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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Meal Prep Made Simple…and Delicious!

GettyImages-95618113When I say “meal prep,” do you picture hours upon hours in the kitchen, a stockpile of containers, and food that you are sick of by week’s end? PAUSE right there! I am here to tell you that meal prep does not have to be that way. It does not have to be too time-consuming or hard, and you don’t have to eat the exact same meal over and over.

What Is Meal Prep?

For those new to meal prep, it is essentially precooking and preparing foods in advance so that you have less to do during your week, but still have your meals ready to go. The weeks get busy and tiring, especially when work picks up or the kids’ extracurriculars start. The last thing anyone wants to do after work is cook. So, if food is not prepped or the fridge is empty, we find ourselves ordering takeout for the third day in a row. Who can relate? My hand is up! Regardless of our busy lives, we still need to find a way to maintain a healthy nutrition regimen because doing so carries over into the rest of our lives. Meal prep is the key to helping you stay nourished even when life gets busy.

Meal prep is not rocket science, but it does require effort and is not the easiest thing in the world. After years of prepping for myself, husband, and even my family when I was younger, along with guiding my clients and patients, I can say there are ways to make meal prep simple and easy while still making enjoyable meals.

Meal Prep Cooking Tips

Here are my tips for you!

Make a Plan

It’s always a good idea to start with a plan. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Take a few moments to plan and write out the menu for the week.

  • Consider the number of servings per meal you need, the budget, and food preferences.
  • How many meals and snacks will you be serving?
  • Look at your schedule to consider the obligations you have. It would be a waste to prepare food for an evening that you will not be home.
  • What are your health goals? Are there specific suggestions by your primary care provider or Registered Dietitian that you need to consider when planning your meals?

Think “Single Ingredients”

Prepare single ingredients, such as vegetables, proteins, and starches that can be used in a variety of ways. This can keep you from getting bored with the same meal over and over. For example, prepare a bulk batch of chicken. That one batch can be used for BBQ sandwiches alongside some steamed veggies, as a main entrée tossed in marinade with a veggie and starch of choice on the side, or thrown into a soup like chicken noodle or chicken chili. The same can be done with a starch, such as brown rice. Prepare the rice and use it for a stir-fry with veggies and protein of choice (tofu, chicken, or turkey are good options); a Tex-Mex bowl with rice, beans, lean protein, veggies, and guacamole; or alongside grilled teriyaki chicken. You get the picture.

Prepare Two Proteins, Four Vegetables, and Two Starches

This is a pretty good rule of thumb because all of these single ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different meals. Pick two proteins that you can use throughout the week, such as chicken, lean turkey or beef, tofu, beans, cod, or salmon. Cook them based on the meals you’ve planned. Maybe that means half of the chicken is boiled and shredded for BBQ sandwiches and your lunch salads, while the other half is tossed in marinade to be grilled, or cooked in the air-fryer or oven in the next day or two. Then, pick out four veggies that go with your proteins and that can be easily accessible for snacks, including salad mixes, roasted veggies, and cut raw vegetables. To balance out the meals, prepare two starches in bulk. Consider mashed or roasted potatoes, rice, or whole grains of some sort.

Add in Spices, Seasonings, Sauces, and Marinades

Now that you have prepped single ingredients, be sure to have spices, seasonings, sauces, and marinades on hand to pack the meal with flavor. On the stir-fry night, be sure to portion out your meal serving of rice, turkey, and veggies that you cooked in bulk. Then top with the stir-fry sauce. For the shredded chicken you prepared, be sure to mix a meal’s worth with a low-sugar BBQ sauce when the sandwich night rolls around. When you go to eat the veggies, use an Italian seasoning combo on spaghetti night but a garlic and pepper combination on the tofu and rice night.

When picking your sauces and marinades, be sure to watch for high sodium (if you have high blood pressure) and added sugar content. Sometimes those sauces will be packed with added sugars, fats, and sodium. Pick low-fat, lite, sugar-free, and low- or reduced-sodium options when available.

