3 Steps to Effective Fall Meal Routines

Come along on my journey to #HealthyHabits

Life likes to get in our way. We’re always “busy”.
Whether we consciously choose our actions or we let habits take over, priorities get set and trade offs slip through.

Do you realize what you’re giving up with the choices you’ve made? Have you chosen your habits wisely, or do the never ending banners and ads of modern society guide your routines?

This year, I’ve been focusing on my own routines and habits, and I’d like to share some key points that might help with yours as we head into the fall.

What is a Routine?

A Routine is a sequence of actions, brought on by some kind of trigger, that leads to a reward of some kind.
We make a conscious decision to “do” or start a Routine.

As that series of actions becomes to muscle memory, it can turn into a habit, something done on autopilot.

Have you ever driven straight home when you intended to stop somewhere on the way from work? That’s the power of a habit. We can leverage this for great things if we’re smart about it.

That which we practice is what becomes habit; this is why it’s easy to develop bad habits from one too many “cheat” days. We’re all human, these sneaky habits sneak into all of our lives. By reflecting periodically through the year, we can review and adjust our habits. What’s healthy and great for this season might not be appropriate for over the winter. By reviewing, we can catch this upcoming change, plan for it, practice for a short time and set the next habit.

Simplicity

Healthy Habits can quickly become overwhelming. There’s so much information out there, and everyone has a different opinion on what should be the top priority.

What do you want to spend your energy on?
Modern society has become obsessed with variety and availability; ALL things ALL the time. Consider the purchase of a pair of jeans.

How exhausting. Have you heard of Decision Fatigue? We can only handle a limited number of decisions and big actions at a time.

With every added option, with every variation in technique, we make it harder on ourselves.

It gets too complicated. We have a low energy day, then we pile on the guilt because “I should be able to do this”.

Let me advocate for simplicity. Focus on one area of your life at a time, be conscious of what you want to focus on, and set boundaries on your choices.

What area of your life will you focus on this month?

Let’s not add to the overwhelm that is the fall. Kids are going back to school, many workplaces are shifting gears, and everyone is a little worn out after the summer.

Since meal routines will change anyway, how about we work on them together? If this turns out to be helpful, I’d be happy to run a similar post in future seasons and review various household routines as a community.

Step 1: Set some goals

Start with brainstorming with your household what you’d like to see happen this fall. Bring your kids and partner into the discussion; they’ll be more likely to enjoy healthy foods if they had a hand in choosing them. Talk about what matters to you, not what you’re told to worry about. Get all the ideas out there.

  • What do you want to START eating?
  • What do you want to eat MORE of?
  • What do you want to CONTINUE to eat?
  • What do you want to eat LESS of?
  • What do you want to STOP eating?

Step 2: Prioritize

STARTING or STOPPING behaviours can be a harder challenge than doing MORE or LESS; nudges are always easier than massive changes. Consider your current workload; do you have the time and energy to try for a major shift? If so, GIV’ER! Or would you rather make smaller changes and have a better chance of succeeding through a busy season? Those big goals could be saved for another time of year.

Setting up for success is critical; the end of your routine should provide a reward of some kind. If you overreach, you short circuit that reward mechanism with the feeling of guilt that you didn’t get it 100%. Set yourself up to win, celebrate the win, and you’ll have the start of a life long habit!

Circle or highlight the goals your “team” can agree on. Make sure it’s a realistic plan (someone has to be the realist), then get start getting excited about it! What wins or rewards do you think will result from the plan? Staying motivated is a lot easier when you know what you’re aiming for.

Some examples from my plans:

  • Now that I can go home for lunch, I wanted to make lunch in my 1 hour lunch break, take time for social media comments, clean up the kitchen, and have a little brainstorming before I head back to work.
    • WIN: my house is clean when I get home from work, I get a healthy simple smoothie each day, and I drop off a smoothie for my hubby on my way back to work.
  • When we cook dinner, I consider if there’s enough for 3 instead of 2. That extra portion goes straight into a meal container instead of on our plates.
    • WIN: easy dinners for when I’m home alone or to bring to lunch, less overeating at dinner time.

I don’t do this every day, but more often than not. These are my actions that I want to DO MORE of. Glen is even sweet enough to make a point of thanking me for a cleaner house.

Step 3: Set your Boundaries

Seriously, we do not need all the things. I know that the world has told us that we deserve to have whatever we want whenever we want; please consider that you deserve to not make those choices every day. By simplifying our decisions to 3 options or less, “What’s for lunch” becomes a very simple discussion.

Since we’re talking about food for school and work, one limitation is the container you have to bring your meal from home to your lunch spot. Typically, we pick one or two containers that we’ll use. That container will dictate what types of meals work best. Make a list of 2-3 options, then consider how you can add variety to those meals without drastically changing your pantry.

My example: Glen and I decided to do smoothies for our lunches for the summer. I experimented a little until I found a recipe we both liked, then picked a few things to modify over the weeks to keep us from getting bored. The container is super simple; a mason jar with a silicone lid, and a straw with a lid that we keep at our workplaces. (I also have a straw at home for when I stay home to drink it).

Nicole’s Lunch Smoothies (2 servings)

  • 500ml Coconut Milk (unsweetened, vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup Plain full fat greek yogurt
  • 1/2 avocado for creaminess
  • 1 cup Frozen Kale – OR – Spinach (or fresh greens in the fridge if I have them from something else)
  • 1/2 cup Frozen fruit (this changed up depending on what was on sale)
  • 1/2 cup Hemp hearts if I came home at lunch to make them – OR – 3 tbsp Chia seeds if I made the smoothies in the early morning
  • 3 Tbsp Healthy oil – we rotated through Hemp Oil and Flax seed oil.

By switching between some of the key ingredients, I can make sure we get the max benefit of the nutrients. It varied enough to keep us from getting bored, and honestly, I don’t think about lunch that much. I’m focused on work, or cleaning, or thinking about something else, and I love it!

Last summer, I did the same routine but with a salad kick. I would buy my ingredients at the Farmers Market every Saturday for my salads for the week, so every week it was a little different. But it was always a salad, with a simple dressing made with our Vom Fass oils & vinegars.

Save Time, Money and Energy

By cutting back on the options we choose for our packed meals, we can simplify from the chaos of the full range available. You don’t “NEED” the latest option, the one you have might suite your family just fine.

By consciously reviewing and practicing, the routine to prepare that meal can become a habit. We can then enjoy a conversation in the morning while we’re assembling lunch, rather than stressing over the details.

The container and accessories are the same each day, we don’t need to think about how to get the food to lunchtime still looking fresh. We save money buy not needing a huge collection of containers when one or two would do it.

We free up that energy for important decision making. We can be more present in the rest of our day.

This can apply to all the minutia of our lives; some famous folks have freed up their brilliant minds for other tasks by severely limiting the simple stuff. You deserve the same!

Keep the passion around the food.

The biggest surprise to me, was that by making my every day meals routine, it relighted my interest and excitement about cooking my day off meals. My “food brain” hadn’t been worn out through the week by decision fatigue. I was excited to cook again, to try new techniques, to tweak my foundational recipes.

By simplifying the common meals, we get the needed practice to become more comfortable and more efficient in our kitchens. When loved ones come to visit, we have the energy and passion to get into the kitchen together to explore new ingredients and techniques.

Reconnect over your food, you won’t regret it.