I have a thing with words. There are words I absolutely love to say - like banana (strange, perhaps, but saying it aloud tickles my tongue and usually has me smiling). But there are also words I downright dislike.
Self-care is one of them.
I never much thought of the word ahead of becoming a mama. But since having my girls I’ve been told countless times to practice self-care. I’m not saying the advice is bad. We very much should take time out of our lives to care for ourselves.
My issue is the pressure that comes with self-care.
It’s as if it’s not enough to get everything done at work, while making sure I stay on top of caring for my girls, the responsibilities at home, enjoying time with my partner, and being there for my friends. I need to also make time to get my nails painted or my shoulders massaged.
Granted these things do make me feel good. They just come at a cost.
A cost on my time and my emotions. I’ve sat in many a salon chair anxiously thinking about all the things I could or should be doing instead of indulging my beauty regime.
Then, while attending a women’s networking event, one of the panelists was asked the perennial self-care question. Her response: lunch. Yes, as simple as that, she explained because self-care doesn’t always have to be about pampering oneself. Instead, it’s about investing in daily maintenance.
Like you, I’m sure, I’ve gone through countless days when I haven’t eaten enough, let alone well enough. On those days, I usually end my day hungry and hangry - a mix that never bodes well for anyone. Plus, I end up eating easy and tasty treats that offer very little in the nutritional department and left me feeling unsatisfied and depleted.
After a period of feeling depleted and burned out, I resisted the urge to get a manicure and opted for the gift of lunch. It takes a bit of planning and a dose of discipline, but the results are well worth it. My health, my productivity, my patience and my wallet have all reaped benefits.
If you’re looking to get into the brown bag habit, you’ll want to be sure it’s easy and manageable for you. Here are some ways that can help:
1. Look beyond salad
I’m not a fan of traditional salads. Sure you can throw on protein or fancy dressings, but at the end of the day a bowl of green leaves just isn’t going to satisfy me. When I tried to fancy up my salads with this, that or another ingredient, I found it was taking me far too long to prepare a lunch that was most likely going to have me running for a tastier snack by 3pm.
So, I did a little research and created a list of lunch ideas that sounded tasty, and were quick and easy, too. This way when I was feeling stumped on what to make, I’d look at my list and give a new one (or a tried favorite) a try.
2. Double up on your kids’ lunches
With two working parents, we don’t have a two-dinner household. There just isn’t time to think up two meals or host two dinner shifts. I took this thinking and lunch philosophy to the lunch hour. If it’s good enough for my kids, why wouldn’t it be good enough for me? So, now when I’m making lunch for my girls and it’s something I’d enjoy, too, I make an extra one just for me.
This may mean that I pack similar things in my lunch as I do in their bento box: avocado, hummus, carrots, fruit, tuna salad with lettuce on bread, with goat cheese or peanut butter and crackers to round things out. Yogurt is also a great kid lunch food that can be great for lunch or a snack for adults.
3. Soup it up
I’ve always enjoyed a warm, hearty soup. It’s comforting. Plus, it’s a great way to get in my veggies. Other than a little bit of work prepping your ingredients, soup’s also a pretty hands off process. Especially so if you have a crock pot. So every couple of weeks I will throw the ingredients to a favorite soup in the crock pot and set it before I go to bed so it’s ready for me to take a bowl’s worth in the morning. I always make much more than I need just so I can freeze smaller portions to take for lunch another day.
A cup of soup with beans can be a low-calorie way to fill up cheaply and in a satisfying way if you are a vegetarian and tired of just lettuces being the basis of your lunchbox.
4. Find a lunch buddy
Food is always best shared. It’s even better if you’re sharing the prep. All it takes is finding a willing partner and creating a schedule on who will provide lunch on which days. On your days, you create two lunch servings - one for your buddy and one for you. And, on her days, you do nothing but enjoy lunch catered by someone else. You get a break and you get to try something new that you may not have considered before.
It really can be as easy as packing up the previous night’s leftovers. If it’s a dish I really enjoy, I make a little extra and pack it up for the next day’s lunch. I admit, I also do this when I order in. As good as homemade is, sometimes I just want something different for lunch. The trick is finding dishes that reheat well or can be enjoyed cold.
Pasta salads that are heavy on vegetables make me feel good and are a healthy lunch that are light on calories, as are chilis or anything you can wrap in a tortilla. Rotisserie chicken can be turned into chicken salad the next day in your lunchbox and can easiliy be made into two meals.
If you're already a bring-your-lunch kinda gal, tell us your secrets to making easy, unboring lunches.
Lisa Durante is a working mama who believes in the power of AND. She offers the strategies and insights, as well as resources and programs to help you design a career and life that works for you as a working mama. Get new tips and free resources every week LisaDurante.com.
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