Updating My Wardrobe for Fall for Just $40

Every year before school started when I was a kid my Mom would take me to her favorite department store and I’d try on any number of new dresses and pants and shirts and matching headbands. The woman had a thing for outfit themes and I’m not blaming her, I looked darn cute as a mini sailor.

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Look at me, I look like an adorable tiny Santa Claus!

Now that I’m an adult on my own, there’s a somewhat different version of this tradition. I’ll admit that I enjoy virtually flipping through the fashion blogs and reading up on how to tackle everything from a personal take on the latest trend to perfecting my capsule wardrobe.

Something that I don’t agree with, however, is spending uncomfortably outside of one’s means to satisfy that creative bug. Starting in college I discovered my city’s wonderful secondhand resources and I’ve rarely shopped outside of those stores since. My favorite is Goodwill for their really reasonable prices (as opposed to a vintage premium), their excellent selection, and their commitment to amazing principles as a nonprofit.

As the weather becomes cooler and damper up here in the Pacific Northwest, I start to shift my wardrobe to more Fall-appropriate wear. Largely this just means pulling my heavier coats out of storage and making sure my leather boots are all up to snuff, but I also turn to a list I’ve been making throughout the rest of the year on pieces I’d like to add.

I try not to impulse shop because I’m honestly pretty bad at figuring out the gaps in my current clothes options or how certain pieces will pair with what I already own on the fly. Hence the list! Plus I get to really think about clothes in terms of useful categories and whether or not I truly want them.

A few things I knew I’d be lacking in were some nice (meaning non-ribbed) sleeveless tops to go under cardigans, a crisp white button up shirt (because everyone should have one), flared dark wash jeans, and white skinny pants (I know it’s after Labor Day but I don’t much care for that rule and I need a pair like nobody’s business).

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I may have also picked up this burnt orange cardigan, it was just so soft!

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Don’t mind the mess in the background…

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I have a hard time nailing the stripes look but I loved this one.

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I love that this isn’t a traditional button up.

For almost exactly $40 I walked out with 7 pieces that work well with each other and the rest of my closet. All are from great brands like J Crew and Banana Republic and they fit perfectly.

My next goal is to get rid of any pieces I’ve been grudgingly hanging onto due to the lack of an appropriate replacement. My favorite part of the wildly popular Konmari Method for organization is to evaluate what an item makes me feel when I flip to it in my closet while deciding what to toss. I have a few places I’ll be sending those items, including some teen moms in a neighboring school district.

Until next time!

Tone It Up’s 7 Day Slimdown: Recap

Hello friends! Today’s post is a recap of my experience with Tone It Up’s 7 Day Slimdown in gritty detail. I hope this helps for those of you considering whether or not to dive into their nutrition plan!

Day 1: I sprung out of bed at 6am (okay, 6:05 after scrolling through Instagram…) feeling pretty good about tackling this first day. I even got to sleep in since my very kind boyfriend offered to drive me to work! Being a morning person, which I very definitely am, is both a blessing and a curse. Have you ever fallen asleep on a friend at a bar at 8 in the evening because I have and no amount of coffee can save me once that train gets rolling. It does mean that I at least tend to start the day on a high note though.

For my morning workout I got in a 3 mile run and TIU’s 5 Minute Abs, which is an amazingly effective routine for making me think I have a baby 6 pack in the weak morning light.

I’m following the meal plan as closely as possible, so my food was straight from my spreadsheet (such an exciting sentence, I know). I definitely had to lug a few tupperware to work with me, but that’s not particularly unusual. My fridge is like a grown up version of Tetris right now though.

By the time my afternoon snack rolled around I had to pretty much force myself to eat it since I was feeling quite stuffed. From experience I know I get really peckish as soon as I get home though, so I suffered in silence and ate the damn hummus.

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Too. Many. Vegetables.

I got in a nice full body toning workout & a walk with my dogs when I got how from work and then did what could be considered awkward or even rude if my friends didn’t know me as well as they do. I pulled out some very tasty food for them, chicken chili and a rocking veggie lasagna, and made myself a plate of my thankfully meal-prepped quinoa, veggies & chicken. With how full I was, it honestly wasn’t too bad. I probably would have caved if I had to do more than microwave at this point though.