Try One-pan Meals, Air Fryers, Pressure Cookers, or Slow Cookers

The methods listed above are easy and still produce a delicious meal. Some of my favorite one-pan meals include chicken with peppers for fajitas, steak strips and sweet potatoes with broccoli, and garlic tofu with veggies. Toss the prepped raw veggies lightly in oil and place on a baking sheet alongside a protein, and then roast it all together. You can make these vegetarian friendly as well!

The air fryers, pressure cookers (such as Instant Pot), and slow cookers (such as Crock-Pot) are all appliances worth considering. My household loves marinating chicken and tossing it in the air fryer, along with sweet potato fries. While that is cooking, we throw a steamable bag of veggies in the microwave. Crispy chicken, fries, and veggies that are so nutritious; very little work; balanced and customized portions to meet our nutrition goals—easy peezy.

The Instant Pot and Crock-Pot come in handy when you want to throw things into an appliance and let it do all the work for you. We use the Crock-Pot for shredded chicken, chili, soups, slow-cooker lasagna, and so much more. Also, did you know there are Facebook groups, such as an Instant Pot Recipe group, that consist of people sharing recipes utilizing these appliances? That is where my sister found the protein bagel recipe that I adapted. 

Consider Pre-prepared, Precut Ingredients, and Steamables to Save Time

There is absolutely no shame in needing convenience. Grocery stores these days have raw and chopped vegetables, fruit trays, fresh salsa, premade guacamole, and more in the produce section. In the freezer section, you can find chopped onions, peppers, and celery for some of your recipes as well (because who has time to chop all those veggies…not I). You can also find steamable bags of rice, quinoa, and vegetables if you need a quick side to toss in the microwave or do not want to make these things in advance.

It’s Easy—But NIFS Can Help If You Need It!

Meal prep can be simple and not always keep you bound to eating the same meal over and over throughout the week. Once you get past that initial push to do it, the process becomes a habit and part of your weekly routine. Then, once you do it enough, the process will be faster and easier. It is worth the time and effort. I promise. If you still feel that you could use more help with meal prep, reach out to the NIFS Registered Dietitian for one-on-one nutrition counseling or join the NIFS Nutrition and Lifestyle Facebook group.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating kids cooking time management meal planning meal prep

Productivity Hacks: Ditch the Productivity Shame Guilt Trip

GettyImages-601357430Welcome to the final installment of the productivity series. If you need a second to catch up, check out these posts regarding action (productive) vs. motion (busy), the Ivy Lee Method for prioritizing, and the Pomodoro Technique for time management. But if you’re all up to speed, we’ll dive right in!

Feeling Ashamed of Falling Short

Up to this point, I’ve covered topics and methods that are all geared toward the act of being productive. But what happens when you fall short of the productivity goals that you set for yourself?

Maybe you’ve stared down at the to-do list on your desk and asked yourself, “How did I only get this much done today?” Maybe you start to beat yourself up, or scold yourself like a parent would their kid. If you’ve ever found yourself in this position, you are not alone. Many high achievers have described themselves as having an “internal cattle prod” when it comes to their own productivity, constantly pushing themselves to do more and go further, until finally they reach an unsustainable pace. Researchers have coined the term productivity shame in regard to this phenomenon. But why do so many of us experience this feeling with regard to work?

A Productivity Expert on the Causes of Productivity Shame

Jocelyn K. Glei is an author, lecturer, and host of the podcast Hurry Slowly. She researches and presents on ways to optimize productivity and creativity, and how to be more resilient in the workplace and in our daily lives. She describes productivity shame as “a toxic substance that slowly corrodes your ability to take any joy in your work.” She cites examples that may sound all too familiar to some, such as committing to a workload that you intuitively know is unrealistic. Or maybe you set an incredibly challenging goal for yourself (not inherently a bad thing) but you fail to set up a structure for support or accountability, then berate yourself for failing to reach that goal.

