5 MEAL PLANNING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

I’ve always been a planner. I’m a type A vina for sure. But… I’m finding that it’s nice to have a flexible meal plan, one that is sort of a “no plan” menu.

What I mean by that is, I do like to sit down at the beginning of the month and go through my favorite cookbook or my binder of accumulated recipes. I pencil them into my calendar printable, and we do one big grocery trip at the beginning of the month for all the non-perishables.

But do we actually STICK to the plan? Nope. Because the truth is… vinas have cravings! When the weather is cold, I want a grilled cheese sandwich. Or when I’m feeling down, I just want some freaking chicken fingers and fries, or macaroni and cheese.

So… if you need meal planning and you hate planning, here are some tips for you.

CONSIDER TRYING A MEAL SUBSCRIPTION BOX FOR A WEEK OR TWO

If you really hate the idea of sitting down to actually plan your meals, think about it! I wouldn’t say they are great for an actual replacement to meal planning, but if you are constantly ordering in or eating out instead of making your own food, this will save you money. It’ll also give you a more realistic meal plan when you’re starting out.

This is great if you have literally no experience or interest in planning your meals. It makes it SUPER easy, and it’s flexible—you can choose which recipes you want to try, they deliver the ingredients and the recipe book to your door, and you can cook them on whichever day of the week you please.

Plus, a lot of them have excellent discounted trials for the first week!

Here is my mini meal planning service review for the one we’ve tried:

HelloFresh – LOVED it. It’s definitely more expensive than cooking yourself, but you are paying for the convenience since they make it so easy. Even if you aren’t a total newbie with meal planning, it might be fun to try! We tried it when we were in frantic moving mode, and it was SUCH a lifesaver. And we kept all the recipe cards so we can make them again on our own! HelloFresh is available in Canada and the US.

Chef’s Plate – They are Canadian, and I don’t think they deliver anywhere in the US, but if you’re in Canada they are a good option. I did find the food didn’t stay fresh for as long as HelloFresh’s food did, though. And I was a little disappointed to find that their recipes included ingredients like “spice mix” that would make it hard to replicate later on, even if you keep the recipe card. Still, worth giving it a shot!

GoodFood – Also Canadian. The recipes we tried from GoodFood have been phenomenal. The food lasts quite a while—there was one recipe we made the day after the meat’s best before date, and everything was still delicious. The vegetables weren’t too gross, so it turned out awesome. They also have excellent customer service, though it is a bit slow.

I would say my favorite was HelloFresh, but GoodFood is right up there!

TRY GIVING EACH DAY OF THE WEEK A THEME

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For example, you could do Mexican on Mondays, pasta on Tuesdays, stir-fry on Wednesdays, vegetarian on Thursdays, and maybe a comfort food/free-for-all on Fridays. That gives you some structure, but then you can choose exactly what meal you feel like at the time.

Keep staples for those meals on hand, so that you can actually make them when you feel like. So for pasta, keep the pasta and some sauces around, some rice for your stir-fries, and your choice of meats and veggies. (You could get ground beef and chicken and just freeze it, so you always have it.)

Weekends can be even more flexible—you can use what you have left to make whatever you want, or just keep going from your categories.

MAKE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH EASY

Protip for meal planning when you hate planning: make it so you have to plan as little as possible. Keep a variety of options on hand for breakfast and lunches, and then you only really need to plan dinner.

We usually keep instant oatmeal, bagels, and cereal around for breakfast, and choose whatever we feel like in the morning. On weekends we often make egg sandwiches with turkey bacon (or regular bacon, low-sodium).

For lunch, my partner takes deli meat sandwiches because his job doesn’t really allow for him to reheat leftovers… and I usually do just take leftovers.

For snacks, we usually have Clif bars and boil some eggs to keep around for a filling snack (that protein keeps you full longer, and it doesn’t take long to do it). We also have rice crackers, veggies and dip, and trail mix (the ones with M&Ms of course!) You could do whatever you like.

Aaaand, boom! We barely have to plan the majority of our meals. No plan menu FTW!

