Want A Balanced Life? Chart It!

Today I wanted to share with everyone a very simple tool I offer my life coaching clients to help them keep on track with achieving balance in all aspects of their life. It’s an easy assignment, quick, affordable, yet effective: I call it a “Life In Balance Chart.”

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Get a large dry-erase board, magnet board, or poster board and draw seven vertical columns and seven horizontal rows (creating 49 boxes of equal sizes – with enough room to write that week’s “achievements”).

    The headings for the rows are:                        The headings for the columns are:

Monday                                                                                          Physical

Tuesday                                                                                          Emotional

Wednesday                                                                                   Intellectual

Thursday                                                                                       Creative/Spiritual

Friday                                                                                             Social (Friends)

Saturday                                                                                        Family & Home Life

Sunday                                                                                           Career

The idea is to do something in each life column daily or weekly that enhances that area of your life. The rows (one for each day of the week) do not need to have all seven columns filled in, but to successfully achieve life balance you need to tend to each column at least twice a week. Columns like Intellectual and career might only have two achievements for the week, while emotional, physical, and family could (and should) have four to five.

Here’s a sample board to further illustrate the concept.

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So next time you find yourself feeling imbalanced, unhappy, unmotivated – make a Life In Balance Chart and you’ll soon be on your way to better life fitness!

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Eat for Your Body, Not for a Fad.

There have always been food fads that large masses of people subscribe to for short periods of time until they find it too difficult to maintain a strict “diet” especially when the reasons for following that diet do not apply to them. First there was the Zone and South Beach diets – where carbs became taboo. Speaking for most trainers, we hated these fads as our clients would be passed out on the floor from hypoglycemia during our workouts because they didn’t have enough carbs. Making matters worse was that most of these people were not even close to obese and therefore, the idea of cutting out carbs wasn’t as necessary as someone who needs to jump start their metabolism after years of eating massive quantities of processed carbs.

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Currently the big rage in nutritional avoidance food is GLUTEN. Nine out of ten restaurants now include a Gluten-Free Menu. Even more interesting is all the products in the grocery store that put the words “gluten free” on foods that you normally would not worry about, like tater tots. Come on people, the potato is by nature gluten free!

Gluten is the proteins found in all wheat products, rye, barley, etc. Anything you make bread or pasta from, and any time you use flours as a binding base. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. While foods like potatoes do not inherently have gluten in them, depending upon how they’re processed and if there is gluten contamination from other items in the kitchen they can have gluten in their presentation. But does that mean you have to avoid them?

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The reason gluten-intolerance is on the rise is because of a few factors. First, our wheat and other gluten substances have changed over the years due to the genetic modification of seeds, said forced changes leaving our bodies less able to process the final product. Second, our portion quantities have dramatically increased while our food quality has decreased. Give those factors a couple of generations and the result is more people having digestive and autoimmune issues.

Here’s what really bothers me – a large majority of us do NOT have food allergies, autoimmune disorders, or digestive issues so we do not need to avoid gluten (same applies if you have no lactose issues, then you can keep eating non-fat organic dairy products). If there is no reason for you to avoid eating something you enjoy, then why do it? Moderation, as always is the key.

Before you yell at the computer screen that gluten is bad for every body, understand this. Too much of anything is bad for you, so if you eat pounds of pasta daily then okay maybe you should lighten your gluten and glycemic index load. But if you follow a reasonably healthy nutrition plan, and are not obese or diagnosed gluten-intolerant by a doctor, then you can eat just about anything, again in moderation.

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The real problem is that if you stop eating any one thing altogether (in this instance gluten foods) just because everyone thinks it’s the key to health and fat loss, when you finally succumb to that great smelling fresh baked sourdough bread with a touch of butter on it (my weakness), your gut will reject it and you’ll be in pain hours! All because you followed a trend that didn’t apply to you.

Why Are You Still Unhappy?

I created Dane Life Fitness because I feel all aspects of life need to be fit for one to find true contentment. You need balance and health in all aspects of life: your body, emotions, job/career, home life, relationships, and passions, and all areas need to work compliment each other (not be in juxtaposition).

Take stock for a moment, how many aspects of your life from the above-list are you happy with and feel there is balance. Keep in mind balance means that there’s an equality to all areas of your life – i.e., you’re not neglecting your fitness needs or allowing work to overshadow any and all play time (passions, hobbies, joys).

