Meal Prep Made Easy: Tips and Techniques

When it comes to cooking, many people don’t want to be bothered, but a few hours in the kitchen once or twice a week can really simplify your life! When you make your own meals, not only can you control how much and what you put in them, but you can save lots of money on buying food outside of your home. Does meal prep and cooking at home seem like too daunting of a task? If so, follow these simple steps to make meal prep a breeze.

Have a plan. Know which foods you want to make, write them down on a piece of paper, and then determine whether or not you want to create simple recipes or if you want to cook up everything a la cart style.
Create your grocery list at home. That way, you know which foods you have and which ones need to be replaced. Include any items from recipes you may want to cook.
Do some math and purchase what you need for you and your family for a week. For example, a good guideline is 4-6 ounces of lean protein per adult family member at meal time. If you want to make Chicken three nights a week for two people, buy 1 1/4 to a pound and a half of chicken breast for the week.
Once you’ve set a predetermined day or two each week to cook and meal prep, choose what foods you will make. If cooking multiple meals, maximize your time by cooking each meal with a different cooking method. For example, prepare a chicken stew in the crock pot, bake fish and vegetables in the oven, and prepare some stir fried chicken on the stovetop to toss into a fresh salad. That way, you’re never waiting for oven space or another burner on the stovetop. Everything can be cooking at the same time.
Set up a small box, container, or plastic trash bag on your counter. This seems like such a basic step or something you may not think about, but you can use it to throw in any food scraps, waste, and trash you may have. It helps with clean up, it saves time, and it will free up much needed counter space while you’re cooking.
Have your mise en place for each dish or recipe. Take out all items you will need and prepare them accordingly. Ensure you have appropriate measuring utensils and whatever herbs and spices you may need handy. Chopped vegetables in one bowl, chicken strips in another, and measure out the other ingredients you will use so everything is easily accessible when you need it. There’s nothing worse than running around the kitchen looking for that herb or spice mix when the chicken is cooking on the stove!
Once everything is simmering or baking away, begin the clean up process, but ensure you’ve set the necessary timers. Put used dishes and utensils in the sink or dishwasher, return herbs and spices to the rack, put trash in the garbage, and give the counter a good wipe down. The next step is to portion out your meals, so everything doesn’t have to be super clean yet- you may still have some washing and wiping to do, especially if you spill something!
Get out that Tupperware or storage containers of choice and separate each meal evenly into the containers based on intended serving sizes. If the chicken stew in the crock pot serves four, evenly divide it into 4 containers. Now you have four meals ready to go. If you baked fish and vegetables, place each fillet into a container, add the vegetables, and refrigerate.
If you kept some meals simple, like the plain baked fish and vegetables previously mentioned, keep some healthy oil based dressing or sauce of your choice to add different flavors throughout the week. One day you can make guacamole and garnish with lime and salsa, and another day you can add some balsamic vinaigrette, capers, and goat cheese for variety.
When all foods are in their proper containers, finish cleaning up whatever kitchen supplies are still out. Wipe down the counters, give the floor a good wash with the stiffer, and turn on the dishwasher.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not. In fact, cooking once or twice a week will save much more time than cooking every day and it will certainly save money when compared to eating meals out. So, put together that grocery list and get cooking at home today!