Glei has run into this numerous times with students in her class and those with whom she consults in the workplace. She cites potential causes as our instant-gratification culture, one that is fueled by social media and technology. If we have to wait for something to download because the internet connection is weak, if our Instagram post doesn’t get a certain amount of likes right away, if we have to wait longer than 2 minutes in a drive-thru line, its nearly to the point where some feel accosted by these things. It’s downright annoying. Over time, we may slowly be wiring ourselves to expect this same level of speed when it comes to our creativity and productivity—which only sets us up for failure.

Tips for More Realistic Productivity

So how can you combat productivity shame? How can you be more realistic in both the workplace and in your daily life when it comes to your to-do’s? Here are a few techniques you can use today to avoid productivity shame:

  1. Limit your to-do List to only the absolutely necessary things. Try the Ivy Lee Method the night before, but limit it to your big-ticket items, and no more than two or three. The more on your list, the more likely that guilt will creep in at the end of the day.
  2. Set aside designated time within your day to work only on those two or three big to-do’s. If you work in an office, have a closed-door policy for an hour. If you work from home, set a timer, put the phone in a drawer out of sight, and close out unnecessary tabs on your computer. Those small, seemingly insignificant distractions add up in a big way.
  3. Find an accountabili-buddy. This can be someone in the workplace or your personal life who can act as a check-in for you on the way to your goals. Having a physical means of accountability can help you stay on track, whether it’s a project at work or a side hustle at home.
  4. Get up and move! Sometimes a short workout or even a walk can stimulate ideas, clear your mind, and spur creativity.

Give a few of these a try, and see if that inner guilt trip voice of “shoulda-woulda-coulda" quiets down for a bit.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: staying active accountability productivity time management positive attitude Productivity Hacks priortization

Productivity Hacks: Break Up Your Time, Not Your Attention

GettyImages-509630263Welcome to the third installment of the productivity hacks series. Last time, I tackled the subject of the Ivy Lee Method for prioritizing your tasks. Now that we’re on board with what tasks are on the docket, I’ll dive into how to manage your time effectively in order to start putting some checkmarks next to those to-dos.

How Much Time Do You Have for Attentive Work?

Research has suggested that the absolute maximum amount of “time-on-task” attention a person can have on any given day is only about 3–4 hours. And that’s on the high end of the spectrum. Now, this “time-on-task” notion is specifically applied to attentive work. This does not include emails we’ve sent, meetings we sit in on, or reports that we read. It refers to the bandwidth or mental attention directed toward novel or creative tasks (think of things like writing an article, working on a presentation, etc.). What this implies, though, is that you need to be smart about how we divvy up those 3–4 hours of productivity to get the most out of them.

Divide Up Your Time and Create a Sense of Urgency

Introducing the Pomodoro Technique to do just that: break up your time into manageable chunks to maximize attention and focus.

I think we’ve all been here, right? You block off an hour or two to get a project done, but before you know it, you’re checking your email, or falling prey to the endless scroll of Twitter because there’s this illusion that you still have so much time to get the assignment done. Before you know it, that hour has flown by, and all you have to show is a sentence or two on the page. This is exactly where the Pomodoro Technique can help. It instills a sense of urgency that ordinarily doesn’t kick in until much later. You work with the time you have, not against it. So, what are the specifics?

Typically, the Pomodoro Technique divides your time into 25-minute work periods followed by a 5-minute break. You then string together these intervals, usually three or four in a row, before taking a slightly longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. If you have an hour-long office period, you can easily rock out two rounds of pomodoros before having to change gears.

Personal Experience: Put Away Your Phone

Here’s a little extra anecdotal evidence from my own trial and error. I recommend physically putting your phone either completely packed away or on the other side of the room on silent. The temptation to answer that notification or “just take a peek” at Instagram is enough to completely derail any momentum that you have established. So how do you keep track of those 25-minute blocks if you’re not using the timer on your phone? I recommend either an old-school digital alarm, or a repeat timer such as this. Set it, leave it, and get down to business.

