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.
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.
Having a chest freezer where I keep prepped freezer meals, frozen vegetables, back-up staples, etc is KEY.
My approach requires a love of leftovers and being okay with eating the same thing a few times a week.
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.
This 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:
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).
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!!
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?
Fun new video from one of our talented medical students about the work we are doing to incorporate nutrition and culinary medicine education into the medical school curriculum. This is one of my passions! Check it out!
Food is the Solution by Kelvin Pho
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?
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.
Over the last six months I have placed serious, focused attention on taking better care of myself. A huge part of this has been a long-needed return to daily exercise. More on this in future posts, but today my focus is on nutrition and, more specifically, cooking meals at home.
My love of cooking is long-standing. I was blessed with two grandmothers who could prepare delicious feasts, almost magically, for large family gatherings. Only now do I appreciate what an undertaking each of those meals was for them. What a true expression of love. I have parents who, despite both working outside of the home, managed to prepare a home-cooked meal for our family almost every night. My mom– her famous lasagna or hamburger pie; my dad his skillet experiments (or hot dogs and peas :). Only now do I understand the effort and planning that required, day-in and day-out.
My own interest in cooking and baking started in middle school. A friend and I baked cookies and planned a future baking company. Another friend and I prepared a “cooking show” video outlining the process needed to create lefse (a traditional Norwegian staple).
In high school I asked my Grandma K to write down some of her famous recipes so that I could attempt to recreate them. In usual fashion, she outdid herself — I have a now treasured collection of recipes in her own handwriting. Little did I know then how much I would one day miss her — both her unconditional love and the food that channeled it.
College is a blur, but I didn’t cook much. The dorms weren’t great for cooking, nor the cafeteria for my waistline, but I wouldn’t trade the meals shared there with great friends for anything.
Contrary to expectations, medical school actually brought cooking back to me. A dear friend and I shared an apartment all four years. From her I learned about the art of vegetarian cooking and the wonder that is Indian food.
No, it was not medical school that led me to lose my love of cooking. Residency earns that distinction. 30 hour shifts followed by microwave popcorn and sleep. More take-out than I care to remember. The joy of cooking was gone. It felt more like a chore for which I simply could not muster up the energy.
Slowly, but surely, my love of cooking has found its way back over the last eight years. First, out of love for my child, I experimented with home-made baby food and simple healthy meals as he grew. I started to favor Trader Joe’s over take-out.
But, I must admit that it was not until the last few months that cooking has again become something I look forward to instead of a simple necessity. For this, I credit my fabulous wellness group, growing concern about the ingredients in processed foods, and an ever increasing desire to serve as a role-model for my son. We grow simple plants like tomatoes and herbs in the hopes that he will begin to appreciate where food comes from. I experiment with a variety of ingredients in order to expand his palate and help him learn that healthy food can be delicious. And, I involve him in the food preparation, with the goal that he grows into a man who is comfortable in the kitchen.
I now spend a couple of hours each weekend planning and prepping our meals for the week. This past Sunday I was once again reminded that following a well-written recipe can be an almost meditative process— a peaceful way to start the week or end the day. I felt the warmth and satisfaction of a dish that turned out better than expected. The joy of knowing that we were placing delicious and healthy food into our bodies.
I may not be preparing a feast for twenty guests. Still, I think my Grandmas would be proud.
Webster’s defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
With the aim of increasing mindfulness, this week I did something I have not done in a very long time— I completely unplugged for 36 hours. No computer. No phone. No internet connection. It was a complete digital sabbath and it was amazing.
It probably helped that I took this digital sabbath while staying in a cabin overlooking a beautiful bluff and surrounded by trees, but I came away from the experience more fully relaxed and with more mental clarity than I have had in a long time. My attention span feels longer. I am more fully engaged with my son when he’s talking to me. That nagging urge to check my phone, which often causes me to feel irritated with myself, is gone. I can be present and mindful about whatever I’m doing right now. The rest can wait. Not surprisingly, given the strength of the mind-body connection, I also feel more physically energized and ready to tackle my fitness goals in the coming weeks.
Given all of these benefits, I am more committed than ever to the two digital sabbath days per month that I have promised myself as part of our family media plan.
How are you cultivating mindfulness?
I have long thought about the importance of being mindful regarding our son’s media use. We have verbalized daily time limits that we try to stick to and I monitor content of his screen time fairly closely. This does not mean we are perfect or that we don’t have setbacks. Over the holidays we strayed fairly far from our from our usual limits and have not quite gotten back to where we should be. I’m taking a piece of my own advice and writing down a family media plan. Here are the important elements:
- Quantity: It is important for families to think about how much screen time they consider reasonable for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended no screen time for children under two and a maximum of two hours for all other children, but has recently acknowledged that this is not the reality for most families. Data from Common Sense Media (2013) tells us that kids between 8-10 years old have an average of 8 hours of media exposure per day, and teenagers have in excess of a whopping 11 hours per day of screen time. This is more than time spent sleeping or time in school! Clearly, we need to get a handle on this stuff. Why are limits important? Excess screen time has been associated with problems like obesity, disordered sleep, and behavior problems. Perhaps most importantly, any time spent in front of a screen is less time spent interacting as a family. It is helpful to set “device curfews” and to keep all devices and screens out of bedrooms.
- Quality: More and more, we are learning that it is not only the quantity of screen time that matters, but also the quality. Our family is pretty good in this regard. I use Common Sense Media as a guide to gauge the appropriateness of any videos or apps my son is viewing. Any program with adult content is off-limits. For any shows that are borderline, we watch together to provide context and share any teachable moments. Recent data suggests that certain “pro-social” media can be beneficial in teaching empathy, respect for other cultures, and in sending anti-bullying messages. Researchers are also exploring how interactive media, such as iPad use, may influence kids in different ways than more passive media exposure. More to come certainly, and it is well worth our time as parents to stay abreast of developments.
