5 Commitments for Balance + Productivity

It’s Sunday night, and once again as we stand at the close of this week and the start of the next, I keep coming back to the same thought: the weekends are too short.

fuel sweat grow: weekend days

It’s not that I necessarily need more rest — I’m not sure if the weekends are actually better for that these days.  My focus has been on trying to do less constant gear shifting,  and getting into a better rhythm of taking things to completion without a constant emphasis on multi-tasking.

It sounds somewhat like an oxymoron, but what I’m really going for is organized and balanced structure.  Organization in my environment, structure in my schedule, and a combination of the two when it comes to my calendars and work streams.  Time blocking is my best friend, and OneNote is my deepest passion — the only thing that I’ve been putting a little on the back burner is the food part.

It’s really not common for me to ever cook anything that isn’t Paleo, whole30, or 28toLife friendly because I’m just so used to it by now that I don’t really even know what I would cook otherwise.  What I’ve been slacking a little on lately is meal prep and planning, keeping things interesting and not monotonous, as well as doing actual at-home cooking.  The emphasis on restaurants and my red wine security blanket to get through these last four weeks of winter brutality has thrown me and my system off a little — so it’s time to re-organize, re-structure, and re-energize ALL the aspects of my life(style) and not just the work pieces.

So here are 5 things I’m doing on Monday to kick off the week:

1.  Email Organization. By the end of the week my email is usually out of control, so it’s helpful to start off monday morning not only clearing out the lingering unread messages, but also following up on anything that may not have been urgent at the moment but needs to be actioned.

2. Create a list of 5 action items to tackle each day before the first meeting of each day.  They can all be small milestones towards a bigger task, or completely unrelated, but I always like to start with the things that I either keep putting off or struggle to remember once I get caught up in the day.

3. Set a sweat schedule.  My daily schedule doesn’t always appear conducive to a regular fitness schedule, but my lifestyle is intertwined with it, so taking the time to be intentional not only with my schedule, but also the balance, brings me both sanity and a structure I can work around.

4. Plan meals out + go to the store.  I usually do this on Sundays and spend the afternoon prepping a number of different meals for the week, but with the craziness that has been filling up my weekend days lately, this can sometimes fall onto a Monday. And that’s exactly what’s happening this week.  I’ve got a little ‘whole damn thing’ spin-off brewing inside my head, so stay tuned for those updates coming soon, and as always, please join me.

5. Commit to down time.  This is everything right here — it’s the thing that constantly gets compromised or squeezed out, and it’s the most important part of the whole.  When I’m not zoned in on getting something done, or hyper conscious of my every-loving and constantly growing to-do list, every thing seems to become more clear.  When I slow down my mind is able to wander, creativity is heightened, and ideas generate at a faster and more connected way than normal.  It’s a 2015 priority for me, and it certainly deserves it’s space in my week.

So here’s to the start of this week, of March, and the hopeful ascent in temperatures and vitamin D. It all has to circle back at some point.

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6 Basic Tips for Starting (& Living) a Real Food Lifestyle

Time to say hello to 2015; and hello to the possibility that this will be the best year of your life.  For those of you prepping (with me) for The Whole Damn Thing, it’s almost GO time!  While the prep and the weight of the ‘commitment’ itself can seem pretty intimidating as it approaches, I assure you, it will not be as bad as you think, and you will feel better than you can even imagine.

I’m going to say this now, but it might not mean anything until we’re closing out January (so don’t worry, I’ll repeat it): the real purpose, and the actual value, of this whole challenge has less to do with these next 28-30 days than may be apparent amidst the current build up.  The value is in the lifestyle change; the forming of habits and the conscious choice making of what food we buy, and where we buy it; the self-education that happens within the process; and most importantly, how we choose fuel our bodies to be strong and healthy.

So, lets get started with the basics.

1. Make meal plans, grocery lists, and buy what you need for the week.  Without food ready to cook, life will be tough.

2. Make time to prep in bulk (I typically recommend Sundays, just because that seems to work best for me and my crazy weekday schedule). If you’re planning two meals with spaghetti squash, make it in advance — if you’re using zoodles/spiralized zucchini, get them ready.  Seriously, whatever you can chop, prep, and store, do it in one effort.  You’ll thank yourself later.