The Downside of the Nomadic Lifestyle

How do you envision long term travel? Ever wonder what it’s like beyond the pretty pictures and interesting photos? Here’s a bit, just a bit, about the downside of being a traveler and what people don’t realize about this lifestyle. And I say traveler in the long term sense, because that’s what I do. This is not a vacation, it’s a lifestyle.
As you may know, I got injured in Myanmar on January 3rd and had to return to Thailand. I’d been pining to come back ever since and finally made the journey from Chaing Mai to Mandalay via Bangkok Airways. Mandalay is quite north compared to where I’ve been the last few months (since I left Bhutan, actually), and I was really surprised by the heat, dryness, and vegetation. The acacia trees are reminiscent of the mesquite found in the dry areas of Texas and I even saw a few cacti of some sort. The Irrawaddy River flows north to south, basically bisecting the country and along its shores, water is diverted for crop growth. On the bus ride to Bagan, you can see green fields of rice, coconut trees, and fruit of all sorts from bananas, to papayas and mangoes, and more. While some areas are desert like, the lush green fields provide quite a contrast, and of course, the landscape is dotted with magnificent Buddhist temples. But, back to travel…
It takes time and money to get from point A to point B. The less developed the country, the longer it takes, and the more uncomfortable it typically can be. (Unless you fly this the flight from Thailand).
Life is different. People are different. Food is different.
People do things how they see fit, not necessarily in a manner that may make sense to you or us as westerners.
You sweat, stink, and can be dirty for what feels like forever. (In Kathmandu, this was definitely a never ending feeling). You may not have access to a washer and dryer. You may have to hand wash clothing, and sometimes, when the humidity is high, shit just doesn’t dry. Turn up the stench factor. One good thing about flying solo: the only one you have to worry about smelling you is yourself! ?
If you’re like me, you’re unhappy when not participating in regular physical activity and eating proper meals.
Food can be questionable and food safety is always a concern for me.
Have a look at my intake today:
Breakfast, buffet style, at the hotel in Mandalay. They had a bit of everything, but mostly Asian foods. I chose a bit of noodles, spinach “salad”, some sort of chicken made with sweet pickled onions, Indian style pakoda (or vegetable fritters), an egg, and some coffee. I filled up. We had a long bus ride ahead of us and I wasn’t sure what we’d come across on the road.
“Snack:” Some peanut bars at a rest stop. I don’t know exactly what the ingredients were, but definitely peanuts and sugar.
Afternoon Meal: “Chicken Sandwich.” OMG- worst sandwich ever. My plate had thee squares, cut into two. Crustless white bread of different sizes with something like chicken salad inside. Oh, and a few well-salted French fries. I ate it. It was 3:30 and I was hungry.
Dinner: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Quest Bar and an Oreo cookie.
Water, water, water.
So far, the places I’ve visited in Myanmar will arrange for pick up and drop off wherever you are. The bus to Bagan is supposed to take 5-6 hours, but we got picked up first, at 8 am, and arrived to our hotel around 2:30 pm. The whole trip was about 90 miles and we were on a mini bus. The roads weren’t too bad, but it was still quite bumpy and long. Not my first time traveling in Myanmar, so my expectations were not too high.
In Myanmar, food seems to typically be served out of large pots that are placed on a stand once cooked. They are refilled when almost empty from inconspicuous place out back. It was 102 degrees today. Even the semi-adventurous food lover in me did not want any mystery meals in those pots. Same went for lunch so I found a bakery with AC. I’ll pay for that luxury. A bakery. So imagine my horror when I received a sandwich made of white bread?! I have enough quest bars to get me through Myanmar, but only one a day, so I choose when I want to eat one carefully!
Despite the photos, it’s not always pretty, or comfortable, and sometimes it isn’t even sensible, but at the end of the day, I derive a huge sense of satisfaction in exploring new places, seeing new faces, and getting to know a place a bit. Every time I go somewhere new, I’m so excited, I’ve shared that before.
So here I am in Nyaung U, a village near Bagan, I’ve been waiting to come here for a long time. Tomorrow morning we have a hike up to one of the temples to see the sunrise over the plains. Bagan is the most densely populated area in the world for Buddhist temples, over 2,000 here, and the pictures I’ve seen are amazing. I hope I won’t be disappointed. The Thai islands are beautiful, now that is a vacation, but Myanmar is a whole other world! ??

My Unbearable Lightness of Being

Is anyone ever fully satisfied in life? What is it that we are seeking? Why do I feel like I’ve been able to obtain so much of what I want yet feel there’s still something missing? ? This topic gained lots of comments on a recent Facebook post of mine and honestly, I was surprised by all the feed back.
I’ve been on the road for over 10 months. Things haven’t gone as planned but I wasn’t 100% sure of how they’d go anyway. Ten countries, an injury, major surgery, months of recovery, countless stomach “bugs,” 2 deaths, and an odd sense of loneliness later, I’m wondering if it may be time to think about going home. What will going home bring me? Stability, reunification with friends, the companionship of my ever faithful Weimaraner, Basil, and all the regular ways of life. Gym, work, gym, home…

I do miss my gym routine and would be more than happy to have something better than this!