Day 2: 5:30am. Still a morning person. Still springy. Still going strong. I did a great half hour of a HIIT workout off of one of Tone It Up’s DVDs and ate a leisurely breakfast.

I love waking up this early even though I don’t have to leave the house until 7:45 for work. It gives me ample time for those workouts, walking my dogs, and eating a real sit down meal. There are plenty of “habits of successful/healthy/cool people” lists that I like to read that mention this tip. I’d say to give it a shot for a week, it changed my days significantly.

Same deal today with feeling extra full from the sheer volume of vegetables I was eating. A fun new thing was the chia seed pudding, though! I used to dislike it because of the texture but I would cautiously call myself a fan now. Just goes to show you how important it is to try foods multiple times before turning your nose up at them for good.

Before dinner we got our butts to the gym and I put a good half hour in on the stair machine while watching the worst part of the Broncos game. I would never have called them winning that one in the end from the part I saw, but it was a fun distraction at least. Almost as fun as the plastic surgery shows. Almost. Squeezed in a 10 minute ab workout and said sayonara to the 24 Hour Fitness staff.

Which of course leads to the first hiccup: getting home entirely too late and figuring out that I couldn’t make the fish I had initially planned on for dinner because I am silly and put cod in the fridge for too long. Lesson learned. And relearned when I smelled my compost bin the next morning. Thank you again meal prep for providing me with a mountain of chicken!

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Not too shabby still I’d say.

Day 3: 6am Barre3 class and I’m feeling it. Well, sort of. I mean at least I made it, right? I tend to stress about group fitness classes just a little, but I’m working on it. It helps that I am no longer the obvious worst person there.

More protein waffles! I really love protein waffles. All waffles are near and dear to my heart, but at least these ones don’t slowly kill me with buttery sweetness.

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The Holy Grail of breakfasts to me.

It’s Friday and my boyfriend & I are going to see Kubo tonight, so I’m making sure to get in all my meals throughout the day. I honestly ended up shoveling dinner into my face on the way to the movie but thankfully Ian didn’t mind (too much). A full body workout happened before the movie & a walk with my dogs after.

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From the MyFitnessPal app. I was curious about the nutritional breakdown of a day on the plan, so I entered everything into the app on my phone. (Goal macro percents are from MyFitnessPal, not the 7dsd.)

Day 4: Saturday is a day for adventuring and this one is no different, even if I am on the 7dsd! I got myself to an 8am spin class and then shuffled my energized body back home for that egg white scramble. I was somewhat resentful of said scramble to be honest. No matter how much I glared it didn’t turn into a waffle.

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Still not a waffle…

We went kayaking with friends on Trillium Lake and I’m happy to report that I had enough endurance to paddle most of the time. Sometimes I made Ian do it alone, but really that was just because I’m so bad at steering I send us in circles. I packed all my meals for while we were out and they mostly filled me up. I think this was the first time I felt even remotely hungry all week. Twenty minutes of abs before dinner and I was done for the day.

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Day 5: It feels like the home stretch! I went way out of my comfort zone and tried out a Zumba Nightclub Experience class, discovering two things in the process. 1) I am still exceptionally bad at Zumba. 2) It doesn’t really matter if no one can see you in the back of a dark room. 10/10 would recommend.

And today turned into another adventure! We went for a leisurely float on the Clackamas River that turned into a bit of an escapade due to rain the day before and our cooler spilling our dry bag (with car keys) into the rapids. The latter part was totally my fault, lesson learned! Needless to say it was a bit of a race to catch up to our stuff, which we eventually did with the help of a pair of our intrepid friends.

To make up for the river flub, Ian got pizza for the group. Guys, it was strangely extremely easy to turn down a pizza sitting in front of me and wait until I got home to eat dinner. If this is what this level of healthy eating is doing to me I’m all in. A short total body toning workout later and I was golden.