Fuel Sweat Grow: Saturday meals, spaghetti squash

3.  If you’re a meat eater, buy it in bulk (or on sale when you can) and freeze it.  Whole Foods will frequently have sales on staple meat items (ground beef and chicken of all varieties).   You’ll save money and time if you take advantage of those opportunities, and you’ll be so thankful when you have backup ready if you’re ever in a pinch.

Fuel Sweat Grow: rib eyes

4.  Plan for leftover mix + match.  Leftover meat added to a simple salad makes for a great on the go meal; roasted cauliflower makes an awesome addition to scrambled eggs; brussel sprout hash is good in/on/with everything (just saying).

fuel

5.  Don’t leave the house without food.  Seriously.  There’s nothing worse than hunger panic, so don’t set yourself up failure.  Prep in advance, take food with you, and keep some emergency snacks with you at all times (nuts, fruit, etc).

6.  Take it one day at a time.  Like anything else all you can really do is deal with what you can control in the moment — everything else is a waste of energy.  Just focus on the plan for ‘today’ and keep the momentum going.

I actually started today (and yesterday if you choose not to count the end-of-2014 celebratory wine), so I can tell you with certainty that the future isn’t so bad.  I did a good amount of shopping, for meat anyhow, at Whole Foods yesterday and got away with making meals with what was left in the fridge, but I’ll be heading out to Trader Joe’s tomorrow to finish up the list, and get the meal plans cranking for the rest of the week.  Again, the work load is heavy on the front end, but it definitely pays off in the long run.

I’m already feeling more accomplished in 2015 so here’s to continuing in that direction!

Convenience v. Efficiency: A Food + Fitness Story

I’ve been a little off-target over the past two weeks with planning my food and getting into any sort of consistent sweat routine.  It’s not historically in my nature to take long breaks from working out, but over the last year I’ve developed a (much) more balanced approach to letting go of structure when the stress of trying to force fitness in any given day is greater than the benefit.  I’m not sure if it’s a product of ‘growing up’ or just ‘getting old,’ but it’s a real need a couple times a year to slow down and I’m always so thankful when I allow myself to let it go.

Part of creating that balance has also been efficiency.  Convenience is something our whole world seems to be driven by these days, but somehow efficiency sometimes gets lost in the mix.  They’re not the same thing, in fact, they’re grossly different.

It’s the appeal of convenience that leads so many of us to drive-thrus, to processed foods and sugar addictions.  It’s what keeps us on the continuous (proverbial and literal) treadmill for years without seeing any significant change or improvement to our bodies or lives —  and in fact, it usually has the adverse effect.  Efficiency is completely different. It’s the ironic counter to convenience; it’s the most effective way to reach a goal or see a result, and without it, I would never accomplish anything.

So, let me talk clean to you for a second…  [clean + efficient meets food + fitness].

The most important part of eating clean (for me, in my crazy life) is preparation, and packaging.  When I cook it’s never for one meal – I’ll happily live off of leftovers for a week of work lunches and on-the-go dinners.   Example: on Sunday morning I made breakfast for my Charlotte family – 18 eggs worth of breakfast.

fuel sweat grow: steak and eggsZucchini, leftover chimichurri marinated skirt steak (a YUM from Fresh Market), and 18 full fledged eggs.

fuel sweat grow: egg scramble #paleo breakfast

I’m terrible about giving myself enough time for breakfast during the week, but I love breakfast on weekends, so having these leftovers is such a huge thing for me.

Sunday afternoon I followed right up with a bulk-cooking marathon to get ready for a week in the office with my favorite Thai Chicken Stir-fry (with spaghetti squash).

fuel sweat grow: thai chicken stir fry

fuel sweat grow: thai chicken stir fry

To compliment (and balance out the days) this salad came to be — and is always a consistent favorite of mine. It’s definitely more of a summer salad, but it was 80 degrees in Charlotte this weekend, so I’m going to give it a seasonal pass.

fuel sweat grow: fall summer salad

Efficiency is also what I look for in my workouts.  Well, that, and a little escape once in a while.  I still run when I’m feeling inspired — its one of the most freeing actions, and sometimes the only time I have to be in my own head.  I still crave yoga + stretching because it feeds my body and soul.  And I still love sweating for the sake of sweating, when that’s what I need, but for my actual fitness, strength, and total body change, I go for efficiency – and that’s the theme of the week.  So here’s how I’m hoping to balance it:

Monday: Run + new playlist

Tuesday: Carolina Barre + Core: 30/30 Cardio Barre

Wednesday: MADabolic

Thursday: Walk with a friend + Run/body weight circuit

Friday: MADabolic

Saturday: MADabolic

Sunday: a day of REST (or maybe a hike with the 4-leggers)

And the reality is….if somewhere in there life gets a little too jammed and my sanity depends on a little lunch time yoga or childs pose in my office, then so be it.  Sometimes being effective is just about being still.

