Happy Superbowl Sunday. If you’re like me, you just dove into a pizza and some chips to celebrate this annual game (that most people really don’t care about). Treats like this for me are few and far between at 12 weeks out from my next bikini competition. Tonight, however, I enjoyed every bite because I knew that I was set up to succeed with my meal prep for the remainder of the week.
Someone recently asked me to help her get bikini-ready for a spring break vacation that was 6 weeks away. She wanted to know what type of workout schedule I would recommend to lean out a little in this short time. My response was simple. If you have 5 hours a week to devote to your fitness, use 4 hours of that week to meal prep.
That doesn’t mean she needs to be in the kitchen for 4 hours, chopping and cooking and chopping some more. That time would include making a grocery list, shopping, looking at the calendar to plan ahead for a busy schedule of dropping her kids at activities, and then actually cooking or prepping some simple foods that were ready to go.
Here are some of my top meal-prep hacks that I use regularly to stay on track when time is tight:
Pre-Cut and Pre-Washed Lettuce and Veggies
I spend a little extra money each week to have Whole Foods wash my lettuce for me. Do you know how annoying it is to wash lettuce? Don’t even get me started. I don’t even own a salad spinner to dry the lettuce, and frankly I have no space for one. Sign me up to pay fifty cents more for clean lettuce that’s ready to go. I also splurge on some veggies that are already washed and pre-sliced. It sounds silly, but have you ever bought whole vegetables at the store with intentions to wash/peel/chop them and you find them a week later in the back of your fridge, rotten? Go on. I’m with you. Sometimes our weeks are too busy to even chop a vegetable, and when we do have 5 minutes to ourselves, that’s the last thing we want to be doing. This is a minor expense that I pay to save me a little bit of time. That way when I am ready to assemble my daily salad, all I really have to do is assemble.
I also purchase a lot of frozen vegetables and use them as sides for many of our dinners. Broccoli, green beans, asparagus and spinach are all good choices that are low carb (yes, veggies have carbs) and packed with fiber.
I buy 2 rotisserie chickens a week, one on Sunday and a second one on Thursday. I always do a second grocery shop on Thursdays to restock anything that I need, so that I go strong into the weekend prepared. I know a lot of people that undo all of their hard work on the weekends, and they are back to square one on Mondays. This second shop helps to ensure that I can still meet my goals, even on a Saturday.
Rotisserie chickens are a simple solution for the lazy cook (or the bad cook). The KEY is to remove the meat when the bird is still warm. Trust me, you do not want to unpack the groceries, throw that bird in the fridge and think “I’ll get to it later.” You just spent $8-12 on a delicious bird, take that meat off (eat the juicy wings while you’re doing it) and shred the breast for later.
You can use that chicken for a lot of things:
- Salad topper
- Chicken tacos
- Throw it in the food processor (when cooled) with some carrots, onion, celery, some mayo or Greek yogurt and some hot sauce for buffalo chicken salad
- Make chicken enchiladas
- Make chicken soup
The list goes on. Get creative and use this simple hack to help you add protein to your week.
Whole Grain Rice Packets
I recently discovered that Whole Foods sells these whole grain rice packet medleys that are ready to go after 90 seconds in the microwave. Each packet serves two, so it’s perfect for me and the hubs. They come in blends like Spelt, Green Lentils & Long Grain Brown Rice and Long Grain Brown & Wild Rice. You can use it as a side for any dish or mix it with some taco meat, and make your own little burrito. Plus, 90 seconds is about the most time I want to spend on rice these days.
Frontera Sauces and Marinades
We eat a lot of Mexican cuisine in our home. Fish tacos, taco soup, enchiladas, flank steak tacos. The list goes on. I always have Frontera Sauces and Marinades on-hand, since all you have to add is the protein of your choice and wa-la a tasty dinner. I love the Carne Asada marinade for flank steak, the Red Chili Barbacoa Seasoning sauce for a slow cooker meal, and the Texas Original Taco Sauce for ground beef. Just buy a pouch, and follow the recipe on the back. There are no sketchy ingredients, and the calorie content is minimal. Keep and eye on the sodium if you have a history of high blood pressure.
Last but not least is frozen fish. Fish is an excellent way to add a well-balanced side of protein to your family dinner. I typically cook very bland white fish (cod, tilapia and halibut) and spice it up with Flavor God seasonings. If you haven’t heard of Flavor God, check them out. They are low sodium and they come in both sweet and savory flavors like pizza, spicy everything, and chocolate donut (which is amazing in oatmeal). They are non-GMO and MSG-free.
To make the fish, I defrost it (same day), rinse it and pat it dry. I place it on a foil-lined baking sheet (another hack to reduce clean up time – just toss the foil after the fish is cooked) that is sprayed with cooking spray. I drizzle a little olive oil on each piece and load up the seasonings. Fold up the sides of the foil and then the ends, sealing it tightly. Bake the fish for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Open the foil and scrape gently at the fish with a fork. It is cooked through when the flesh flakes easily and the color has turned opaque all the way through.