Day 6: Monday and it’s back to work. I started it off with a half hour of HIIT routines from TIU and another scramble. Today was pretty straightforward to be honest, but the food was getting a bit boring. I met up with a friend (the one who rescued the keys yesterday actually!) for a short HIIT class after work and felt like a badass doing box jumps. This one was also a new class, I’ve got to make a habit of trying something new more often.

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This sign taunted me on the way to work. I wanted that acai bowl, darn it.

Day 7: I was supposed to run this morning. No running happened. Instead walking my dogs happened. No regrets.

And I’m officially hungry today! I mean lets be honest, this 7dsd is meant to lead up to a specific event, like the first pool party of the season or seeing your ex for the first time in a while. It’s tapered toward the end and today is the day where things are bound to get rough.

I of course schedule, unbeknownst to me, the toughest spin class of my life after work. I think this is what SoulCycle must be like. Or death. One of the two. (I still liked it.)

Home. Baby ab routine. Dinner. Sleep.

Day 8: Hah! Fooled you didn’t I? You thought there were only 7 days to this 7 day slimdown. Okay so day 8 is optional, if you want to follow it on the actual date of your event. I decided to try it out for completion’s sake because, as Katrina Of TIU says, “Don’t half ass anything, always put your full booty into it!”

It’s meant to be a rest day, so the only thing I did was walk my dogs in the morning. And eat more waffles! The waffle trend will be continuing after this thing is over for sure.

I was still hungry today even though I was eating more food, but I think it was the boredom setting in. Honestly I loved the meals I was eating and chow down on them regularly with strange glee, I just didn’t get to mix things up as much as I usually do.


And now, for the final results! All photo fuzziness is my fault due to trying to take pictures in the early morning light and an insufficient number of lamps in my workout space.

Before:
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After:
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Before next to After:
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The best piece of advice I can give is to take pictures and measurements and ignore your scale. I lost 5.4 pounds, which was mostly in the first few days, and I fully expect the scale to tick back up after this. They’re pretty explicit about trying to get rid of any excess bloat for your special day, but the more extreme effects are bound to be temporary. To be honest, I’m fine with that since they’re upfront about it. Plus, my secondary goals were to get used to fewer treats and less snacking before dinner, both of which I have so far accomplished.

Here are the changes in the measurements I like to take to track my progress:

  • Bicep: -0.25″
  • Waist: -1.25″
  • Abs: -1″
  • Hips: -0.75″
  • Thigh: -0.75″
  • Calf: -0.5″

Overall, I’m very pleased with both how I handled the process and how it worked for me. I think that people who are prone to obsessing unhealthily over food should think pretty hard about starting anything like a slimdown. Obviously if you have any medical conditions you probably shouldn’t be drastically changing your diet without talking to your doctor. I hope this helps if you were on the fence about giving it a shot though!

Until next time!

 

Tone It Up’s 7 Day Slimdown: Planning Ahead

Hello friends! I started writing this post from the most scenic spot I’ve been in all year, the Oregon Coast.

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My boyfriend & I drove out here for the holiday weekend for his family reunion and it was utterly relaxing and filled with great food. And wine. And lounging. Which of course means that by the time Sunday rolled around I was sitting at the table planning out my week ahead because my type A personality refuses to be quiet for more than a few days.

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But seriously, look at that view! And the adorable retro vibe of the place.

Now, what am I planning for, exactly? I’m going to tackle Tone It Up’s 7 Day Slimdown.

What is the 7dsd? It’s a 7 day (plus 1 to ease you into less restrictive eating) plan that centers around wholesome, healthy food while cutting out the junk like most added sugar. It also includes a general workout plan to go alongside. The exact details of the 7dsd are found in the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan, which I bought from their site about a year ago.

Why would I do this? I’ve gotten deep into my I-deserve-a-treat mode and I would really like to pull myself out of the bad eating spirals I’ve found myself in recently. In general, I don’t believe in crash-dieting. What I do believe is that self-control is a muscle and when I fail to exercise it regularly enough, it gets pretty weak. I also think that sugar (not fat, not carbs, etc.) is the real health bomb and the toughest thing for me to eat in moderation.