KEEP REALISTIC LAST-MINUTE OPTIONS AROUND AT ALL TIMES

By this, I mean literally just frozen pizzas, instant noodles of some kind, and frozen chicken fingers and fries. (Whatever works for you.)

That way if you’re in a pinch, or you’re feeling lazy, you’ve got something to eat that is SO EASY you don’t have to try… and you’ll prevent yourself from ordering in every single time. Save that moolah!

So there you have it! 5 ways you can meal plan when you hate planning.

This post was originally published on FlightandScarlet.com.

Download the Hey! VINA app to find other meal-prepping vinas with even more tips!

HOW TO TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF IN A NEW RELATIONSHIP

It’s not fun to lose yourself in your relationship. You may not even realize it’s happening, and when it does, it can be too late. Take it from us: It’s IMPORTANT to take time for yourself in a relationship. Let me help you discover how to find ways for much-needed “me” time:

SCHEDULE IT!

Your “me” time needs to literally be penciled into your planner (which you definitely have because planners are the freakin’ best). Treat your “me” time just like you would treat a date with your partner, or a date with your best friend (I mean, you are your own best friend, right?). It is important and you WANT to do it. Even if you feel too tired or lazy that day, you’re GOING.

You ain’t cancelling on yourself, mmkay? And if you live with your partner and don’t want to offend them with your “me” time? First of all, if they’re offended that you want time to yourself, you need to have a serious talk. Having time to yourself is important to reset, recharge, and will actually help you be more present with your partner.

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TALK TO YOUR PARTNER ABOUT IT

Make sure to express that you are not doing it to “escape” anything (or them) and that you simply need some mental space for yourself to do those little things you like— reading, trying a new workout class, binge-watching a show you really want to watch but they’re not into, etc. 

If you are using me time to escape your partner, you may want to consider why and perhaps think about what you want from your relationship. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to escape—it just means something is off and you need to sort it out. Think about it, talk to them, and be honest.

I can tell you that my partner needs more “me” time than I do, because he’s a thinker and he needs time to literally just lie around and think. I’m way more active and love quality time even when I need “me” time, which is why I can be terrible for finding “me” time.

What that means is for a while, he DID try to use “me” time to escape me, and I started noticing it. It SUCKED. But when I asked him about it (and poked, and prodded, because that’s how he is) it came out and we had a good conversation where he explained what he needs and why.

I had no idea I was taking “me” time away from him, because he never told me!

But was I offended? NOPE. I was just sad that I was hurting him. I didn’t want to be overbearing!

So now if he wants “me” time, he tells me, and that’s that. It’s actually kind of perfect, because I can either get some work done or have “me” time of my own.

SO:

Talk to your partner. Schedule me time. Put it on the calendar.

LASTLY, WHAT TO DO DURING YOUR “ME” TIME:

Brainstorm activities you like. Literally anything you like doing!

Here are some ideas:

  • Go on a walk or a run by yourself.
  • Do a face mask and have a bath.
  • Try a new hobby.
  • Journal.
  • Do a mini staycation, on your own.
  • Get a manicure or pedicure.
  • Work out by yourself.
  • Call a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with.
  • Explore a cool street in the city.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Go to a movie or museum.
  • Go shopping (or window shopping).
  • Take a cool online course about something you’re interested in (like photography).
  • Binge watch a Netflix show you’ve been wanting to watch.
  • Watch makeup or skincare tutorials on YouTube.
  • Read a book.
  • Listen to a podcast.
  • Raid your closet and create new outfits.
  • Make a new vina date!

Open up your planner, or your calendar app on your phone, and schedule in your dates with yourself. Choose one activity for each time, set reminders, and you’re set!

Protip: If you make them regular, like every Sunday from 10-11am, it will become part of your routine and it won’t get confusing to deal with for your partner too 🙂

I hope this helps you intentionally take time for yourself in a relationship. Just because you have someone else in your life, it doesn’t mean they have to be the #1 priority every waking minute. Plus, if you remember to take care of yourself, you will be making yourself better for everyone else in your life!