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If you have any aspects that you are unhappy with, my next question is how long have you felt this way? If you’ve been unhappy for more than a month or two, I must ask why!? I suspect your answer is what all my clients have answered with: no time, no energy, no money, no way to make a change. To which I respond: bullshit.

The only thing that keeps anyone from making a positive change is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain. But fear is not a viable and tangible obstacle, it is simply an emotion that keeps you stuck. Trite as it sounds “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Once you stop fear from hiding the truth of what you need to do and how you need to do it, change becomes easier.

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Change happens when you choose movement over wallowing. Any step is better than stagnation. Movement begins body transformations. Taking action instead of talking changes relationships and home life. Deciding where/who you want to be in your career/job puts you on a path which begets movement which translates into change.

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Change of perspective is key. Imagine it was your child or sibling in your situation. How would you advise them? Could you see a step-by-step path to help them change, or a better emotional perspective? You likely could because when you view a situation hypothetically (or outside of yourself) vision and understanding are always clearer.

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So why are you still unhappy? Are you trying to change everything all at once. All or nothing? A successful life is one where you keep growing, changing, and learning. Pick one thing – one little baby step if you’re really scared – and just jump. The next little step will easier. Soon you’ll be moving with larger steps and more confident purpose. It really is this simple. But don’t stop with a few successes. Never stop until you have the life you want in all arenas.

Life coaches such as I are trained to help clients out of their fear and funk and into proactivity and positive results. But I know each and every one of you can get yourself into a better place on your own if you are truly motivated enough. Stop being unhappy. Life is short!

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Just Roll With It.

Raise your hand if you have tight ham strings, low back pain, constantly sore shoulders and traps, chronic headaches, sciatic pain radiating down your legs or all of the above. You are not alone. With more of our lives spent at a desk, hunkered over a computer, or long commutes stuck in the same curved spinal posture it’s prevalent that most adults suffer from one or more of these painful muscular issues. Postural distortions are rampant (see my article “What About Posture“) and those of us that make fitness a priority, often unintentionally add to the tension in those muscle groups.

So what can you do to easily, quickly, and affordably get relief. Just roll with it!

When passing through your gym or local sporting goods store (or even Target) you may have seen an innocuous looking white round foam roll – this is known as a foam roller, or it’s official name, SMR Roller. SMR stands for Self-Myofascial Release. May sound kinky, but it’s a $25 massage and chiropractic appointment all bundled into a space saving 36″ chunk of foam.

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In simple terms, foam rolling is a stretching technique that increases flexibility by decreasing muscle tightness. It’s positive effects can be felt within minutes, and almost everyone regardless of their physical condition can use a foam roller. Benefits range from relief of muscle soreness, improvement of joint range of motion and posture, and a significant decrease in tension and pain from neck, shoulders, back, butt, and legs.

So how do you Roll?

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Start by lying on your back on top of the roller vertically (above photo), or placing it under your glutes or shoulders horizontally (below photo), then slowly roll back and forth over the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Then hold gentle but firm and consistent pressure on that spot for about 30-90 seconds. Now resume slowly rolling back and forth or progressing down from that tender spot until no more muscle tenderness is felt.

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For the glutes and legs sit on the roller, then supporting yourself with your hands on the floor behind you, lean back, and begin a slow roll from the top of your hips/glutes all the way through your hamstrings. You can separately roll out your calf muscles if they are tight too.

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It might sound cumbersome, but it’s really very easy and almost natural once you give it a try. I am happy to conduct a skype conference call if you would like a demonstration, and clearly there are many photos and videos on the internet that demonstrate as well.

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I cannot recommend this affordable essential tool in helping you have a happy, health, fit body. So get rolling!

Getting Back To Work

If you find that after a prolonged absence from working out (whether at the gym or your home) you have a really difficult time getting back into the groove of things – you are not alone. Whether because of illness, vacation, or hectic times sometimes we are unable to stay diligent and keep fitness a priority. Then when you’re finally ready to get back to it, your motivation, interest, energy and stamina are simply not there.