Am I crazy? Yes, but that’s unrelated. 🙂 I’ve actually done the 7dsd before and really liked it. I was never hungry doing it, but I did get really bored! This time around I know to work around that by mixing things up. The only other sticking point for me is that I will have to make some extra time for workouts in the evenings, but I’m setting myself up for success by scheduling only the things that I love to do (like barre classes).

Here is my plan for the week, complete with workouts and meals. I’m going to tackle food first. You can see that I’ve tried to nail down everything in advance so I can go grocery shopping once and be done. It also allows me to plan for any events that I have like the dinner I host every week on Wednesday and my friend’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream one evening.
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Next up is my grocery shopping list, which I always prefer to write out by hand. I usually start with listing what I need by recipe and then condense on a separate sheet the final list. Usually I have a good idea of what I have on hand, but if I don’t want to run back and forth to my kitchen I just put a question mark on items to check all at once later. This list gets messy fast, but it’s what works for me to keep everything organized!
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And finally, I take my giant pile of food and a flurry of meal prep ensues. Normally I commit Sundays to this task, but my holiday weekend out of town means a very awkward but doable Tuesday evening session. Music, podcasts & movies all help, as would an extra set of hands. Usually. If they aren’t too busy sneaking the julienned bell pepper as a snack. Not that I’m naming names of course, that would be rude.

I try to carefully plan out the order of cooking so I combine things that go into the oven at the same temperatures and the longer cooking stuff gets started earlier instead of about half an hour before I wanted to be asleep. Here’s what my meal prep last night looked like:

  • Preheat the oven to 400° & start the quinoa boiling
  • Place dried chicken breasts in a baking dish with oil & seasoning and cover with parchment paper
  • Prep dinner vegetables by chopping or trimming where needed and tossing them lightly with oil & seasoning on baking trays
  • Pop chicken & vegetables into the oven and check on them regularly to take things out as they finish at different times (tip: slightly undercook veggies so they stay firmer when reheated)
  • Cube and saute the tofu in oil & seasonings (tip: mix things up to avoid boredom)
  • Chop scramble & salad vegetables and store in the fridge
  • Tear up kale leaves and massage in dressing for the week (tip: kale gets better in dressing over time!)
  • Make hummus (tip: homemade is delicious) & chia seed pudding
  • Pack everything away as necessary in the fridge & freezer (tip: freeze some of the cooked chicken if you don’t want to have to make more midweek for the later days)

The second part of this 7dsd is of course planning my workouts. I need variety and excitement to motivate myself to regularly work out. In fact, that’s how I found Tone It Up in the first place! I’m a huge fan of their weekly workout guides and a big portion of their videos are free  on their site and Youtube. I’ll talk more about their workouts at a later date, but all of my toning routines will be from their website or their DVDs for the 7dsd.

I also have a ClassPass membership that I love and will be utilizing heavily this week. I have Zumba, Barre, HIIT & Spin classes all planned out at various boutique gyms near me.

Check back later this week to see how it all goes! I officially started today, so wish me luck. 😉

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, I’d be happy to answer them for you if I can!

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis

Last week I was able to fly back to Minnesota to spend time with my extended family at our semi-annual reunion. I’ve been visiting the Twin Cities on and off since I was a kid to see my Dad’s relatives and I’ve picked up enough tricks to make sure that everything goes smoothly. My last post outlined how to set yourself up for traveling success, and hopefully this one will be useful to anyone who wants to stop by the land of 10,000 lakes and the place where Garrison Keillor honed his biting passive aggression. 😉

One thing I will say is that I absolutely love Minnesota in August. I’ve been to the sandy beaches of the Caribbean and seen the sunset in Italy and nothing compares to the pleasant weather you experience on a summer day in Minneapolis. The climate is nice more often than not and if you visit around Labor Day weekend the State Fair will be in full swing. (Disclaimer: The only time I visited in the winter was before long term memories were a thing for me.)

