Can you believe it’s already the middle of August? Some of us are gearing up for September - back to school shopping, finalizing schedules, and savoring the last moments of summer. It's quite an adjustment going from slower-paced, easygoing days to more regimented schedules full of activities, sports, and other commitments. Getting ready in the morning can sometimes feel like a whirlwind - who’s driving where, what are today’s activities, what to wear, and what’s for lunch? Being prepared with easy-to-pack lunch options saves tons of time in the morning, reduces stress, and helps us get out the door in a breeze!
With a decade as a teacher under my belt, and many years as a student before that, I’ve developed a weekly habit of planning and preparing easy go-to snacks to accompany leftovers, a sandwich, or salad. Please be advised that I am not a nutritionist - therefore, not qualified to give nutritional advice. This routine is what I’ve found works best for myself to fuel my brain and body. I encourage you to figure out what combinations of food work best for you, and I hope you’re able to take a little inspiration to put your own twist on them!
Packing a lunch box in this way requires a bit of advance planning and preparation, but in my opinion, is so worth it. Having one less thing to worry about in the morning leaves time and energy to tend to anything else that might come up. I usually take one day a week to think about the next five days or so. How long will I be out of the house? Am I heading to a fitness class or other activity before coming back home? Then, I’ll plan my grocery shopping trip with the items I’d like to eat to match those activities. Usually, I pick 5-6 different seasonal fruits and vegetables and rotate those throughout the week. When I get home from my shopping trip, I’ll spend 30-60 minutes chopping and organizing the fridge and cupboard for easy packing later.
These snacks and variations of them sure do come in handy mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and help keep my energy levels steady. And the best part? They’re all no-cook, so every morning I just pack and go. I try to stick to a basic formula and make different combinations from there: a fruit or vegetable, some protein, and healthy fat. My job requires physical movement and brain power, and I’ve found this works best for me.
Hummus and Veggies
If you want to feel fancy, we can call this one crudités, which simply means “assorted raw vegetables, which are typically served with a dip.” That dip can be anything you like to dress up those veggies. I love hummus, and that there are seemingly endless flavors offered at the grocery store so I never get bored. Favorite veggies to dip include carrots, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, and snap peas. Feeling like just eating appetizers for lunch? Add cheese and crackers! Having 3-4 of these veggies cut up and ready to go also makes it easy to put together a salad, or all together in a wrap for a fresh, hearty sandwich. I’ve even used the veggies to make a super easy stir fry for dinner when short on time.
This is another option with seemingly endless combinations that I rarely tire of. I typically buy a quart-size container of plain yogurt, no sugar added, so that I can make it any flavor I want via toppings and mix-ins. I like to add combinations of nuts, seeds, granola, berries, mashed ripe banana, a dollop of jam, or maple syrup. I don’t add these all at once, but typically go for a crunchy item with fruit to sweeten it up and round it out to my taste. This could also work if you’re short on time for breakfast, or as a nice dessert.
Apples or Bananas and Peanut Butter
I’m pretty sure I went an entire school year eating this as a mid-morning snack. And for good reason - I find apples and bananas travel well (sometimes bananas get smooshed so be careful), and there’s minimal prep involved besides having them on hand. I’ve found a spoonful of peanut or other nut butter with fruit can really keep my brain and body going with steady energy. Don’t like peanut butter or have an allergy? Try a different kind of seed or nut butter that you prefer. There are times when I switch to almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and it’s truly decadent!
If you’re looking for a little bit of lunchbox inspiration, I hope I’ve helped spark some ideas! What are your go-to lunchbox snacks to keep yourself or your family fueled? I’d love to hear from you.
Summer in the northern hemisphere is well under way! For many of us, it’s a time to slow down, enjoy the sunshine, and get together with friends and family. Many people spend quality time together in their homes or cottages on weekends or a weekly vacation. It’s a great way to catch up with loved ones from near and far. This spring, I had several opportunities to help people set up their permanent homes as well as vacation homes for guests. When working on this type of project, I guide people through a few different considerations as we set up the space. If you’re looking for a few ideas to simplify your guest preparations, read on!
A cozy place to sleep
This is, in my opinion, the first and most important thing to consider when hosting guests. If you’re in your permanent home, think about where your guests wouldn’t mind sleeping, and make sure you have enough sheets/blankets/pillows if they’re not bringing their own. Some people will crash anywhere, while others prefer a room of their own. Have a conversation with your guests before they head over, just to make sure they’ll be comfortable in the spots you offer. If you’re renting out an entire house, make sure there are mattress and pillow protectors. It’s not necessary to provide sheets and blankets in this case - most rentals I’ve been in don’t provide them, and guests are responsible for bringing their own.
Coffee, tea, and breakfast options
Personally, I like to wake up with a cup of coffee and breakfast, both at home and while traveling. It feels like a nice way to get ready for the day. If at home, I find it’s polite to offer a light breakfast option, and guests can choose to go out if they want. If renting out your summer home, a coffee maker with filters and tea kettle will do the trick for your guests to enjoy a morning brew. Other than that: a frying pan, toaster, spatula, wooden spoon, and small cooking pot should cover the bases for breakfast cooking supplies.