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I recently had a very nasty cold that kept me from working out for 14 days – a torturous eternity to a fitness buff and trainer! My first day back I felt weak and easily winded. My mind screamed “stop resting Dane, you’re a professional, you can do this.” But then I reminded myself of what I know with certainty about the body and exercise: (1) muscle memory and stamina return faster than you might think; and (2) patience and pacing yourself, especially after an illness, is important to avoid relapse or injury.

So, if you find yourself in this position here are few tips that can help you push past the mound of reasons (both real and self-imposed) that keep you from resuming your fitness regiment, and once again heading towards your fitness goals (or maintaining them so you do not slip backwards).

Take it Slow – But Not Too Slow.

Believe me when I say the first week is the hardest. You’ll need to take it slow, but keep your eye on the goal and don’t let yourself wimp out. Within a week, your muscles will be less sore, and your strength and stamina will rapidly approach the levels they were before you stopped. Listen to your body, but don’t come up with excuses. If you need to do one less set the first few days, that’s ok, as long as you commit to completing all sets by the second week.

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Start With A Fresh Routine.

Unless you had just started a new routine within a week of your absence, a new routine will help you refocus and the “freshness” will inspire and challenge you.

Stay Hydrated AND Eat Healthy Carbs.

When the body is recovering from an illness such as respiratory cold, you burn a lot of extra calories with all that nose blowing and coughing. You will also be much drier internally with all the mucus removal. So drink lots of water and I recommend even mixing protein powder in your gym bottle so that there’s a little more oomph to keep you going those first days back. (I actually bring a mix of OJ, water, and sugar-free protein powder to help me power through.) Make certain to eat a few extra healthy carbs (not processed foods) about an hour prior to your workout to keep you fueled up.

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Warm Up and Cool Down.

After any extended absence you will likely experience significant muscle soreness in the days that follow your return to exercise. This is caused by inflammation, swelling and tenderness as the muscles heal. Therefore each day you should warm up your body with a bit of low-impact cardio (walking at an incline, biking, elliptical), then start your routine with lighter weights increasing as your sets go. At the end of your workout, spend a few minutes stretching any and all muscles worked.

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Rome Was Not Built In a Day.

Lastly, remind yourself that there are no quick fixes, but as I’ve stated herein, you will return to your previous fitness condition very quickly if you follow the advise listed above. Revisit whatever motivation started you on this journey to begin with, i.e., swimsuit season, a wedding, lowering of your blood pressure, reduction of dangerous levels of body fat, etc. Then, as always, be patient and loving with yourself.

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The Dangerous Plateau

I would say about 50% of my clients come to me because they have reached a certain level of fitness and then for some reason unbeknownst to them, they cannot achieve the rest of their ultimate goal of fat loss and muscle toning. It’s always the same thing “I can’t lose these final pounds” or “I have worked really hard and still have belly, butt or thigh fat.” My answer is always the same too – “you have plateaued, plain and simple.”

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The body (in particular, the muscles and cardiovascular system) achieves benefit during the first few weeks of any new exercise routine, but those benefits (fat loss, muscle tone) quickly level off after 4-6 weeks of performing the same exact regiment. Without constant changing up of what, how, and even when you work out, at some point you will no longer see any changes.

Obviously for those of you who do not want to or can’t work out with a trainer, you may not know what to do that effectively resumes your body’s progress. Without giving away all my tricks of the trade, I will give you a few suggestions:

Revamp your entire routine.

Chose different exercises than you’ve been doing, do them in a different order, and on different days. I.e., if you were doing standing dumbbell biceps curls, now incorporate preacher curls or hammers instead. If you were running on a treadmill, try walking at an incline or using the elliptical instead.

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Change your quantity & quality.

If your previous routine consisted of chest presses with 15 lbs, 10 reps, 3 sets – try 12 lbs, 15 reps, 4 sets. Or try a few weeks of all exercises performed very very slowly. Then switch it up and perform them faster (still with good form) and very little rest in between – more of a cardio pump concept.

Divide your workouts.

Try an upper body workout one day and a lower body the next, followed by a day of rest, followed by two total-body workout days, etc. Make sure you change up your workout and rest days as well. If you always workout Monday through Friday, try Saturday through Thursday.

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Don’t forget to rest.