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The second best tip I can give is that you really never need to rent a car while you’re there. We stayed in a pleasant room at the Best Western across the street from the Mall of America, which seemed to me to be the most centrally located structure in all the land. The Blue Line is a beautiful example of their rad public transit system (a Portland girl like me notes these things!) and we used it for almost everything, including the quick trip from airport to hotel.

According to my proud Midwestern father, Minnesota’s fair is one of the best in the country. While I don’t have too many under my belt to compare it to, I have to admit that I’ve always been impressed. I’ve made the full epic (epic like the 10-year saga of the Iliad not epic like cool) trip into that parking lot by car before on a Saturday and if I were the betting kind I’d say not even a saint would get through that experience in a good mood.

This year we checked out the many animal barns and even saw the beginnings of a calf being born (I’ll save you all the pictures of that one). There were bee experts, stunningly accurate portraits of famous people made entirely out of grains, and even a ton of STEM outreach tents for kids.

5 Things to Do in MinneapolisPlus goats in coats!

And, of course, the deep fried Twinkies.

5 Things to Do in MinneapolisMy first and last time trying these stupidly delicious trash monsters. I think they may be a sin against nature.

The Minnesota Zoo was running a special for half off admission with your fair ticket stub, which we took full advantage of the next day. I hope they do this again because it’s one of my favorite zoos of all time, and those I do have some comparisons for. If your child has ever been exposed to an animal meme on the internet this is the place for them.

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis

5 Things to Do in MinneapolisI think he’s saying hello!

I mentioned the ballpark franks in my last post, but if you’re at all into baseball Target Fields is a great stadium located in a beautifully walkable downtown. Football season? The US Bank Stadium looked stunning from the outside. We almost got to see the inside but the nice guy manning the entrance told us we couldn’t party crash when we tried to sneak past. I would like to clarify that it wasn’t a football game and also that it was 100% my Dad’s idea.

5 Things to Do in Minneapolis My Dad, the con artist. 😉

The last time I ended up in the area I spent a few bucks to watch horses race around in an elliptical fashion (I’m told what I did is called “gambling” but I’m skeptical given that what appeared to occur was me paying $3 for a slip of paper and the sudden urge to cheer loudly) at Canterbury Downs. I actually highly suggest it if you’re in the Shakopee area, it was a good way to have a bit of fun ribbing your family members and losing your voice on a fine afternoon.

I would not recommend going a full 4 hours out of your way just to visit the small northern town of Ada, MN on a family vacation, but I definitely would advise you to tootle around in a car if you’re able. It just so happens that quite a bit of my family settled in that area, and I’ll admit that I enjoy watching farm country zip past through the window. If you do head out to that part of the state, keep an eye peeled for the sham sign for Lake Woebegone. 🙂

Oh, and in case you were curious, walking the packing advice talk I gave in my last post was perfect! It’s even coming in handy not even a week later since we’re taking off right after work for my boyfriend’s family reunion in Oceanside, OR today.

Happy travels!

Traveling Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

This week I’ll be making the trek to a family reunion in Minnesota. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, though it’ll be tinged with some sadness since my Grandma’s health may be declining after a hip fracture this month. We’ve always been a pretty jovial group though, so I’m hoping to show her a bit of the good old family merriment.

All the family aspect aside, airline travel seems to come with so many complications and pitfalls these days that I feel like I have to prep everything down to the most minute detail. One of my most frustrating (and strangest?) quirks is that I get ravenously hungry when I travel. Like three cheeseburgers, fries, a shake, and then Panda Express just for lunch kind of hungry.

Costco Hot Dog Goodness
Okay so this is actually a picture of my biggest weakness, the Costco hot dog. You get the gist though.

Since I’ve been cleaning up my eating and getting into a regular exercise routine over the past year or so, it feels pretty cruddy to be shoving my face with fast food right at the beginning of what should be a fun and exciting adventure. Not to mention pocket-draining and nap-inducing at the most inconvenient times!

Sleeping Ella
If only we could all nap like dogs. 🙂

There are ways to make a trip go smoothly for those of you out there like me though! Here’s what I’m packing to make this a successful and healthy jaunt through the airport.