Returning to MADville + Real [Clean] Food

Last Monday was the official first day of business for MADabolic Charleston, and if you told me it was two months ago, I would believe you, 100%.  The last four weeks have included a ton of travel, way too many hoops to jump through, and a complete and total sense of chaos that is just beginning to settle.  Along with the MADness, there was lots of food — great food — and wine.

The great part of opening fitness concepts is that you typically get to workout a decent amount, but the restaurant hopping really took it’s toll on my energy and overall wellbeing.

Prior to leaving for Charlotte and Charleston I had committed, along with several of our clients in MADville, to kick of 28toLife this week.  While I always tend to teeter on the edge of a modified version, and typically try to eat 80/20, the detox from the last four weeks had me SO incredibly ready to get back into the full routine of planned eating.

On Wednesday night I hit up Trader Joes to get some of the most essential staples for survival.  I had gotten into the habit of making the quick trip to Whole Foods out of convenience, and forgot just how much more expensive it is — which will have to be a post of it’s own.

fuel sweat grow: trader joes grocery cart

So, starting back at the basics, here’s the note that I sent out to our small (but mighty) group of real food freedom eaters to kick off the next 28 days:

The Rules:
-no grains
-no dairy
-no sugar
-no alcohol
-no legumes (soy, beans, peanuts, etc)
Basically, nothing comes out of a box or package.  Below is my most standard grocery list for survival :
– Chicken (breasts or thighs)
– ground beef (or turkey / chicken)
– applegate farms chicken sausage
– yellow & purple onion
– zucchini / yellow squash
– red/orange/yellow bell pepped
– mushrooms
– cauliflower
– celery
– carrots
– spaghetti squash
– avocado (MANY)
– asparagus
– (local) Keswick Gourmet Marinara Sauce (this is the local option at Whole Foods — and they typically carry the most local brand in each market)
– kale
– romaine
– cucumbers
– broccoli slaw (only at Trader Joe’s)
– blueberries
– green apples (usually 6, but if i’m making the streusel recipe about a dozen+)
– bananas
– strawberries
– almond butter
– coconut oil
– sesame seed (or safflour) oil
– coconut oil
– coconut milk (light)
– eggs
– plantain chips (only at Trader Joes — NOT to be confused with banana chips)
– almonds (whole, slivered)
– sunflower seeds
-lemons
-limes
This isn’t totally exhaustive, but for the most part every recipe that I make that is an ‘everyday’ recipe includes these ingredients.  Every once in a while I’ll really branch out, but that’s if I’m trying to follow a recipe from someone else, or get a little creative.  When I do 28toLife everything else (for the most part) gets totally cleaned out and only the good stuff is left, and that makes it so much easier to pick the right things and really prep food.
The easiest thing to do is on a Sunday night (or any night really) make a big dinner with several sides and spend some extra time chopping things up (like zucchini or celery, etc) to have ready for cooking or snacks.  I’ll also usually roast a spaghetti squash or two on Sunday while I have time and will then have it ready in the fridge for meals that I don’t have a ton of time for during the week.
Here’s a post with our favorite quick breakfast option (Apple Streusel ‘Muffins’) which do require some time to make in advance, but are easily kept in the fridge or frozen
This Thai Chicken Stir-Fry is probably my favorite rainy-day or winter meal, but it’s still awesome in the summer with cauliflower rice OR over spaghetti squash. There are no exact measurements, but the feedback we’ve come up with is that adding a little more coconut milk for a thinner sauce is better than a really thick one.
This is by far my favorite meal and the best replacement for spaghetti and meatballs/meat sauce.  It keeps AMAZINGLY well as leftovers, so this is a great one to make in excess and pack up for lunches during the week.
And that’s where it begins.  Tomorrow morning, it begins with breakfast, and most likely the biggest Almond Milk Latte that Milli Joe can make.
Lets do this!

Sunday Groceries + Organization

By far the hardest thing about eating clean (and staying fueled) is being organized and keeping lots of balanced meals ready to eat.  Whether we’re talking full blown meals, at home or on the go, or just the snacks that are vitally necessary to keep you going until the next meal, it takes some forward thinking and preparation.