Another quick dinner that is healthy and easy in under 15 minutes.
I believe that I have mastered the simple-quick weeknight dinner in our home. It’s not fancy, but it’s healthy and easy. On the weekends, I venture out a bit and try new recipes .
I know you’ve heard the phrases “abs are made in the kitchen” and “you cannot out exercise a poor diet.” These statements are 100% accurate. Take some simple steps to plan ahead with your meals, and you can skip the gym a bit more often.
A lot has changed in my life over the past 4 months. My husband and I went from a party of 2 to a party of 3. I remember when I was pregnant, people kept telling me that EVERYTHING was about to change. Comments like, “Get your sleep now,” “Just wait till you have a baby,” and “You’ll never be able to _______ (insert verb and eye rolling here) again!” were frequent and sometimes a little unsettling. Yes, I knew our life would change. We would have a little bundle of love to take care of everyday!
So when little Gianna came into our world, we knew it would be wonderful and exhausting and funny and all of those emotions, and we were ready. We had planned ahead before we got pregnant to make sure that we were as ready as we could be when baby came. Those plans included money set aside for when I was on maternity leave, dinners stored in the freezer for the nights we didn’t want to cook, and HELP on the line for times when we needed a break.
After the first 6 weeks postpartum went by and our sleep started returning to normal, we started to settle back into our “normal life.” I started to get back in the gym several times a week. My family helped babysit, specifically my mom and my in-laws, who were all such a great help to me during that time. At first it was a little difficult to leave the baby, but I always reminded myself that she was in great hands and that I needed to do this for me – to get out of the house – to clear my head – to be on my own! As the weeks went by it got easier to balance motherhood, being a wife, cooking dinner, teaching 4 spin classes a week, and doing all of those little things everyday that moms and wives do that go unnoticed (like cleaning out the refrigerator or the splatter in the microwave). At 12 weeks postpartum, I went back to work full-time. I work out of my house, so the transition was easier for me than it would have been if I had to commute to an office. I found a wonderful nanny, who loves G and gives her undivided attention, and I can continue to help financially support our family – while sneaking out of my office from time to time for snuggles.
Now that I am busier than ever, I have to be more organized than ever. I have to be a time efficiency master in order to balance all of my responsibilities – also known as blessings! I have an awesome Erin Condren planner that I live by. It has everything in there from my scheduled workouts to my meal plans for the week. Plus it’s just fun to write in because it’s so pretty. On Sunday mornings, I sit down with my cup of coffee and plan the week. What we are eating, when I am working out, when I can squeeze a personal appointment, all juggling that around my work schedule and my nanny’s schedule. On weeks when I can stick to the schedule I am relaxed, present, happy. On weeks when I am off, I AM OFF. I am more irritable, annoyed, and not as good of a mom or a wife.
I also have 9 pounds to go to get back to my prenatal weight of 132, and I am determined to get there. So I can’t “wing” lunch or dinner if I want to stay on track in a healthy way. On Sundays I meal prep and make sure we know what is on the menu for lunch and dinner during the week, making my health and my husband’s health a priority.
Another part of making me a priority is making sure I don’t over schedule myself. If I look at my calendar and it’s packed with commitments, it makes me feel unsettled. Will I be too tired to handle all of this? When will I have time to just sit and relax? Are all of these appointment necessary, or can something be cancelled? We are in the thick of an awesome football season. My husband is at work between 5:30-6:30am most days and is home close to 7pm at night. He also works Friday nights and all day on Saturday. Our time together is precious and very limited, so we make time for date nights every other week where it’s just us – focusing on us!
And then there is the little peanut whom we love so much. The more downtime I have, the more I can focus on her. So when I feed her, I don’t watch TV or look at my phone, I just look at her. Time has already gone by too fast, and before I know it, she won’t want me to hold her anymore. On that note, I am signing off because I am tearing up, and I need to get back to my schedule, so I can hold her later.
Make yourself a priority. It’s not selfish. It’s self-love.
How do you stay motivated?
I get this question a lot. For me, the answer is simple: “it comes from within.” I know that is not very specific, and it doesn’t really help to explain my personal motivation, so let me share a little bit about motivation in general, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation means that the individual’s motivational stimuli are coming from within. For instance, a person is taking a spin class at the gym because he or she gets pleasure from taking the class and from the feeling that results after it’s over. It’s motivation that comes deep from within the core. Not everyone has it, but everyone can get it. People who are intrinsically motivated are physically active because they truly enjoy it.
Extrinsic motivation means that the individual’s motivational stimuli are coming from outside or really anywhere except from the inside. Examples of an external factor that motivates people are: to lose weight, to be healthy, to make their spouse happy, to look good, or to meet new people.
Very few people are entirely intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. It’s usually a combination of the two.
Now here is the KEY…
You are more likely to stay on-track with your fitness and nutrition plans if you are INTRINSICALLY motivated.
The boyfriend, the hot bikini body, the compliments, they are great and all, but you have to want it for yourself from within in order to ensure long term success.