For clothing, I try to pack the exact things I will need and nothing more (except for one extra pair of unmentionables because that one is hard to fix if you’ve miscounted). I’ve found that even if I need an extra outfit one day, I’ll probably end up not needing something I packed another day. The bare minimum toiletries has always worked for me as well.

I have to stick to my exercise routine to feel like a functioning human being while on a trip, so that’s always something I take into account too. Just roll everything up and go at it like a jigsaw puzzle of clothing!

Packed Suitcase

I love to take advantage of the copious amount of entertainment that my smart phone and tablet provide. Not only are there tons of options, but it also means you don’t have to carry around extra things in your bags. Because let’s be honest, how many of us are taking more than a carry on these days?

We have Amazon Prime for the free shipping but I’m really happy with their Amazon Video App. Unlike Netflix, which we also have, it allows you to download episodes and movies so you can watch them offline. Just make sure you download everything well before it’s time to head to the airport, I wouldn’t want to rely on their WiFi!

If you don’t have Amazon Prime, my next favorite diversion tactic is my Podcast app. I always have about…three dozen podcast channels that I listen to at least somewhat actively at any given time. It offers a ton of variety and all for the low, low price of free. You can also put ebooks and audio books on your phone through your library with the Overdrive & Hoopla apps. Again, totally free. I listened to The Girl on the Train that way and it was an awesome experience.

The Girl on the Train

As a last ditch form of distraction I have a few phone games that I consider highly addictive. My favorite one to date is called Qubed and it’s a funky Tetris-style game that gives my hands something to do while listening to other things. Set is also great for the same reasons.

My last piece of entertainment advice would be to have a project to work on. Feeling productive feeds into my list making/completing personality, so I love the rewarding sensation of crossing a to-do off.

I was listening to a Cracked podcast and I learned some unsavory facts about how people actually get sick when flying. It turns out it’s not the recycled air that does the dirty deed, it’s the surfaces you touch at your seat. They just never get cleaned, which I’m sure I knew somewhere at the back of my mind given the tight turnovers I’ve seen with every flight I’ve been on.

That’s why I’m adding a disinfecting wipe or two to my packing list this time! Another pro-tip from them was to never, ever drink the plane coffee (or any water that’s not coming straight from a bottle). File that under ‘things I wish I didn’t know’ right next to how one gets pink eye and the fact that our bodies contain about the same number of bacterial cells as human ones.

My best tactic to beat the insatiable travel munchies was to just stay ahead of my hunger. That meant overnight oats at 3am on the way to the airport, a salad at what my normal breakfast time would be, a big snack I had packed, and finally an early dinner at the ballpark.

Twins Game at Target Field
The Twins still got destroyed but that is entirely beside the point on Dollar Dog day at the park with your Dad. 🙂

I hope this helps any new or less confident travelers out there! It took me a while to not feel overwhelmed when I set foot in the airport, but planning things out really does help!

I think my next post will be a traveler’s guide to the Twin Cities for all those who may be thinking of hitting up this gem in the Midwest.

Meal Prep Basics and a Blueberry Overnight Oats Recipe

My Sunday meal prep time is a sacred thing, and it’ll be the topic of an ongoing series here on the blog. It’s what allows me to get so much done during the week, keeps me eating healthy, and prevents my grocery bill from going through the roof due to one unscheduled trip to Costco. This post is going to tackle the aspect that took me the longest to nail down: planning.

There’s some unavoidable legwork that’s going to need to go into having a successful meal prep day. Right now the scope of this is just for one person, since that’s what I do for the most part (though I’m getting my boyfriend on board slowly by surely!).