Adapt the Method to a Way That Works Best for You

If you find yourself in a groove when the timer goes off, have no fear. I’ve had success extending that pomodoro to 30 or 35 minutes before taking a slightly longer 7- or 8-minute break. At the end of the day, use the method to your advantage. Some people have more success with the 25/5-minute setup, while others thrive with something closer to a 45/15 split. Either way, you’re using the concept of purposeful breaks to ensure that your attention stays high.

For the fourth and final part of this series, I’ll explore the dark side of desperately wanting to be productive: productivity shaming. It’s a not-so-talked-about concept that a few of you high achievers may experience. We’ll talk about how to combat it going forward. Until then!

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: focus productivity time management Productivity Hacks

Balancing Academics and Fitness in College

ThinkstockPhotos-650623468.jpgWelcome back to school! Or, if you are new to the college experience, welcome to your first adventure in time management and balancing your life. This not only includes your academics and social life, but other areas that go under the radar as less important. I’m talking about fitness and wellness. College and university fitness centers are usually well populated with individuals with a wide variety of goals ranging from stress reduction to spring break abs, to meeting people.

Many of the students that I have met at NIFS are likeminded, health conscious, and body-image-positive, which makes coming to a campus-centered fitness center more enjoyable. In retrospect, when I was in school I found myself using the campus fitness and recreational center as a way to not only hone my training skills, but also to get away from the stress caused by deadlines and grades.

Beyond the obvious benefits, studies have been conducted that actually link exercise to getting better grades. Here is what I have found, along with some constructive ideas to help you benefit from fitness.

Set Goals

Breaking through your fitness barriers is the first step to getting what you want out of your fitness experience. In previous blogs, I have talked about setting realistic goals and expectations; because of all the time allotted to school and social life, you may find yourself in a crunch to dedicate any extra time to your goals. Choose goals that can be measured, such as coming to the gym four days per week for the entire semester or wanting to complete a 5K in less than 25 minutes. This will allow you to focus while you are at the gym and not tune out what you are trying to accomplish.

Find Motivation

Also, finding something you love to do for exercise helps. If you love swimming or plan to have swimming as part of your training goal, you should practice swimming often. Finding a support network can also help bridge the gap between your student life and fitness life. These people do not have to have the same goals as you, but it helps when training for an event. NIFS offers group fitness classes daily that are included in the membership; this is a great way to meet people and commiserate about how much fun burpees are!

See How Exercise Helps You Get Better Grades

The benefits go beyond looking good for spring break. Studies conducted at Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, have shown that if a student works out as little as once per week, they have a better chance of having a higher grade-point average than their classmate who doesn’t work out. The findings supported not only improved grades, but also better time-management skills and mental wellness. As these studies become more and more prevalent, there is a noticeable trend for better, more suitable campus fitness centers to fulfill the needs of the students.

A worrisome trend in schools today is the deemphasis on physical education classes. From a young age, I remember having physical education class and never thought twice about how much exercise I was getting because I was having fun playing games and interacting with others. Based on the researchers’ data from Purdue, the trend of discontinuing physical education, which is leading American children down the road toward obesity and lack of knowledge regarding wellness, could affect their ability to get better grades. With anything in life, balance is the key. The right amount of study, exercise, nutrition, and recovery can benefit anyone.

Just Get to the Gym

In closing, all signs point to fitness as being undeniably great for people. We find that having a goal in mind is good, but really just getting to the gym can be beneficial. NIFS, located at the south end of IUPUI’s campus, is staffed with individuals looking to help you on your fitness journey. Along with the staff are thousands of everyday people just like you who are trying to do the same thing you are. You can do a different class every day of the week or have a trainer design a specific plan tailored to meet your needs. Welcome back and have a great school year!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor and personal trainer. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness fitness center Thomas' Corner motivation goals college time management