The happy monotony that sent me searching for more. When I first set out to write this blog, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” came on, the salsa version. How fitting. I spent part of the day traveling, an all too common necessity while adventuring, and I had time to think about “life, the truth, and being free,” (You Sang to Me, Marc Anthony!), and more so, what it is that’s missing from my life. Some comments on my Facebook thread included finding love, a meaningful job, meditation, heck even finding Jesus or some other spiritual path. I’m not having an existential crisis, I’m not searching for the meaning of life or my reason for being. For the most part, I know who I am and what I want, but putting everything into one place, at one time doesn’t seem possible so it comes down to decision making. What do I want, and what do I want now?
I like my profession. I feel like I have a field, skill set, educational background, and passion to help people. I enjoyed my job in San Antonio working for a non-profit organization and when I decided to leave, included in my agenda was working with and helping others through volunteering. But things haven’t gone as planned. Initially, I did some volunteering. First in Mongolia. I forged friendships with the locals and felt at home in a distant land. While I wasn’t necessarily working for the betterment of society, I gained a new appreciation for the people around me and their hard work. In Nepal, I worked with an NGO that delivered much needed medical care to people in remote areas. While medicine isn’t my background, I did my best to incorporate nutrition education into a society that sees high rates of child stunting and other nutrition related issues. I went on to hike the Himalayas and after 4 months of being with others, which was incredibly enriching, I was craving some time on my own. When I first arrived to Thailand, I rented an apartment and lived alone. I ate healthy again, avoided piles of rice, noodles, and other non-nutrient dense carbohydrates, heck, I avoided carbohydrates altogether for a while and got back to my two a day workouts at the gym. I had some fun too though, made some new friends, and enjoyed the islands. By the time my visa was about to expire, I was ready to hit the road and my wanderlust brought me to Myanmar. And three days later, I busted my knee.
Nobody plans for that. So there I sat in Bangkok, recovering, and in the meantime, somehow so many people wanted to travel with me to different places and I said, “Let’s do it!” When my grandfather passed and I went home, I got to thinking about things a bit, like, “I’m so far away if there’s an emergency,” and I saw some of my friends, and all of my family, and sometimes that stuff hits you and you miss it (they kinda wanna make you run away too). But staying home was not an option. I just wasn’t ready. There’s still so much to see and do.
But back to work. Yeah, I don’t have a job, I wake up and feel no purpose in my life but to serve myself and somehow, that just doesn’t feel right. It feels so selfish and I’m more altruistic at the core, yet I do nothing for others these days.

Serving others is gratifying.

And as time has passed while my knee heals, I’ve put more thought into finishing up my travels and going home instead of seeking out volunteer opportunities or a legit job abroad like I’d initially planned.
So, routine, a reason for being, and what’s left, besides a spiritual journey? Love. Milan Kundera, in his book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” wrote “But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and true they become.”

Does the woman long to be weighed down by the man’s body?

The more real and true they become… I’m not looking for an ethereal existence so yes, it’s that burden versus “lightness” I’d eventually choose. And, according to Nietzsche, what is seen as a tremendous burden could actually be a great benefit depending on how you look at it. Wait, how I look at it. This blog is about me after all. And while I’ve enjoyed the company of someone I’ve met in Bangkok, I don’t know if I could ever go all in again. It is a burden, the pain and disappointment that has come with failed relationships.

Yes, he could be a weighty burden!