The day before we began the challenge (and every sunday thereafter) the fridge got cleaned out and organized. Since week one required a far more extensive weeding out of ‘garbage food,’ it was a fairly big undertaking.

fridge garbage

Most of that food was way past it’s prime, so it shouldn’t have been so shocking when it filled up two huge bags.

Once we had gotten the fridge contents down to the essentials, the next steps were to re-fill the fridge with essential groceries, and organize the other pantry items that had been driving me insane in crinkly bags and complete disregard for my preferred symmetrical organization. So, after I went to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, this is what went down:

1. vegetable & snack food prep: with so many meals requiring cooking, it’s nice to have some the main add-ins chopped and ready to go.  Typically this includes squash (zucchini + yellow) mushrooms, grilling vegetables, and any strawberries or fruit that needs to be chopped or washed in advance. Hard boiled eggs are also a very easy snack to prepare and have on the go.

squash preparedness

hard boiled eggs

2. fridge re-stock + reorganization: (disregard the beer + brown rice pasta, they were discarded shortly after this photo was taken, and have been mourned heavily ever since).

fridge reorg

Since Dar’s weakness is snack items, she pre-packaged some snack combos of blueberries, blackberries, and either almonds or walnuts to take with her (usually with an avocado as well).

IMG_4911

3. organization: I can’t even begin to tell you hot therapeutic this was, but it may have changed my life.  I’m an enormous fan of Ball + Mason jars, and  basically hoard them as craft organizers and decorative accents, so the idea of converting them into ingredient receptacles nearly brought me to tears.  Joyous. tears.

The idea is simple – take everything that was in a bag or unnecessary packaging (that wasn’t thrown in the trash for being too delicious), and transfer it into a jar.  Label the bottom side of the lid with it’s contents (and a cooking time if it applied) and organize accordingly.

ground flax seed jar

jars

Needless to say, I had a fair few things to store.  From different typed of ground flours (of the gluten + grain free variety), to brown rice pastas and all sorts of nuts and seeds.  Everything got a home, and order was restored to the kitchen.  Plus, if you ask me, it add’s a little warmth and character to the kitchen when it’s visible and orderly.

kitchen organization

jar organization

Even though we haven’t been eating any grains or pastas lately, they still look awesome in the display, and are nicely tucked away on the bottom shelf, and not in the fridge or pantry, so they’re not staring me in the face when I try to plan big meals.

The Sunday prep tradition is one that makes the whole week possible, and even today on Easter was a vital component to the day.  In fact, in the spirit of the holiday I went well beyond the normal prep work to make extensive pre-planned meals in anticipation of a pretty busy week.  Those updates will be waiting until tomorrow though since this bunny is all tuckered out.

Hope you all had happy and delicious holidays, or just quiet Sunday afternoons! Let us know if there were any must-try foods that you had, healthy or not, and we’ll do our best to re-create them as clean as possible.

Quick and Clean Weekday Meal

Since the middle of the week brought temperatures (and snow) that kept winter alive and well, the menu took a warmer and more comforting turn to match it.

broccoli slaw

The broccoli slaw that had been looking to fulfill it’s dinner time destiny was finally put to use, and the remainder of the leftover spaghetti squash was turned into a stove top mix-turepiece.

meat + squash

The broccoli slaw was cooked with coconut oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Pretty simple, and pretty darn good.  The spaghetti squash was added into a ground beef mixture with zucchini, yellow squash and the remainder of the mushrooms in the fridge, seasoned with everyday seasoning and a little extra sea salt.

The meal was lightened up just a little with a cucumber + avocado salad topped with salt, pepper, balsamic and olive oil.

fuel sweat grow - food blog

This meal was absurdly simple to make, and since the spaghetti squash was pre-roasted, start to finish time was about 20 minutes, max.

During weeks when things are undoubtedly going to be crazy and schedule times seem to be pretty obscure, I always like to spend time on Sunday or Monday prepping extra staple food items to keep in the fridge for easy grabbing and meal prep.  Recently I helped Dar pack 4 days worth of pre-planned meals for her trip to PA for her FMS certification, and the planning helped her get through days 3-7 of the challenge without being hungry.

Stay tuned for Sunday updates on meals, meal prep, menu planning, and kitchen organization.  It takes a village people.  And with that being said, I’ll leave you with a sweet pic of my sous chef, Bug, who could not be more exhausted by all of the kitchen time.

sleepy bug