- Role-modeling: An essential component of any family media use plan is to address parents’ media use and set limits for ourselves as well as our kids. This is important from a role-modeling perspective, but it is also important from a relationship perspective. A recent small study observed 55 parents’ behavior with their children while eating together at a restaurant. 40 of the 55 parents looked at a device during the meal. Researchers found that the more immersed a parent was with their device, the more harshly they responded to their children, even if the child’s request was simply asking for help with their food. My own personal goal is to stay off devices between the time I get home from work and the time my son is asleep. I don’t always succeed, but I’m recommitting to it in writing here. My son knows he can hold me accountable. Kids are much more likely to buy in to a media plan if they see that their parents have to follow the rules as well.
- Safety: All media use plans should address safety. Do whatever you need to in order to refrain from using your phone while driving. For many of us this means placing the phone out of our reach. There are also now apps that make it impossible to text and drive. Consider installing one if the pull of the phone is just too great. For those with older children, being thoughtful about when they are allowed to enter the social media world is highly important. Having conversations about cyberbullying and being a good digital citizen are essential. For more information on these topics, take a look at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ excellent resource, SafetyNet.
How this looks for our family:
Quantity: We have a limit of 30 minutes of screen time for my son on weekdays. I’d rather this was zero, but frankly I really enjoy relaxing together on the couch after dinner, so I’m staying realistic on this for now. He has a two hour max on the weekends. These limits seem realistic, but require discipline. I am going to set more timers to avoid some of the “just a few more minutes” that easily turn into an extra hour on weekend mornings.
Quality: We will continue to use Common Sense Media to gauge appropriateness and to co-view with our son whenever possible. I will explore more interactive, educational apps and games and try to decrease the percentage of my son’s screen time that is passive viewing.
Role-modeling: Perhaps the most challenging section, but here goes. I’ve installed the “moment” app on my phone that lets me know how much time I’m spending looking at my phone each day. It also counts the number of times I pick it up. This has been eye-opening. I’m using this tool to help me stay under a total time goal per day. I’m also pledging to stay off my phone from the time I get home until the time my son is asleep, and he knows this and will help keep me accountable. I’m going to take a “digital sabbath” twice a month- two days a month when I am completely off-line. I will turn off all devices at least 30 minutes before my desired sleep time (this should probably be an hour, and I’ll work towards that by the end of the year).
Safety: Intentional, continued commitment to no texting or looking at the phone while driving. No excuses. No exceptions. For me, this means always remembering to set my audio book or music selection prior to starting out.
Do you have a family media use plan?
In lieu of more traditional resolutions, I have started the last few years by setting intentions. I find that choosing a word or two helps me to refocus on these intentions whenever I get bogged down in the day-to-day as the year progresses. 2015’s word was gratitude and I’ll tell you what, I’m keeping that one. Ending each day talking with my son about what we are each grateful for has become a very meaningful habit.
The word I’m choosing as a theme of sorts for 2016 is forward. Perhaps it appeals to me in part as the motto of my home state; and it also accurately represents where I’m at in many facets of my life right now.
I don’t mean forward in a “let’s rush and get this over” kind of way. In fact, most days I’d like to slow things down a bit. No, I mean forward progress. I mean a commitment to taking baby steps each day that slowly move the ball down the field in different areas of my life. A mindful, grateful movement towards more meaning, more joy, more organization. It is all too easy to go through the motions of the busy days. I sometimes get mired in the details and lose sight of my overall direction. Forest and trees and all of that. It’s easy to feel a bit stuck.
This year I’m shaking that off. I pledge to work on balancing gratitude for all that is with hope for all that can be. And, it won’t just be ethereal hope. I’m backing up that hope with a few concrete actions to get things moving.
- Work: My work can be fairly intense. It is also exceptionally meaningful, and for that I am grateful. This year I am going to make a few concrete changes that I hope will keep me effective, but improve my ability to set boundaries, stress less, and focus more energy on forward progress in a few specific goals. In order to do this I’m tinkering with a new approach to the all-consuming beast that is work email and an overhaul of my (endless) to-do lists. I’ll let you know how it goes.
- Home: By leaving more of work at work, I’m aiming to lean in at home by focusing on small, daily joys. I’ll work on keeping the time I have with my family mindful and positive. I’m hoping for forward movement in our ability to stick to daily screen time limits (for all of us!) in order to make more time for things like puzzles and games and legos and soccer and the park. These are the moments that my son invariably recalls as the “best part of the day” when we reflect at bedtime (well, that and Pokemon as of late). And we will continue our cherished bedtime reading.
- Self: Over the past six months I made huge forward strides in taking care of myself. I kicked out the self-talk that told me I didn’t have time to exercise, decided I couldn’t afford NOT to exercise, and am now working out six days a week. This one change has brought with it the energy and focus that has inspired a completely new outlook and, indeed, inspired my choice of word this year. I managed to convince myself that sustainable change is possible when it comes to taking care of myself and there is no going back. If this change is possible so are others. More about this in future posts, but I am eternally grateful to Renee Paro and the other fabulous women in our wellness group who helped to set me on this path. I’ll be building on this with continued forward progress in physical fitness and work on mindset via daily reading and writing (even if it’s just ten minutes).
It all sounds a bit audacious written here. So be it. As they say in Texas, go big or go home. And so, here I go. Onward and upward. In kindness, in gratitude, in respect for all living beings. Forward.
What’s your word for this year?