Staying sane on busy days

Good morning. How are you doing today?

breakfast - greek yogurt, quinoa, banana, strawberries, pb

So yesterday was a long day. I have decided that  Wednesdays are definitely the toughest day of the week for me to get through. Between  8 hours of work + 90 minutes of Bio lecture + 2 (or more) hours of Bio lab, I always feel exhausted by the end of the day. While I usually try to make the best of it and not complain (I know we all have busy days), I have found that some weeks/days are just easier than others. Yesterday was one of the more rough days.

Anyway, instead of going over why I was it was hard day or why I didn’t have as much energy, etc., I’d rather move forward and discuss strategy. I have realized that I employ a few tactics every week to keep my spirits up. Since I am not one to dwell on a negative mood for long and am a  firm believer that the little things in life are what make you the happiest, I guess it comes to no surprise that I’d try to make the most of my more stressful days. Why be happy tomorrow or “when I have accomplished _____” when you can be happy right now (even at times when you are learning about entropy and enzymes)? Life if happening everyday so why not enjoy it (even if it’s the little moments….)?

So on that note, I thought I’d share some things that I do to attempt to stay positive/remain optimistic when days are long or stressful or feel never-ending  (and then maybe you can share some of your strategies? I’m always looking for new tips…):

I pack/plan to eat “fun food” and/or make eating an “event”

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but food makes me really happy. I love looking forward to a meal and love to plan fun (and healthy(!)) meals for myself on days when I am stressed or busy or blah. A good meal just lifts my spirits (and keeps me well fueled!). I legitimately get excited to dig into my packed dinners before class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Even on super busy days when I rely on granola bars and trail mix to keep my energy up, I try to take the time to just slow down and enjoy them. Food doesn’t need to be fancy to be special. Meals (for me at least) not only serve as good “fuel” but always create a time/space where I can tell myself to just STOP and enjoy the moment. I love how food has the power to create such a space. You have to eat at least 3 times a day, so why not use the time to enjoy yourself?

I believe that food should always be “fun” and should never be an afterthought. It’s important! Even a snack of a granola bar or a dinner of a pb&j can be exciting if you focus on it.

Use my commute time as “me” time

It can be really hard to travel to school from work and come home at the end of the day feeling like I haven’t stopped moving for 14+ hours. I am the type of person that needs time to myself to just relax. I usually do this by running or at night by just unwinding, but my current schedule doesn’t allow as much time for this (I need to sleep too!).

I have found that my car ride to and from school is a great time for me to unwind and just relax. My activities range from belting out songs (I am really liking Kelly Clarkson’s new song for this… is that embarrassing?) to pondering life, to completely zoning out (while watching the road, of course). Whatever the activity though, I realize that these rides are definitely beneficial to let me just be.

Repeat positive mantras and try to learn fun facts

When all else fails and I feel super exhausted or would rather do anything than go to class or measure 2 mL of water into 15 different beakers during lab, I either repeat positive mantras in my head or try to extract fun facts from class to keep myself motivated. Basic biology can be much more fun when you are trying to learn something new and exciting at every moment.

I find myself doing this at work too when things are especially slow or stressful. It’s never to late to learn something new (I got to learn all about assessment of nonverbal children with autism yesterday….). I had a professor once that always said, “It’s not for school but for life we learn…” so maybe that’s where I learned this little tactic?

My go-to mantras:

  • “This will be worth it….. This will be worth it”
  • “You can do this. You are smart. You are going to be someone someday”
  • If you focus on the moment/be present… time will go faster (and you actually may gain something from this)… which is usually always true

Fun Facts:

  • Penicillin was discovered by accident
  • It is NOT fun to make “onion water” (not a fun fact but is the truth)….yesterday was more of a positive mantra day than a learn fun facts kind of day

So these are just a few things that I try to keep in mind when stressed/busy.  Even when days are hard and life is overwhelming, I like to think there is something I can do to change it (or at least make it a bit more enjoyable).

How do you stay sane when life is crazy? Do you have any suggestions/tips? I’d love to hear some!

Have a great day everyone!

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You eat with your eyes first – How to make food look “pretty”

Last week, I shared a few tips on how to make meal packing fast and cheap. Today, I thought I’d share some tips on how I make my packed lunches/meals look “pretty.”

This might seem like a pointless tip or something that isn’t worth your time, but I am a firm believer that you eat with your eyes first. Food that looks better, tastes better… I promise.

Now, I know when lunch packing already seems like a hassle, the last thing you  probably want to think about is, “How can I make this look “pretty?” or “How can I make this sandwich look better?”” I realize it can sound ridiculous, and I know it is definitely easier to throw things in some tinfoil and plastic baggies and call it a day.

I am not saying that it is necessary to spend hours upon hours on food presentation everyday, but with just a few extra seconds each day, it is possible for all of us average joes and Tupperware  packers to have Whole Foods salad bar worthy food(or insert your own “best looking food I can think of here”) .

I find that when I focus more on how my food looks, I focus more when I actually eat it (and don’t just shovel food into my face). Food becomes more important. It tastes better, and I appreciate it more. The simplest foods can taste amazing when you take the time to make them look nice.

