, reprinted here for you to think about.

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If you think these instructions might help a school deal with bullying, please try them out. But here is my real challenge to you. If bullying is the microcosm, then we adults live in the macrocosm. Look at the list of actions above. Pick one. Do it today. Sleep. Repeat. Your children are watching.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Shelagh Dunn is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has a private practice in counselling psychology, with an interest in positive psychology and the health benefits of creating social change.