Setting up bathrooms
There actually isn’t too much preparation involved with setting up a bathroom for guests! Most of the time, travelers bring their own toiletry supplies such as toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc. If you’re hosting in your permanent home, you might need to provide towels, especially if guests are flying with just a carry-on. Otherwise, make sure the bathroom is clean, tidy, and stocked with plenty of toilet paper for the duration of their stay. Hooks for toiletry bags and towels are a great idea - they help keep the counters and surfaces uncluttered.
I offer these considerations to people who are renting out their homes. How many people can sleep in the house? If, for example your home can sleep 8, make sure there are enough plates, bowls, mugs, cups, and cutlery to accommodate everyone for a meal. For pots and pans - everything I mentioned above for breakfast plus a larger sauce pan, soup pot, and if you’re hosting in a coastal area - a lobster pot! Providing dish soap, a sponge, brush, paper towels, non toxic cleaner, and trash bags will help your guests keep the kitchen tidy without going overboard. Bonus points for offering a grill outside. A grilled meal tastes like summer, keeps the house cooler, and doesn’t mess up the kitchen so much!
The Living Room
Again, this mostly applies to people who are renting out their homes. Is there enough comfy seating for everyone who is staying over? A deck of cards and a few crowd-pleasing board games can be nice offerings for a family to bond over. The coffee table is where I like to suggest an easy to follow travel guide, such as a little binder of menus to local eateries, activities, and important phone numbers. Some people like to have a TV set up with a DVD player and a few movies for those rainy days.
As I always say, we aren’t striving for perfection! If your guests are staying with you in your home, remember they’re there to see you, and not critique your home. If they’re renting your summer home, they’ll be so happy to be on vacation that they won’t be sweating every single detail.
Are you getting together with family and friends this summer? What are your favorite activities to enjoy together?
In my last post, I talked about self-defining minimalism in relation to our stuff. Click here for part one of this series.
A few months ago, one of my clients asked me if I had heard about the “slow living” movement, and what my thoughts were. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about it, and pictured an off-the-grid homestead. Boy, was I wrong! It’s not about going back to primitive technology, but about taking a “less is more” approach to everyday life. I’ve come to realize that people are interested in these ideas because we have so many choices, our schedules are overstuffed with commitments and to-do’s, and many feel there’s little time for much else. There seems to be social pressure to constantly keep doing more: the busier the better, and you really can have and do it all (a myth!).
My curiosity lead me to Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Throughout the book, he talks about the power of choice, encourages the reader to evaluate and explore each opportunity that comes our way, eliminate excess, and understand the reality of trade-offs. Here are my takeaways, which are related to universal time management principles:
Get clear on how you want your day to day life to look.
The clearer you can be about what’s best for you, the better informed your decisions when new opportunities pop up. McKeown suggests “we are looking for our highest level of contribution: the right thing the right way at the right time (22).” We’re reminded of the trade-off: saying “yes” to something means saying “no” to something else. What are you good at? What inspires you? What makes you feel energized and happy?
Learn how to say "no."
This is hard for many of us, and likely how we wind up doing more than we’d like. Many times we say “yes” not because we want to, but out of a feeling of obligation, guilt, and fear of the consequence if we say “no.” McKeown suggests that we “learn to say no firmly, resolutely, yet gracefully,” and that “people respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say no (136).” When we’re clear on what we’d like our lifestyle to look like, it’s easier to say no to opportunities that don’t quite line up. Also, practice helps build confidence - the more you do it, the easier it will be.
Develop a self-care routine
Sometimes we need to say no without saying yes to something else, so that we have unstructured time to just “be,” practice some self-care, and recharge. In the chapter titled “Sleep,” the author says, “the best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves…we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution (94).” I agree that sleep is important for recharging and feeling alert, and I think there are other parts to self-care that are important as well. Regular exercise, catching up with friends and family, fresh air, and time to craft or read are activities that make me feel recharged and ready to keep moving along. Scheduling a minimum of 30 minutes a day for a personal routine feels like a reasonable amount of time for most. It’s amazing how carving out just a little space and setting boundaries in this way creates a better sense of well-being!
Try to limit screen time
With 24/7 access to the internet, there’s constant noise and information overload at our fingertips, and it can be draining. The constant scrolling and staring at our screens can be numbing. I admit, it’s really hard to ignore my e-mail sometimes, and I worry that I’m going to miss an important call if my phone isn’t nearby. Studies have shown that more screen time = more stress. At our house, we put away screens for meal times and at least an hour before bed. This opens up time for great conversation, stretching, reading, crafting, time for friends and family, and more restful sleep. I’ve tried one screen-free day a week for the past month - it’s truly been life-changing, and has allowed me to be more present in my day-to-day life.
And as always, it’s not about striving for perfection - inevitably, circumstances pop up that need to be tended to. I think it’s important to recognize if a commitment feels like a burden, either see it through or pass it along to someone else, and learn from the experience. Sure, we have to do things we really don’t want to, like taxes, but the key is to find balance in our day to day lives.
Have you made any adjustments to your schedule lately? Do you feel more at ease from the change or stretched too thin? I’d love to hear from you!
Dunckley, Victoria L. “Screens and the Stress Response.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201211/screens-and-the-stress-response.
McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Virgin Books, 2014.