This article was originally posted on FlightandScarlet.com. Want to enjoy a new activity with vinas? Find them here!

HOW TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH—EVEN WHEN YOU’RE REALLY BUSY

I have always been the type to take on a lot and do it all without pause for a break. There was a point while attending my university where I was so sick I had a fever every day for about two weeks because I just didn’t have time to sleep.

Yeah, I know, I was a keener.

Now, I’m not what you would call a “keener” anymore, but I still do overwork myself because I’m the type of person who needs to be doing something constantly—whether it’s reading a book, cleaning the house, or binge-watching an entire season of a show. It’s like I have to accomplish something (even the tiniest thing) every day; everything besides my mental health.

Well, I’ve learned that mental health is ESPECIALLY important when you’re really busy, but I know it seems impossible when you’ve got a lot going on.

Listed below are ways to alleviate the stressors of your busy day that are so beneficial to your mental state:

Give yourself AT LEAST one block of time a day to take a quick break.

This could be the half hour after you get home from work, or going to bed 15 minutes early.  My favorite time is after school and before bed. I use the time to connect with my partner and chat about the day and to read. The point is to use that time to wind down, maybe read a book or just lie on your bed for a few minutes and clear your mind. Whatever you do, during this time, stay away from screens. Your brain needs a break, and social media, even though we like it and want to use it, makes you feel busy and overwhelmed. It’s just the nature of it. Disconnect for only a few minutes a day, and it will help improve your mental health!

Eat more nutritious food.

I am definitely guilty of eating frozen pizza and chicken strips when I’m swamped with work, but that only puts more stress on our bodies, resulting in exhaustion. But when I bother to get up and chop some vegetables to eat with dip as a snack and eat healthier meals, I not only feel less stressed but I feel more positive!

So take 10 minutes to chop up some carrots and celery so that you have it ready when you need a snack. Plan a couple of quick meals ahead of time so that on your busiest days you can conveniently reheat it in the microwave. The best thing is to do this in advance, so if you know you’re going to be busy freeze some meals and thaw them out when you need it. And when you’re really busy, take an hour on the weekend and cook up a meal, so you have it for the next few days. I know, it feels like you could use your time for something better, but if you feed your body what it needs, you won’t be as tired and you won’t feel as stressed. It’s worth the effort!

If you have a friend or a significant other, who can help you, ask them!

I used to have a super weird habit of not moving from my desk when I’m on a roll with writing, not even going to the washroom! So, when I was in university, a good friend of mine would check on me every so often (we lived on the same floor in residence) and she’d just open the door, say, “go to the bathroom!” and wait for me to come back so we could chat for a quick break.

These are people who care about you, so if you just let them know you’re feeling overwhelmed, they’ll want to help. If you live with your friend/significant other, ask if they do more cooking or take out the trash or whatever it is to help lighten your load. Ask a friend if they can come over at a particular time of day and force you to go to for a walk (or make you go the bathroom…)

Work at least 10-20 minutes of exercise into your day.

It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Just go for a walk, and after 10 minutes turn back. Alternatively, download Zova or QuickFit and do a couple of exercises quickly! It will do wonders for your mental health, so if you can scrounge 20 minutes of your time, you won’t regret it. It might hurt at the time (well, it will) but after you will feel a bit better! If you have to, reward yourself after – like chocolate milk, my favorite! Try to do this three times a week, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. The point is to reduce stress, not add to it!

If you bus to work or to your activities, listen to music or read a book instead of checking your phones for emails and text messages. 

Use the time to give yourself a mental break or reflect on your day. Again, any chance you have to stop feeling like you need to be doing something is vitally important! If your commute is especially long and you need the time to check those emails or do some work, then give yourself at least 15-20 minutes of a mental break during that time where you don’t do any of that work. Then get to it!

Reduce the stress by writing everything you have floating around in your head down.

