Meal tip Monday – let’s talk hosting styles

I know that a lot of people just don’t ever have people over because they think they have to be a good cook or baker.

Wrong – you don’t.

I think it’s more important to know what your hosting style is and embrace it.

this friend loves the hosting but buys all the food

If you’re only comfortable buying food, then embrace it. I have hosted people by cooking and by not cooking. Recently I hosted book club and I really intended to cook and bake (from scratch!) but I was SO BUSY with work I knew I just couldn’t add anymore stress to my life.

So I bought crustry bread, a rotisserie chicken, salad and an apple pie which we had with custard. It was delicious and not at all stressful.

I’ve also hosted book club at someone else’s house who had a bigger garden (for physically distancing purposes) and ordered pizzas to be delivered to my friend’s house. I also ordered online shopping of dessert, salad and drinks and that was that. No stress.

this friend loves to bake, and baked both the Swiss roll and shortbread

If I really want to see people socially but we’re not very good friends yet, I invite people for tea and cake. I usually serve tea/ coffee and muffins, or I buy a pie from my local grocer. At Christmastime, casual gatherings are tea and Christmas fruit mince pies. So easy but still says, “I value your company and friendship and want to see you.”

However, if you like to cook and bake, then you embrace that too. Use the fact that you’re hosting to try a new recipe you’ve wanted, or invite people over as the impetus to try something new, kind of like inviting people over to spur you onto clean the house 🙂

By the way, if you don’t like to have people in your house, invite people over to a park. This is not my style because I don’t like the sun or the outdoors, but I know many who consider this method their favourite type of hosting.

What is your hosting style?

In South Africa, at the time of writing this post, only about half a million people are fully vaccinated. We are still meant to be meeting only outside, in well-ventilated spaces with physical distancing in place.

Meal tip Monday – how to plan for busy nights

Are you enjoying this focussed series? I didn’t want to announce it as such in case it brought up my inner rebel (!) but really, that’s what it is.

If you’ve missed the previous posts, here you go:

cook a double batch

know your style

Let’s talk about planning for busy nights. This might seem obvious but sometimes, and I know this is true for me, I’m planning the menu for the week without looking at my calendar. In South Africa, we have plenty of loadshedding at the moment. These tips work well for those nights too.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Check your calendar!
  2. Write in the nature of the busyness on your actual menu plan. For example, “late meeting/ 7pm Zumba/ school meeting, etc.”
  3. Think through if you have any freezer meals that will work and defrost them early.
  4. Alternatively, buy a rotisserie chicken on the weekend, heat it quickly and serve with rolls or crusty bread, and a salad. Chicken has the advantage of being good whether eaten hot or cold.
  • My Zumba nights are our standard “busy nights” on the menu as I arrive home at about 7:30.
  • For these nights I plan a “make your own ________ ” night. Burrito bowls work well because everyone helps themselves and the toppings can be prepared and set out beforehand.
  • Alternatively, I pop a complete meal in the oven and my family retrieves it via a timer and serves themselves. Any baked pasta or enchiladas is a good idea.

Which are your favourite tips for busy nights?

Meal tip Monday – Know yourself

One of the secrets to menu planning and meal success is to know yourself. But not only to know yourself, to accept yourself.

Let me give you a few examples:

  1. you might be a cook who likes leisurely weekend cooking sessions but hate the haste of weeknight cooking, or the opposite
  2. you might like the fact that you have to get a meal prepped and put on the table within 30 minutes because the torture is then done
  3. you might be a batch cook once a month and a heater-upper of food
  4. you might be an excellent assembler of random food (do you remember Cher in Mermaids?!)
  5. you might be an excellent orderer of food, or picker-up of convenience meals at the grocery store on the way home

Why is this important?

You know what works, you accept that this is who you are, and you remove decision fatigue thinking through options all the time.

I’ve shared before on the blog that my mother-in-law lives alone and hates cooking (although she’s good at it!) so she cooks four-portion meals for 5 nights every month, eats one and freezes the other three.