I reread a blog post from last July, “Letting Go, Part 2.”  I “let go” of the pain brought on when I finally thought I could learn to love again. But the truth is, I don’t think I ever did let go, not because I miss him, but because I don’t want to be in the position to get that kind of hurt again. It’s different from a stomach bug or a torn meniscus. What’s the rehab for a broken heart? ?
The eternal occurrence of a broken heart, a burden I don’t want to bear. “But the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body…” And when that weight is gone, I miss it, so yes, perhaps love is the thing that’s missing, but it’s also the one thing I can’t make work. So it goes back to asking myself what I want, how much I want to give, and when.
Travel is my “Unbearable Lightness of Being,” I’m afraid if I give it up, I won’t get it again, it’s my freedom, and a break from my loveless life at “home.” But without some stability, love is not easy to find, heck, it’s not easy to find in any situation! For now, I can’t make a decision, like I literally cannot. I cannot say I will do this or that on X date. I have stuff planned, I will follow through and I just feel like somewhere along the way the answer, what I need to do, will present itself. I don’t need to pray to God or ask for help. I’ve chosen my path and I’m going to continue on for the time being. In some ways, I’m happier than I’ve ever been and while I feel like I’m useless to others, I know I can work or do something more fulfilling in that regard at a later time. Plus I have some ideas marinating!
“If love is just a game, then how come it’s no fun, if love is just a game, how come I’ve never won? I guess maybe it’s possible I might be playing it wrong.” Noah and the Whale, 2 Atoms In a Molecule.

How to Lose Weight!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Most people want to lose weight, and as a registered dietitian and personal trainer, people often ask me how to do just that. In short, diet and exercise are key components to your weight loss endeavors. Sorry, I’m not privy to any magic pills and potions and I don’t buy into fad diets and gimmicks, so let’s go over the ins and out of weight gain and weight loss. If we eat too much food, we gain weight. If we eat less food than we need, we lose weight.
One pound of pure body fat holds about 3,500 calories. There’s a generally accepted theory that in order to lose one pound per week, we should have a deficit of 500 calories a day. 7 days in a week times 500 = 3,500 calories, or again, about one pound of body fat. There are individual differences, however, and metabolic adaptations will vary because every body is different. The amount of energy (calories) one burns also varies, and the ranges can be significant, anywhere from about 75-500 calories a day beyond what’s necessary for weight loss. So, some people naturally burn more calories than others and can therefore lose weight at a faster pace and vice versa.
As weight loss is achieved, the amount of calories we burn changes. Body mass decreases and there are some metabolic adaptations that take place. A lower body mass will naturally burn fewer calories and people with a higher body mass will burn more rapidly. As we lose weight, we need to make changes to our initial calorie goals. Our metabolic hormones partially determine whether the food we eat will be utilized by the muscles, converted to fat, or burned as energy and the hypothalamus and pituitary gland work together in an effort to maintain a constant body weight. They control hunger levels and the body’s metabolic rate, the rate at which we burn calories for energy to perform not only daily activities and physical exercise, but normal life processes such as breathing, digestion, and reproduction.
When it comes to weight loss, a goal should be to maintain lean body mass while losing body fat. When we try to lose weight too quickly by having a high calorie deficit, more weight is lost from our lean body mass which can lead to a decrease in both strength and testosterone. When paired with the right diet, lean body mass can be increased, meaning we can lose body fat while we increase muscle mass. And when looking at things long term, gradual weight loss is better for holding on to that lean mass and we can keep the weight off longer.
What’s a good weight loss goal, you ask? It’s actually small, but that’s good, because small goals are achievable for the short term, and maintainable for the long haul. According to the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, You should initially aim to lose 0.5-1% of your body weight each week. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose 1-2 pounds per week. That may not be “enough” for some people, but if you stick to it, you could lose over 50 pounds in a year, significantly reducing your risk factors for developing chronic, preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
As body fat decreases, we do increase our chances of losing some lean body mass, but again, gradual weight loss and adequate protein intake can help prevent this. Athletes may require additional protein to support both their physical activity and growth of additional lean body mass- muscles! I’ve talked about protein needs in other blogs, but in case you forgot, current recommendations are set at .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for maintenance. There are benefits to higher intakes though, and 1.0-1.2 grams/kg of body weight has shown to yield positive results and for serious strength athletes, some recommend up to 2.2 grams of protein/kg of body weight. This amount is good for training adaptations, and resistance training and cardiovascular exercise increase needs.
Remember, slow and steady weight loss is key. If we restrict our intake too much, our basal metabolic rate will slow and conserve energy for basic life functions. Lean mass will be used as a source of energy for the body and inadequate calories will also slow the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Thyroid metabolism is affected and metabolism further slows. When there’s less T3 and T4, the body breaks down less fat, which is why it may become difficult for some to to lose fat. Rapid weight loss puts us at a higher risk for yo-yo dieting, making the weight harder to lose each time. Like I always say, set short term, achievable goals, aim for a .5-1% reduction in body weight each week, and ensure you get adequate protein throughout the day. Weight loss is possible and beneficial. Give it time and develop healthy, sustainable habits that can last a lifetime.