Often when clients get desperate to see quicker results they really rev up their routines and hit the gym 7 days a week. Lack of proper rest for the muscles to recover is a key contributor to plateauing. Conversely, resting too much negates faster gains. Never workout for more than 5-6 days without 1-2 days rest. Best yet, intersperse your rest days throughout the week (i.e., Mon-Wed workouts, Thurs rest, Fri-Sat workouts, Sun rest).

When all else fails.

When all else fails, call upon a seasoned professional (me, hint hint) to create a customized workout routine for you and/or kick your butt in person. Also, remember why started this fitness journey.  What is your motivation?  Remind yourself of what’s important and it may renew your enthusiasm.  Boredom too is a strong factor behind non-achievement, so following these suggestions will help keep your routines fresh and challenging.

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Happy exercising!

Isolation is Good.

N o one likes to be isolated – except for muscles! Isolating muscle groups when you work out can make a HUGE difference on the quality of your results and how quickly you achieve them.

Having a dance background (studied Ballet and Jazz from age 3-18), I have to remind myself that I have a skill many people at the gym lack. I understand isolations. Isolation is the ability to focus on only the muscle(s) needed for a particular movement. Dancers routinely run through a series of isolations in their morning warm ups to ensure that each muscle group is properly warmed and stretched prior to dancing.

Isolations is very important when it comes to resistance training as it will help you gain the most benefit from the least amount of lifting. But I have found that most people do not understand how to isolate their muscles. Therefore you see a lot over or under extension, swinging other body parts, and bad posture incorporated when people lift weights. This can cause injury, but more importantly it is an ineffective and inefficient way to work out. You’ll spend more time, often lifting heavier than you need to, and see less results. Who wants that?

So the next time you hit the weights, try the following the ideas. I’ll use a standard biceps curl as my example:

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1. Ascertain exactly what muscle group the exercise is designed to affect (i.e., curls=biceps).

2. Position yourself (whether sitting or standing) in a way that will allow the rest of your body to stay relatively still, and any secondary muscles needed will only contribute about 25% of the exertion. In other words though your forearms are utilized they should not carry the brunt of the weight, and your shoulders should stay out of it completely.

3. Perform the exercise (the curl) slowly and precisely, maintaining a consistent contraction of the biceps (a squeezing) as you lift, and a slight relaxing and stretching of the muscles on the lowering (lowering all the way down, not half way as many people do).

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4. Lift enough repetitions to exhaust the muscles and make them burn. If you start to swing your body or feel your shoulders pulling, or your forearms fatiguing, redirect your efforts back exclusively to the biceps (relax your hands, forearms and shoulders). Then do 5 more reps!

After 3-5 sets performed in this manner, you will have torn down and exhausted the muscles effectively, and now you can move on to another body part and do the same. Focusing on the quality of your form also helps you stay motivated as you will see more rapid results which always begets fresh enthusiasm to continue with your fitness goals.

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So take the time to watch your form and learn to isolate each muscle group. Your body will thank you!

Excuses & Sabbotage, By Andi Singer

Today I offer a guest blog written by a fellow personal trainer, Ms. Andi Singer, who hails from Boise, Idaho.  She offers a great reminder to all of you who let excuses and self-sabotage stand in your way of achieving your fitness goals.

“I work as a fitness coach with clients from all backgrounds with all different goals. When they are with me they work hard, but over the last couple years I have seen several common habits that limit their ability to succeed.

Lying to Me About Your Diet

I do not write out meal plans for my clients, but I do ask that they write down what they eat 3 days out of every month so we can see what might be holding them back. The first mistake that clients make is to omit foods they may consider to be “bad”. If they feel inclined to lie to me and leave out the fast food they had on Friday night it limits my ability to help them make improvements. You are the only person it hurts when you lie to your coach, because it is your progress that is impaired.

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Lying to Yourself About Your Diet

I also find that clients lie to themselves about what is “healthy”. Eating a 6″ turkey sub on whole grain bread shouldn’t do much damage plan, but justifying eating a footlong meatball sub on parmesan bread by saying you “had Subway for lunch” will not help you with your weight loss.

Every nutrition plan should have a little wiggle room for the occasional treat, but telling yourself you are eating healthy when you know you are not will only damage your progress.