These meals change according to the seasons (soups and casseroles feature more in winter) but this system works really well for her.

She doesn’t concern herself with what other people are doing, or that others (like me) would be bored eating the same meal every Tuesday for a month. It works and that’s it.

I am a combination of a Saturday afternoon/ Monday evening leisure batch cook but I also like the competitiveness of getting a meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. I love variety (more on this later) so I like a combination of mixing up some freezer meals with one or two freshly cooked meals too.

The great thing is I know I’m never ever going to like cooking complicated meals so if I glance over a recipe, see that it’s complicated, I can swipe through with wild abandon. No, not for me.

What is your meal planning style? Have you accepted it yet?

I’m actually going through slight boredom with my meals at the moment. Any quick and easy winter meals that you recommend? I would love to hear because I’m tired of chilli con carne, curries and bolognaise. And if you have some tried and tested, easy chicken recipes, I would love those too.

Meal tip Monday – cook a double batch

While I enjoy cooking, I don’t like panicked cooking when my family is hungry and waiting and I have to produce a meal – and quickly.

I therefore strongly believe in cooking a double batch whenever I can.

It takes just a little bit longer than cooking a single batch of your meal – you already have the chopping board out for your vegetables so you might as well chop just a bit more onion or carrots. Instead of adding one can of tomatoes, add two, and so on. Double up on the meat portion.

The magic happens after the meal is cooked though. You have enough for tonight (or tomorrow, as I do it) and another meal for next week!

Which meals translate well to cooking a double batch?

  1. Baked pastas (surprisingly!) but the trick is to not leave it to thaw out on your counter the whole day unless you like soggy pasta. Defrost fast in the microwave and bake it in the oven.
  2. Curries
  3. Chilli con carne
  4. Bolognaise sauce
  5. Enchiladas

Do you cook double batches of meals? If you haven’t tried yet, this is your nudge to do so this month.

PS My mother-in-law has taken this up a notch. She lives alone and cooks 4-portion meals during one week a month. The next three weeks of the month she just pulls out what she feels like eating to defrost it. So clever!

Weekly planning – should you or shouldn’t you?

I started off with the question in the title because we are all different.

I can definitely say that weekly planning helps me in my life, but I recognise that we all prefer to do things in different ways.

If you’re very happy with your current non-weekly planning process, I’m delighted! However, if you feel like things could work a bit better here and there, then, as I always tell my coaching clients, test it and see. At the most, you’ve had two weeks that were more structured and a learning that the exact way you did it wasn’t optimal for you. But who knows? The opposite is also true – you might love something and never stop doing it (menu planning for me the last 15 years).

If you do decide you want to play with weekly planning, here are some ideas you can try planning:

  • meals (supper, or all meals) for 5 or 7 days – put down some ideas and pick from your list every day
  • exercise days – my gym requires that we book our classes to avoid capacity issues
  • connection time with family and friends
  • personal goals – like reading a book or working on your photos
  • house goals – organising your clothes
  • work/ side hustle projects

Please note all of these are just ideas – the thought of doing all of that might overwhelm you. Don’t let it. Pick what you want and leave the rest.

I know that Laura Vanderkam recommends one goal in three areas every week: work, personal, and relationships.

If you don’t like those three categories, choose your own 😉

Who’s ready to try weekly planning? Which categories are important to you?

Other posts on weekly planning:

{Mindset} Establish your personal policies, or decide once

A few months ago on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast (episode 296 – 21 October 2020), one of the topics was about establishing a personal policy. I loved this podcast episode because it was a reminder to me that

  • I have personal policies
  • I’m happier when I heed them
  • We all have some things we do that make sense to us

It reminded me of the Lazy Genius, Kendra Adachi’s book, The Lazy Genius Way, which I read and loved last year.

One of her principles is to Decide Once.

Decide once is setting a personal policy.