Get it out of your head! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to remember everything randomly. If you get all your to-dos and obligations out either on paper or in a list on your phone it will not only help you to see exactly what you have to do in a manageable way, but you’ll offload some of that stress because you don’t need to keep remembering – you can just refer to it on your phone, your planner, or wherever. It won’t be swirling around your head! So look at your list and figure out what needs to be done right away, what can wait, and do the most urgent things first.

Start saying no and cutting out things you don’t NEED to do.

When you’re super freaking busy, it’s the time to start prioritizing. You need to decide what’s most important to you. For me, I decided I don’t need to dust every single day or clean the bathroom every single week so that I can have some extra time to myself to literally. just. breathe. (see below)

If you don’t start prioritizing you-time and your mental health, your stress will start building. You need to start letting things go! Make a list of things you’re feeling pressure to do and begin generously crossing things off that you don’t have to do. Look at what you have left. Do you have the time, energy, and/or money to do them? Then do them, but ALWAYS make sure that no matter what, even if you can fit all those things in, you leave some extra time for just. Doing. NOTHING. Even for 10 minutes!

Read. (Seriously.)

Yep. Not joking. It keeps me grounded, even if I only read for 15 minutes a day. (If you have time, or during your daily block of just 15 minutes, read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck to start. Trust me, it’s the best.)

Use a meditation app (or just simply breathe) for 5-10 minutes a day.

I used to work in the service industry in a busy downtown restaurant in Vancouver, and there were days where I had 12 tables at once, which is completely outrageous. When I felt overwhelmed and freaked out, I would stop at the till where I was entering in orders, close my eyes, and breathe for a few seconds. It was kind of incredible how well that works!

Now I use the app that came with my Bellabeat Leaf (a pretty step-tracking device) when I have a few minutes of free time and I actually remember. You might not think breathing and being mindful helps, but if you take it seriously and you give it a chance, it really does help!

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Get enough sleep and make sure you have a good pillow!

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to sleep lately, because well, I suck at it apparently. I keep waking up groggy, sore, and hating mornings. I discovered my pillow was REALLY bad, so I found a new pillow that I decided to splurge on (it’s amazing, by the way – the Xtreme Comforts Memory Foam pillow on Amazon) and it helped a lot. Like, the first night I slept on it was like a dream! And it’s been consistent since then.

Besides that though, I tend to get between 6-7.5 hours of sleep each weeknight, and for me that’s not enough, even though I’m sleeping better.

It’s important to get enough sleep, because it helps you physically but it also reduces stress. Have you ever noticed how freakin’ bitchy you are when you’re tired?! I know I can be awful. So take care of yourself and get a MINIMUM of 7 hours a night at least on average.

Even if you think you can get more work done if you stay up late, it will not only reduce your efficiency that night, it will also effect your work the next day.

I hope these tips help you out. I know they’re all things you KNOW you need to do to take care of yourself, but you struggle to do them. (I know I do!) So choose one or 2 of these things to incorporate into your life and practice doing them. You’re not going to do it consistently right away, but any improvement is a good improvement!

Do you have any more ideas? What do you do to take care of yourself when you’re really busy? Share in a comment below!

This article was originally published on FlightandScarlet.com.

Take some time away from the stress and team up with a vina to hit up a local yoga class! 

 

HOW TO TIME BLOCK YOUR DAY—(AND WHY YOU SHOULD!)

You have a gazillion things to do at work, at home, and even for fun. You’ve tried to-do lists, using trackers in a bullet journal, even just using productivity apps like Wunderlist and Trello. Nothing. Freaking. WORKS.

Yes. I know. I have literally tried all those things, myself, but I finally have the answer: Time blocking.

Time blocking is perfect for managing your work tasks (I use it to plan my blog and Virtual Assistant work), but it’s also great for managing time at home, including meal planning, cleaning tasks, and other personal activities. 

I recently realized that the adage “time is money” is totally true. While we all think that money is the most precious thing in our lives, the truth is our time matters and how we choose to use it can determine how successful our lives will be.

Well-established people know this and will spend money on outsourcing certain tasks— stuff they don’t like or aren’t good at, so that they will have more time for achieving their goals. Whether that is spending more time with their family, taking time out of their day to focus on health and wellness, or building their business. They use the time blocking technique to keep track of their day-today tasks.  