The Alcohol Trap

Another huge mistake I see that hurts my clients’ progress is the excess consumption of alcohol. When you are following a nutrition plan that monitors your calorie consumption like HMR (Health Management Resource) programs or IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), it is important to factor in any alcohol to your daily caloric needs.

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Excessive alcohol consumption can also lower testosterone levels and increase cortisol (stress hormone), leading to increased fat storage and the decreased ability to build muscle. In one study, subjects had increased muscle damage after consuming alcohol after working out.

Only Working Out Once a Week

I recommend to all my clients that they come see me 4 days a week, but that’s obviously not within everyone’s means. I have clients that do wonderfully coming in to work with me only once a week because they are consistently coming in on their own as well, but clients who only work out once a week rarely see huge results.

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If you work with a trainer once a week, ask if it’s possible to have additional workouts written down, or see if they can give you advice as to how to work out on your own.”

Ms. Singer is a certified personal trainer through the ISSA, as well as a fitness coach through Proplus Fitness.  She is also a black belt under the UMAS system (martial arts).  You can reach her at www.ihmonline.com.

Note: DLF does not endorse IHM.

Our Nation Is Confused About Kids Nutrition

I am very frustrated of late with the perspective most of our society has about children’s nutrition. It’s as if we are clueless as to what we put in their bodies, yet so many Mom’s micro-manage their own calories and food quality.

Restaurants routinely offer soda or lemonade as a drink included with the cost of the child’s meal. I see kids being served a large glass of Sprite at dinnertime as the parents are under the misunderstanding that clear soda is better for their kids than Cola (dark soda).  Sugar is sugar and both contain as much as 17 spoonfuls — and in the case of Mountain Dew, there’s still caffeine even in a clear soda.

The other day at my daughter’s school awards ceremony (in the morning mind you) they offered chocolate chip cookies and lemonade as treats. My response of “sugar and sugar?” was met with offensive glares. I said I would have gladly paid for the purchase of water, but that fell on deaf ears.  These are probably the parents who bought the concept Nutella tried to sell us that the chocolate spread was healthy for breakfast because it had nuts and milk in it.

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My best friend recently informed me that Los Angeles Unified School District (the most screwed up school district ever) has made it mandatory that children have breakfast in their cafeterias during first period, noting that many households haven’t the money for food. As great as that sounds, they’re only offering the likes of processed and shrink wrapped pastries (sugar, fats and unhealthy carbs) or pizza rolls (sugar, fats and unhealthy carbs). Network television routinely touts statistics of our increasing percentage of childhood obesity then they cut to a McDonalds’ or Coke commercial. It’s all so frustrating!

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Then there are the thousands of parents who claim there’s no time or money to make food at home and eat healthy. Well to those nay-sayers, I say: being short on time is no excuse for feeding your child (or yourself) a crappy processed-foods breakfast, or no breakfast at all! It’s, as always, a matter of priorities. 15 minutes the night before or in the morning to make and eat a healthy breakfast is doable for everyone! With proper planning and routines set into place time and money does not have to increase (see last week’s blog “Healthy Nutrition Made Easy).

Calculate what you spend on gasoline driving to and sitting in the car-line at McDonalds’ or Starbucks, along with the cost of the food. Then take that money, and buy a dozen eggs, a package of whole wheat tortillas, some deli turkey and a bag of pre-washed organic spinach. The cost will actually be less, the food can be cooked ahead of time, and in the morning heat up a healthy egg burrito for all of you. Soda and fruit juices should be saved for “treats.” Water is essential to everyone’s health and it’s cheaper (if not free).

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A school mate said to my daughter one day “hey how come your Mom doesn’t give you Lunchables (as he ate his Oscar Mayer Lunchables)?” She looked at what he was eating and said “I have the same thing only better.” She had low-sodium organic turkey meat, all-natural sliced white cheddar (no orange dye), sea-salt rice crackers, grapes, carrots, cucumbers, a dollop of humus, and one Hershey’s kiss. Compare that to salami, dyed cheese (known to cause headaches and allergies), Ritz crackers (made with HFCS & sugar), no veggies, no fruit, and two Oreos — a usual Lunchables. Compare the cost too! I can feed her my homemade lunchables all week the cost of 1-2 pre-packaged Lunchables filled with stuff I wouldn’t eat, and I suspect neither would you.