In Lazy Genius language, I decided once that I don’t attend baby showers so it’s an easy decision when I receive an invite to politely decline the invite.

About a month ago, Kendra put up a post inviting people to post how they decide once. The 1744 comments are GOLD. A couple that I love are:

one lady does all phone calls on Thursday mornings only. Genius – you don’t have to have phone dread because you know you’ll take care of things on Thursdays.

another lady changes her contact lenses every time she gets her monthlies so she doesn’t have to remember.

some people have the same gift they give to teachers or for new baby gifts.

The reason I like personal policies is because I love boundaries.

I like people boundaries and I like things boundaries.

Some people boundaries:

  • I don’t attend baby showers. I buy a gift but I hate all the ladies playing silly games (at least that’s how it goes around here).
  • During Covid, I will only meet up with people outside. All book clubs are outside or on Zoom, and when people have come over, we’re outside too.
  • My kids can only have playdates on Friday afternoons. It’s a set time for them so they don’t have to ask continually “can X come over?” They know Friday is the day and arrange their schedules accordingly.

Some things boundaries:

  • If something doesn’t fit in the space, it’s time to declutter until the things fit comfortably again.
  • I decided once what I wanted to save every month, set up an automatic payment and I don’t have to think about it again. When my salary increases, I increase the payment a bit, but that’s the extent of my thinking about money.
  • I have a standard bring-along to a meal if we are invited over to friends. I say, “I’ll bring a chicken” and I bring a rotisserie chicken from a nearby bakery. I also get them to cut it up for me so it’s easy to just arrange on a platter.

Over to you:

Can you name some of your personal policies?

If you honestly don’t have any, where could you incorporate a couple to make your life run more smoothly?

{goals} My quarterly goals update

Gosh, we’re one week out from the end of March which means it’s time to review our quarterly goals and set some new ones.

First , a review in case you missed it earlier on the blog:

Quarterly planning
Monthly planning

What went well for me this quarter?

  1. Exercise – regularly doing Zumba twice weekly and my Barre class started up again mid-Feb
  2. My #read21in2021 is going so well. I just set the timer, pick up my non-fiction book and read. I’ve finished nearly 8 books already this quarter (my goal was 6)
  3. House projects – the bathroom reno, fumigator has been, window cleaners are booked for Monday (this is one of those things that people don’t mention when you buy a house on a hill) and we’ve ordered a canvas for our stairwell. 

What could be improved?

  1. I’m still working on setting better boundaries around work
  2. Need to book next holiday so we have something to look forward to
  3. Friend stuff – I can’t build connections via text or whatsapp. I’m phone burnt out 😮 and need to speak on a real phone or look people in the eyes and not via a screen.

How are your quarterly goals looking?

Why don’t you join me and set aside some time in the next week to jot down some goals for the next quarter?

{mindset} What are the three things you need right now?

It’s already starting to feel like spring in Johannesburg and as we approach the new season, I thought this might be a good time to remind all of us (I love seasonal reminders) to think about 3 things daily, 3 things weekly and 3 things monthly that we need.

3 things daily

Every day I ask myself, “which 3 things do I need to or want to get done today?”

On Sunday, my three things were to update the budget, cook two meals and finish reading my book.

On a workday, it’s usually the most important work tasks and will sometimes include a load of laundry or making a phone call.

Is there a habit you want to build in daily? Name it and write down just one.

3 things weekly

Those of you who’ve been here a while know that I’m a weekly planner. I love weekly planning because if I have one terrible day full of work surprises or an unexpected headache, it doesn’t derail my entire week. I can get back on track and will usually get those things done another day.

I usually have 3 main weekly tasks – this week that was to 1) write a newsletter, 2) write a blog (this one!) and to 3) send out a final note to all the people on my interested list of the last EVER Four Tendencies workshop.

What are your weekly tasks? Is it to make a menu plan and shop for groceries, to make sure there’s enough clean clothes, to make a weekly phone call to a loved one?