So, the big question is: if we gave up one hour a day of video games, lying around on our phones, or watching Netflix, what could you do with that time?

You could start building a dream business, working out to finally get healthy, read a book to replenish your mind, spend quality time with your partner, or kids… the point is, you could be working towards those big goals that you never seem to have time for.

The magic trick? Time blocking!

With time blocking, you basically make an entire list of every single thing you need to do, and then you block out time each week to get those things done. You learn to dedicate time to long-term goals and focus on one thing at a time. You’ll limit your time, so you will work more quickly and efficiently, getting the things that less interest you done in minimal time and giving yourself more time for the stuff you actually want to do.

Time blocking will ultimately teach you time management. If you have only 20 minutes to clean the bathroom, focus on the more big, important things, like the toilet and shower, instead of obsessing over the small things. No more wasting time on trying to get everything just right. You’ll learn to be more realistic.

I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like you’ll be stuck in a rigid schedule, and you might hate that idea.

Here’s the thing: you’ll gain more flexibility because during your free time (blocked out free time, of course) you won’t end up having to run around and take out the garbage, pick up dirty clothes, dust random things, etc. It’ll all be DONE so you can just enjoy your time with your friends and family! (Or just yourself. That’s important too.)

But… how do you do it?

1. Make your list, and then prioritize.

You may want to do this over a week or two, so you don’t miss anything, but start with maybe 15 minutes right now and then keep adding to it. Your list could include house stuff, work stuff, or both. Here’s what mine looks like (in no particular order):

  • Laundry
  • Writing blog posts
  • Writing newsletters
  • Emails/business-to-dos
  • Client work
  • Updating old blog posts & adding new Pinterest images
  • Mastermind meetings
  • Cooking
  • Budget meetings
  • Movie night (with friends)
  • Date night
  • Work (at schools)
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Dusting
  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Working out

Then, you prioritize all of it. What’s most important for you to get done each week? Arrange your list it in that order.

Next, allocate your top tasks to certain days a week. I usually choose three top items to do each day, but you can probably go with three or five. Three is just more realistic for me because after I get home from school, I don’t have a ton of time.

Write those top three daily items down in your daily planner, if you have one. (If you don’t, we highly suggest you invest in one.) Those are the tasks you MUST do each day. Any others are bonuses!

2. Block time for your tasks.

Once you have a planner, pull it out! It’s ideal if you’ve got a weekly calendar of some sort, because you aren’t just going to tell yourself, “I’m going to work out for one hour on MWF.” You’re going to SCHEDULE it, which means you’ll need something to schedule with!

Start with filling in blocks of time that are non-negotiable. For me, it’s my work days at school. I usually block off 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., including travel time. I won’t be able to get any blog or housework done during that time, so I plan around it.

Then, start blocking in time for other tasks.

For nearly everything, I usually give myself one hour for each task, or even half an hour. If you give yourself more than that, you may find you become inefficient—not only because your mind will get tired, but because if you think you have tons of time, you’ll start wasting it! (Guilty as charged… I used to check my emails every 10 seconds and waste HOURS until I gave myself only one hour to write blog posts!)

If you have a big project, like cleaning out your closet, just break it up. Allot one hour a day instead of one big four-hour chunk, and you’ll be much more efficient. You’ll also avoid feeling overwhelmed!

The point is, in your one hour, 20 minutes or half an hour, you set a timer and you race against the clock to get it done. When you know you only have so much time, you’ll prioritize within your tasks too. For example, if I give myself 15 minutes a day to clean the bedroom, I’m picking up clothes off the floor, making the bed, folding clothes I haven’t done yet… and not worrying about wiping the fan blades. That can be done once a month or every few months instead.

So, block your time and make a schedule!