  • You need to know how much variety you’ll crave in your diet to make this thing work. If you make bad assumptions about having the same lunch every day, there is going to be some serious tupperware hate going on by the time Friday rolls around. I prefer to have the same breakfast, roughly the same lunch and snacks, and different dinners during the week.
  • Related to the first point is that you need to know what kind of meals you actually enjoy eating. This may sound silly, but it took me a long time to figure that out! For me, this also means a balance between delicious but decadent foods and their healthy counterparts. Because let’s be real here, I absolutely would eat Brussels waffles with a cup of syrup three times a day if I could.
  • Keep in mind the logistics of taking your food with you daily. I’m lucky enough to have a fridge near my desk at work with plenty of space, and no one looks at me funny when I bring a whole bag full of it with me on public transit (yet). If this isn’t for you, I’d suggest having a more calorically dense option for lunch so you can have a one and done situation.
  • Meal plan when you’re bored but full. I like to shoehorn it into a lunch break or a bus ride on Thursdays to give myself plenty of time to write up a shopping list for the weekend. Beware looking up recipes when you’re hungry or you may find yourself in over your head with your meals the next week. More than once I’ve accidentally planned double the food a human could conceivably consume when I made that mistake.
  • Simpler is better in the end if you’re just cooking for yourself I’ve found. Plus it makes leftovers even easier to reuse in a new way.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, on to the recipe for what I eat every morning right now! After trying at least a dozen variations, I’ve settled on this as my favorite.

Blueberry Overnight Oats

Blueberry Overnight Oats

Ingredients:

1/3 c old fashioned oats
1 scoop protein powder (optional, if you omit just add more nut butter)
1 T flax meal
A few blueberries (fresh or frozen)
A dollop of your favorite nut butter
Drizzle of maple syrup or honey (optional)
1/2-2/3 c unsweetened almond milk (or your favorite milk)
1/2 t coconut flakes if you’re feeling fancy
Shredded wheat cereal (for topping)

Instructions:

  1. Add ingredients to a 12 oz canning jar (I love the Ball jars without a neck) in order except for the cereal. Use 1/2c liquid if you’d like them denser and 2/3c if you’d like them thinner.
  2. Mix carefully but thoroughly with a butter knife, being sure to distribute the nut butter evenly.
  3. Cover with a lid (I prefer the plastic ones you can buy separately, they’re so much easier to wash and reuse).
  4. Place in fridge at least overnight and for up to 4-5 days. I personally haven’t had any issues with storing mine for the full five days using almond milk and I’ve seen others do the same, but use your own judgment.
  5. In the morning grab one, top with a few pieces of cereal, and dig in!

I love making these for houseguests or hiking partners too since they’re vegan (with syrup instead of honey), healthy, super filling, customizable, and easily made gluten free if you spend a bit more on the certified GF oats. Plus they just taste so darn good!

Blueberry Overnight Oats in the Morning

How to Throw the Post-College Dinner Party (That Your Friends Will Finally Make Time For)

When I graduated from college a few years ago it became quickly apparent how difficult it was to keep in touch with friends as we all entered this crazy new phase of our lives. Moving to a slightly more out of the way part of the city with no car of my own and a brand new 9-5 type job meant getting creative about finding ways to maintain these friendships.

 

Enter the weekly potluck dinners at my house, complete with wine and beer, fun themed nights, and more laughter than I can recount. It served a dual purpose as well, given that by the time I finished school I was incapable of making boxed cake mix to save my life. (Side note: If you ever accidentally add twice as much vegetable oil to your Betty Crocker batter than what the recipe calls for, turn back now. It’s truly more gross than I could have ever imagined.)

 

If this is where you’re at in life, I have a few tips for what is essentially herding cats:

 

1. Try out a few days and times for the first few dinners, but once you hit upon one that works try to stick to it. It’s much easier for everyone to incorporate it into their schedules and plan for it.  Motivation gets you started but habit is what carries you through and all that! We’ve happily settled into Wednesdays at 6:30, so don’t be afraid to have it on a non-weekend day too.

 

2. Maybe this one is more of a 1a. You will never be able to work with everyone ‘s schedules and you should accept that now. If you’re like me, this will kill you at first but it’ll be okay Figure out which people are a top priority and make sure you’re working around them. Other than that, I suggest having a large enough group to reach out to so that if only half can go any given week, you still have a fun dinner.