Here are some strategies for transitioning towards intrinsic motivation:
- Remind yourself why you are here – If you’ve taken one of my spin classes, you’ve heard me say, “why are you here?!” Remember your personal goals and motivating factors for getting to the gym and staying on track.
- Stay hooked on that feeling – Reflect on the positive feelings and successes you’ve previously experienced from regularly exercising. How did you feel overall? Did exercise improve other aspects of your life besides your physical appearance? For many people exercise is a mental stress-reliever, not just a physical one.
- Set GOALS – I cannot stress this enough! I ALWAYS have a goal in mind. Create a short-term (weekly), medium-term (monthly), and long term (6+ months) goal for yourself. Make sure it is a S.M.A.R.T. goal, meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, REALISTIC, and Timely. For instance, “to lose weight,” is NOT a good example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal. I want, “to lose 5 pounds by June 1st” is a S.M.A.R.T. goal if the current date is May 1st, because that is a realistic and achievable goal that you can measure.
- Keep in mind that change takes time – It is important to remember that change does not occur overnight. Recognize that in order to obtain desired results both time and continued effort are required. Consistency is key to success!
- Remember that you have to do this for YOU – You will have the most success if you are your own cheerleader, not your spouse, your best friend or your weight loss group. In the end, it’s you vs. you in the mirror.
More to come on motivation, but I hope this helps to start your weekend off with a little extra pep in your step for staying on track. Stay healthy people!
I have a love-hate relationship with traveling.
Sure, 5-nights at a 5-star resort and spa in the Bahamas, is WONDERFUL, don’t get me wrong. But, when I travel my brain typically likes to trick me and say, “Mary, this is your time to indulge.”
So, I have to fight my natural instinct to have dessert after breakfast, lunch AND dinner when I am on vacation and try just to limit it to just dinner. Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I am not. I am not a drinker (that’s a virgin pina colada shown in the photo), so the thought of a tropical drink does not entice me at all. I am a structured, type-A, routine loving person, so when I am traveling, and all of that structure and routine gets jumbled up, I tend to relax in other areas as well. Like, pile on the carbs and sugar with a heaping bowl of dairy. The result is always the same. I am relaxed after vacation, and I am really glad I don’t have to get back in a bathing suit for a little while.
Why I am I telling you this?!
Because I don’t want you to think that I have everything in a nice little organized box, and staying fit is EASY for me. It’s not. I have to plan ahead to stay ahead for myself, because I can easily get off track just like you.
I have found through a lot of trial and error and major missteps that I have to prepare for vacation in order not to go completely off the wagon! Here are a few guidelines that I try to follow when I am planning a vacation:
1) START the vacation off right. That means, don’t pull into the airport and immediately grab an Auntie Annie’s pretzel for the plane ride. (Okay, I have done it. They ARE good). I usually empty my fridge before I leave for vacation, and throw all of the leftover protein and veggies into a Tupperware (or one of those plastic bins that the pre-washed lettuce/kale/spinach comes in) as my plane ride snack. Then I buy dressing once I pass through security or just make do with hummus and lemon juice. You save money, don’t waste all of your food at home, AND start your vacation off making healthy choices.
2) Plan vacations that are 4-nights or less. Any longer than 4 nights, and I am ready to roll home to my routine, my kitchen, my fitness classes, and our normal life. Justin and I lead a pretty simple life. We believe that less is more, and we enjoy life at home just as much as life on vacation, so we usually don’t plan vacations to “escape” from anything (except the laundry and emptying the dishwasher). We like to relax in the sun, turn off our cell phones, and enjoy each other’s company. We can usually accomplish that and recharge in 3 or 4 nights.
3) Stay in resorts with access to quality food and fitness facilities. I am a foodie. That is no secret. I love to eat. I need to balance that out with a sweaty workout when I am on vacation, because we do a lot more eating out when we are traveling, and I don’t count my macros. For instance, I am writing this post from Atlanta, GA. I came here on a business vacation (my job allows me to work from anywhere), but I also came here because my favorite workout, Flywheel is in this area. So I can take a crazy spin class every morning and eat in some amazing restaurants in Buckhead for dinner. It’s the best of both words.
4) Pack a sh*t ton of food. My husband usually gives me a big eye roll when he sees what I have packed for our vacations, but he is always happy when we land at our destination, and we don’t have to spend $30 each on a breakfast buffet every morning or be subject to whatever food is available at our resort in the overpriced gift shop. I pack A LOT of food. Some items that are always with me on vacation include: Vega One Bars, RX Bars, protein powder, brown rice cakes, my homemade protein bread, nuts, individual packets of nut butter (you cannot bring a whole container of nut butter through security. It is considered a gel, and they will take it. I learned this $12 lesson the hard way). Sometimes I load up on other snacks as well. It really depends on how long we will be gone and where we are going. My motto here is NOT less is more. It’s more is better.
I hope some of these tips help you prepare for your next trip too so you can “plan ahead” and “stay ahead.” Happy traveling!