As an example, here was my time blocked schedule for today:

9am-9:30am: Email & to-dos
9:30-10:30am: Breakfast, getting ready for the day
10:30am to 11am: Write newsletter
11:15am: Doctor’s appointment
12pm-12:30pm: Email & to-dos
12:30-2pm: Write blog posts
2pm-2:30pm: Mastermind group meeting
2:30pm-3pm: Lunch
3pm-4pm: Post edits, graphics, scheduling
4pm-7pm: Client work
7pm-11pm: Personal time!

Buffer & Strategic Blocks

The orange buffer-blocks are something I learned from the 12 Week Year. They are 30 minutes to 1-hour blocks for my ongoing list of random to-dos and for checking emails. Emails are HUGE time-suckers so it’s important to set specific times you check them, and only check them during that time! These blocks keep me from doing random tasks during other time blocks, because if I have something random to do I just add to my list and wait until my next buffer block to do them.

That 3-hour Strategic Block I have scheduled for Thursdays is also something I learned from the 12 Week Year. It’s a time block I use to work towards big business goals without distractions. In December, I used those three hours to work on my new product, the Millennial Life Planner. In January, I used it to focus on Pinning Perfect, a course about Pinterest I took to help with my blog’s marketing. This is the ONLY block that I give three hours to, and even during that block, I usually took a break every hour or so to refresh my mind and stay efficient.

It’s sort of incredible how quickly I got through both of those projects by implementing this strategy. (I highly recommend reading The 12 Week Year). 

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3. Set alerts on your phone, even if you use a physical paper planner.

If you’re not a paper & pen person, this is perfect for you. You can do your planning on a calendar app and set alerts for each block, but even if you are a pen & paper person, setting alerts are quite helpful! 

If you schedule your calendar on your phone, you can set it to alert you 5 minutes before your next task so that you have a jump start to prepare yourself. DO NOT give yourself more than 5 minutes to finish up, or you’ll risk running into your next time block, and ruin your productivity.

(Again, guilty as charged. These are lessons I’ve learned myself so don’t make the same mistakes!)

4. Do NOTHING but the task you’ve assigned during your respective time blocks.

No matter what, do not let ANYTHING distract you during your blocks! This is the hardest part, but it’s the most important!

If you block your time for meal planning, but instead you check your email, go on Facebook, empty the garbage, do the dishes, or anything else, you may have gotten random things done, but you totally skipped meal planning! The priority task need to be prioritized. 

If you find that you keep doing random tasks and being distracted, take a look at your list and reassess your priorities. What’s MOST important to you?

If nothing needs to change there, then look at your time block schedule. Did you forget to include time for those random tasks you keep doing instead? Make sure you give yourself enough time each week to get the most important things done, and then fit in your other daily/weekly/monthly tasks around those.

Something that may help is to keep a master list of random to-dos that you can do during a Buffer Block, or something similar. That way, when random stuff does come up, you have a list you can work on during a dedicated time instead of feeling like you never have time for that.

Remember: You need to focus 100% of your energy on the task at hand if you want to be productive. Distractions take away from your goals.

5. Expect to make some mistakes & use them to improve.

Your first time trying this, you’re going to screw up, but come up with solutions, instead of dwelling on your mistakes! Practice makes perfect, or close to it.

If you struggle with focusing on one thing at a time and constantly check your phone, then move your phone into another room. If you get distracted when working online, always work in one tab, or two if necessary. Use a service like AntiSocial to block distracting websites like Facebook, YouTube, and BuzzFeed. Clear your desk so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Listen to music to make tasks you don’t enjoy, more fun!

If you have a fail day where you just kind of ignore your time blocking — which you will, it still happens to me from time to time — don’t stress yourself too much trying to catch up! Just cut your losses and move on.

And that’s it! Here’s a quick review:

  1. Make your list, and then prioritize each task.
  2. Block time for your most important tasks on a weekly/hourly calendar.
  3. Set alerts on your phone, even if you use a physical paper planner.
  4. Do NOTHING but the task you’ve assigned yourself during your time blocks.
  5. Expect to make some mistakes & use them to improve.

Do you have any tips on time blocking? Share them in a comment below!

(This article was originally published on FlightandScarlet.com.)

Hectic schedule? Join VINA to easily make friends while time blocking your busy day.