3. Make your friends do some of the social legwork! My college was a definite bubble even though we were located in the middle of a big city. Oh, and did I mention that the whole student body was smaller than my high school’s? Social psychologists have even done research to show that it’s tough to make new friends once you leave school. Encourage your guests to bring new friends, significant others, coworkers, roommates and anyone they think might be a good addition. Heck, I’ve even had over three of my friends’ parents! if nothing else, they usually provide new topics for conversation.

4. Be flexible. I have a friend I love to talk with but he usually can’t show up until at least an hour into dinner. I’m not giving up my chance to chat, so you better believe I’ve figured out how to make his sudden addition go as smoothly as possible. The best way I’ve been able to manage this (and the constantly changing number of people) is to switch to eating in our living room, much as I love our dining table.

5. Start potluck, but be aware of the pitfalls. Many of my friends still don’t own cars (neither do I, though my boyfriend does) so keep in mind that biking with a casserole dish may be out of the question. In this day and age people tend to view commitments a bit more flexibly since all they need to do is fire off a text to cancel. If you assign a main dish to a person and they can’t make it last minute, your dinner is suddenly rather stressful. If you have any guests with eating restrictions, you need to be a little extra vigilant in getting the word out as well. One of my closest friends is a vegetarian, so I’ve gotten pretty handy at finding work arounds without making her feel awkward or bad about it. The upside for you with potlucks is that you’ll be cooking less, likely spending less money, and you can explore fun themes (“your fave comfort food” and “a dish from your childhood” were two good ones that sparked a ton of conversation) easily.

6. Once I had the means, the time, and the skills, I switched to cooking most or all of dinner for those evenings. This meant that my friends could look forward to a night of relaxation without having to worry about logistics. Some people picked up fun hobbies (Homemade bread or a bottle of red from a birthday winery tour? Yes please!) that really added to the party. Mostly though, I learned how to cook for a big crowd quickly, healthily, with minimal investment and maximum enjoyment.

7. Taco bowls. Sushi bowls. Buddha bowls. Teriyaki Bowls. Bowls where you can make the components and let everyone put the final product together with little effort is just A+ in my book. Vegetarian? Check. Starving? You load up on what you want my friend. Extreme dislike of bell peppers bordering on an allergy (true story)? Easy to avoid! Plus it’s so simple to make an inexpensive and healthy dinner with brown rice, veggies of some sort, and a protein. Other examples? Salad bar, baked potato bar, waffle bar and DIY pizzas.

8. Too much food is better than too little, so make extra of things you don’t mind eating later or freezing. I tend to make plenty rice and freeze the leftovers for quick lunches and dinners. Don’t be afraid to send people home with food too! I’ve made some of my guests that are still in school some very happy campers that way.

9. This is a great time to get rid of the random food lingering in your fridge or in your pantry, so take advantage of that! Roasted assorted “aspirational veggies” always go over well at my house.

10. The crock pot is your best friend. Always.

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Here’s an example of a relaxed dinner party for 5:

 

Brown rice (a Costco bag of it goes a long, long way)

 

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Roasted bell peppers, onion & garlic (Leave the 4 peppers whole, quarter the onion, peel the garlic, put on a pan at 400 for 40 minutes & flip halfway through. Spray with some sort of oil if you’re feeling all fancy.)

 

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Crock pot Mexican beef (Hunk of beef. Whatever spices you have that are vaguely Mexican like chili powder and adobo in a totally eyeballed amount. Water to almost cover it. Set to low until you get home. Separate with forks.)

 

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Lettuce (Chop those leaves up a bit. Tear ’em if you’re super lazy.)

 

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Spiced black & kidney beans (Two cans of beans rinsed + those same Mexican spices in a pot for a few to warm them up.)

 
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A loaf of to-die-for bread my friend made (Find some rad friends!)

 

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Altogether, it was 2 minutes of prep in the morning, 10 when I got home, and ready an hour later. Plus lunch the rest of the week!

 

Now, if you’re looking for how to host an elegant black tie dinner for 8, I’ll be posting about that down the road. 😉