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Clearly I’m on a soap box today, but this really gets under my skin. No matter the age or school level, all kids need to eat six (6) small meals all day long, and get off their bums at regular intervals to move, stretch and expel energy. Only if parents commit to making this a lifestyle for their entire family, will we end the rampant obesity besieging our Nation.

Healthy Nutrition Made Easy

Everyone should know this by now: nutrition is responsible for 70% of how your body looks (i.e., how lean you are). The biggest complaint I hear from my clients is that they have no time to eat right: they don’t know how to plan, shop, prep and create healthy tasty meals in a short amount of time and with a small grocery budget. The good news is I DO! Like anything else that works easily in life, a “system” is key. A healthy eating system is comprised of the following steps:

1. Plan
2. Shop
3. Prep
4. Cook & Store

PLAN

Shopping-List

Pick one day a week where you will plan out your breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Whether you are solo or cooking for a family planning is the same, and your menu does not need to be elaborate. For example: breakfast burritos, turkey & veggie wraps, oven roasted chicken & veggies with Quinoa, fruit, nuts, beans, humus, peanut butter and yogurt for snacks.

SHOP

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With your written shopping list in hand, hit the store. If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s nearby that’s your best bet for getting healthy quality for a very affordable price. Fortunately all the big grocery store chains now have organic options and carry formerly hard to find things like quinoa and whole wheat tortillas, etc. Here are some staples I recommend you always have on hand:

Canned Black beans and Garbanzo Beans (low sodium)
Quinoa
Peanut or Almond Butter
Oats
Almonds (unsalted)
Low Sodium Chicken Stock
Eggs, Egg Beaters, or Egg Whites
Canned Salmon (wild caught)
Olive Oil
Raw Organic Sugar or Organic Coconut Sugar

With these items you can always stir up a quick meal or snack.

PREP

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There are two types of prepping: “non-cook” and “pre-cooking.” Snacks are “non-cook.” Place handfuls of almonds in snack bags. Same for sliced up apples or grapes. Fill a lunch or snack sized tupperware with veggies and humus; salad of mixed veggies with canned salmon and drizzled dressing. Many items can be made the night before such as turkey & veggies with mustard (no Mayo) in a whole wheat tortilla.

“Pre-Cooking” is usually exclusively for dinner preparation. In the morning I slice up a myriad of veggies and place in a ziplock bag. I do the same with boneless skinless chicken breasts, thighs, fish, organic chicken sausage (no nitrates) or tofu – whatever protein I’m choosing. Then when I get home it’s ready to cook (see below).

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Pre-cooking also works for salads, or crockpot dishes. The idea is simply to slice everything up when you have the time (the night before or the morning of), and then quickly cook it (or let the crock pot cook it all day).

COOK & STORE

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At night, I take my already-to-go items and place them all in a roasting pan, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, pepper and any other seasonings I’m in the mood for (curry, chipolte, herbs). Then I place the whole thing in the oven at 475○ for 45 minutes (stirring once halfway through). I might also cook a cup of quinoa in two cups of chicken stock. When the oven roasting is done, I mix in the cooked quinoa. Makes the meal go further and be heartier. (Quinoa can be pre-cooked as well and stored in the fridge.)

Or you can stir-fry the items with a low-sodium marinade if you don’t want to use your oven. Prepped items can be made for grilling as well. Veggies in a foil pouch go on the top rack, marinated chicken or fish on the bottom.

Usually while the dinner is cooking, I take 5 minutes and make the breakfast burritos for the next morning. Sauté spinach and black beans with eggs (or egg whites or egg beaters), then roll into a whole-wheat tortilla, cover in salsa or hot sauce (optional) and wrap in foil. The next day this can be microwaved (out of the foil of course). During the dinner cooking time, I also make lunches for the next day, unless I plan to make the left-overs be lunch (in which case I just get the tupperware out and ready).

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Once dinner is over, I take the left-overs and store for the next night’s dinner or lunch (depending upon quantity left). If I made a huge amount (crockpot meals usually), I might freeze the rest for eating the following week.

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Hopefully these tips will help healthy nutrition seem a little less difficult to you and you’ll embrace the freedom you’ll find from having planning, shopping, prepping and cooking become routine. Lots of easy and healthy recipes are floating in the internet for you to find (especially on Pinterest), so have fun experimenting.