So without further ado, here are some of my tried and true ways to make food look appealing. Please come back and tell me when you get asked where you bought your lunch…

1. Focus on color!

Colorful food is more exciting to look at and to eat. When you focus on adding color to meals, you are also guaranteed to be eating more healthy/nutrient dense foods as well (it is an idiot-proof way to incorporate more veggies in your diet!). I always try to include at least a few colors in each meal.

One way way I do this is by trying to add something green in my lunches and dinners (whether it be spinach, kale, broccoli, celery….).

2.Put food in “sections”

I do this all the time, and it is an easy way to make food look more “pulled together.” I always get compliments on my meals when I do this (and sometimes get asked where I bought them!), so this definitely works.

I usually will chop everything I am using at once ,and I then just put each item on the salad/concoction that I made in a different area. It is an easy, instant way to look like you are a meal packing pro.

3.Don’t underestimate the power of mix-ins/additional “fun” items

This is the fun part. A meal automatically looks better and tastes better when fun and/or “themed” items are thrown into the mix. If you make an “Asian-themed meal”, add sesame seeds or sriacha (if you like spicy foods); If you are making a more basic salad with veggies and beans, add some dried fruit and nuts to make it “fancier.” If you have a few extra items on hand you can really make any meal look and taste more exciting with this simple step. Some “extras” I like to have on hand:

  • a variety of nuts
  • seeds (pumpkin, sesame…)
  • dried fruit (apricots, raisins, currants, mango) I love to go to Trader Joes and the bulk bins at Whole Foods for stuff like this
  • additional veggies (my sister and I like to add “fun” veggies to our meals like roasted brussel sprouts, jicama sticks, shredded carrots, chopped peppers, chopped green beans, beets, cubed sweet potato chunks… the options are endless)
  • other (wasabi peas, a small sprinkling of cheese, crackers, condiments…)

4. Invest in simple, well-sized Tupperware containers

Your salad/sandwich only looks as good as the container it is in. It seems silly, but it is true. I used to HATE all my Tupperware and could never find what I was looking for when I was packing my lunches. As soon as I bought a 4-pack of salad-appropriate containers and a 4-pack of dressing containers, meal packing became SO much easier. Plus, it was so much easier to make my food look more appealing. It is hard to make a salad look good in an old yogurt container… trust me.  This applies to plates and dishes too. A simple, white square plate will make your food look better than a cracked, beat up plate any day. I love to go to Target for cheap dish options.

5. When in doubt… layer

I like to think that layering is always a fancy way to make food look nice. I mean, parfaits always look good, so why not apply the concept to other foods? I tend to do this with salads or with dinners. In a salad situation, I will prep all my ingredients and then just place them on the plate one at at time. For example, Ill lay out 1/2 my lettuce base, then add 1/2 of the veggies one at a time, then  1/2 of the beans, then 1/2 of the “extras”… then just do it all again. Its fun to do and always makes a meal look a little more “special.”

So, there you have it, some of my tried and true ways to make food look and taste better. I swear this is an important part of meal packing and in the enjoyment of meals – and it is so easy to do! Let me know if you try any of this out (or have any other tips to add to the list).

Do you focus on how your meals look? Do you think food presentation is important?

An oatmeal transportation issue….

At work, every time we hire a new employee, we have a “welcome potluck” for him/her.  About a month ago, we had a new employee join our staff, so we had the official breakfast potluck for her this morning.

When the sign-up sheet was being passed around last week, there was a group consensus that we bring alternate options other than the “normal” breakfast foods like donuts and pastries. (I work with mostly women and the New Years resolutions are still in full swing…).

I, of course, was on board with this idea since I, first of all, don’t understand the concept of donuts for breakfast (a sugary baked good first thing in the morning is good in theory, but the sugar crash that accompanies it is not appreciated), and secondly, I know that there are so many other delicious breakfast foods out there to enjoy (yogurt, oatmeal, fruit, granola…)!

My first thought was to bring oatmeal in a crock pot (since our office has no kitchen… or windows) and bring fun mix-ins like peanut butter, dried fruit, bananas…(I think I have some kind of subconscious desire to show people how delicious oatmeal can be), but then I remembered:

1. It would be ridiculously heavy to transport

2 I ride a city bus to work… that is extremely crowded during morning rush hour

3. I am one of the clumsiest people alive and most likely should not be trusted with a crock pot full of oatmeal

So I had to come up with a Plan B.  Sticking with the oatmeal theme, I decided that oatmeal-based granola bars would be a close enough replacement and would also be a bit easier to transport. Plus, since granola bars usually have so many unnecessary ingredients and tend to be loaded with sugar, I thought this would stick with the healthy breakfast potluck theme quite nicely.

picture from original recipe

I ended up making these, after drooling over all of my options on Food Gawker (that site is SO addicting), and they turned out great! I followed the recipe exactly (I used pecans, walnuts, dried cranberries and dried apricots as my mix-ins), and was pleasantly surprised with how delicious they turned out to be.

If you are looking for an easy, delicious granola bar recipe, I highly recommend these.

Have a great Tuesday!