Body Shaming and Health

Have you ever been a victim of body shaming? It can affect anybody and take place in various forms. While I typically keep my Facebook page posts related to fitness, food, and travel, I recently posted something that turned out to be quite controversial and ultimately, some took it as body shaming.
Body shaming, by dictionary definition, is “the practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about a person’s body size or weight.” In this day and age, there’s a push in the popular media to love oneself no matter how you look, but as an RD, I feel like this notion warrants caution. Loving yourself is great, but health is also great, and necessary. Health, or lack thereof, can come in a variety of packages and typically, people view “skinny” people as healthy and those who are overweight as unhealthy. The reality is, only regular visits to your doctor, complete with blood screenings, can determine your level of health. There are some individuals who appear to have a healthy weight who may have risk factors for disease, and there are plenty of people who are overweight who do not. There are many articles on the internet about “TOFI/SOFI,” Thin or Skinny on the Outside, Fat on the Inside. According to the Huffington Post, such individuals have a low BMI (body mass index), but lack muscle and tend to store what body fat they do have “around the middle.” The MD who wrote the article noted that many of these people have some of the metabolic features of those with pre-diabetes: “low muscle mass, inflammation, high triglycerides, low HDL, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.” He adds such people also have risk factors for other diseases and notes the best way to assess your level of health and determine any risk factors for disease is through a blood test.
We can go from a seemingly visible healthy weight to extreme ends of the spectrum with anorexia and bulimia at one end and overweight and obesity at the other. While most people would agree the first are definitely unhealthy, (and they are), to some, the overweight and obese categories are muddled.
Regarding anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, here is what we do know. These statistics are taken, as they are, from anad.org, the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. (I referred to the original article and it seems as the wording, “eating disorder” in this peer reviewed study relates to anorexia, bulimia, and the like, versus the overeating that leads to excessive weight gain).
Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
13% of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.
Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups.
Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all combine to create risk for an eating disorder.
0.9% of American women suffer from anorexia in their lifetime.
1.5% of American women suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime.

Sadly, there are countless resources on the internet promoting and supporting “Ana and Mia,” anorexia and bulimia.
Let’s take a brief look at the some of the statistics and risk factors of overweight and obesity. These are taken from the CDC.
Over 1/3 of U.S. adults have obesity.
Heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes, and certain types of cancers are conditions related to obesity and they are all causes of preventable death.
$147 billion U.S. dollars is the estimated annual medical cost of obesity, and medical costs for those with obesity are higher than for those of a normal weight, $1,429 higher, in fact.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), since 1980, obesity, a preventable condition, has doubled. Additionally, most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. In a land when the majority population is overweight or obese, we need to focus on improving our overall level of health.
We can also teach to love and accept each other, which I agree is super important, but with that, I feel an emphasis should be on health. If you want to love your body, treat it right so you can live a healthy life. If I didn’t care about these issues, I wouldn’t be a good dietitian, I would be in the wrong field. Let me make something clear before I finish up. I do not participate in nor do I promote body shaming. I will say, however, I opt to not be supportive of those that choose not to live a healthy lifestyle. I do not try to push a certain lifestyle on others, but I offer my advice and opinion when asked and promote overall health and wellbeing in general. So, love yourself, yes, but do it in a way that helps you adopt a healthy lifestyle overtime. Buddha said “Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth.” Why not work for both?
Did you know body shaming can also be directed at those who live a healthy life? Have you ever been a victim of body shaming? Feel free to comment below!