I usually have house tasks, personal tasks and work tasks on my weekly list.

3 things monthly

I want to talk a little more about this because it’s about being honest with yourself. I’ve been working too much and I realised that I don’t seem to have an off switch, because the laptop’s right there….

 1. I need to consciously work at shutting off and not popping into my email to “quickly check things”. I’m going to have to set a reminder on my phone to stop working and perhaps pack the laptop away until I break the habit.

2. I also need to move more regularly; I do have my regular Zumba classes but I could easily add another class to the weekly schedule. I’m happier and calmer when I move my body.

3. Last but not least, I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. I can’t run the workshops I ran last year, but I can run a virtual workshop. I can’t connect with people in person but I can coach on Skype and Zoom. I can’t go eat out at a restaurant like before (we are still being very careful, e.g. we went on my birthday), but I can try many, many recipes right here at home to experiment with ingredients and new flavours.

What do you need right now? 

Do you need to work on drinking more water, getting more sleep, having a set start and stop time for work, connecting with a real life friend instead of scrolling Instagram, switching the TV off at a decent hour every night…?

There’s something powerful about speaking it aloud to yourself or comment and I will see it.

{goals} 3 things to consider if you want to create a habit

We all thought that while we were in lockdown, we’d have all the time in the world for all the things we wanted to add to our lives. But we forgot that we’d need to work longer hours, guide our children with their schooling, cook, clean and do more laundry and dishes than we ever dreamed possible.

Sometimes it amazes me that even though I’ve been creating (and breaking!) habits for years and years, I still don’t think through and plan things properly when I want to create a new habit.

And yet, when I do take just a few minutes to plan, it works out so much better than just winging it.

Some habits are more long-term like creating an exercise habit, some are medium-term like working on a project consistently for a determined period (building a website or getting a writing project up and running) and others are for a short time like a month (the photo challenges I participate in on Instagram come to mind).

Think about a good habit you want to build. 

Let me now share 3 things to consider if you want to create a good habit in your life:
 

1. Frequency
What is a realistic frequency to consider?

For a new exercise habit, 2 – 3 times a week might work better at first in starting to build a sustainable habit. Decide what would be an easy enough frequency to incorporate into your existing life, not your fantasy life. It is easier to increase frequency later once a habit is already established than to find the motivation to start up again if you burn out from going too hard too soon.

2. Energy
When is my energy highest for this type of activity?

If you want to create more time to make delicious meals, consider your energy levels. You might be willing, able and excited on a Saturday afternoon, but not on Wednesday evening after a day of meetings. Consider also the different types of energies required for the various activities – writing a blog post or reading requires a different energy than exercising, for instance.

3. Pairing
Which activity already occuring regularly is something to which I can attach my new habit?

Susannah Conway’s August break is now upon us. It’s one of my favourite parts of the entire year because for my entire birthday month, I get to be mindful and introspective. My natural flow is to move forward quickly but I’m a better me when I slow down occasionally and reflect. When Susannah announced the challenge a few weeks ago, a commenter mentioned that she always starts and then forgets after a few days. I couldn’t help replying with a tip that works really well for me – I screenshot the prompts and save the picture as my lockscreen. Whenever I then reach for my phone, I see the prompt (pairing something good with something automatic) and I start thinking about what to post. I have another pairing habit later at night – when I have my evening cup of tea, before I start reading my book, I quickly post my prompt.

If you have a habit you want to create, might I suggest that you put just a few minutes of thinking into it so that you set yourself up for success. You can do it!

Bonus tip

It probably goes without saying but using your Tendency’s strategies for success will help you embed habits in your life. If you’re not sure of your Tendency, or you do know but you’re not sure how to use it with regards to successful habit formation, either come on the last workshop with me, or book a private Four Tendencies coaching session (currently $60 for 60 minutes).

{Covid-19} How we do meals during lockdown

Let’s talk about lockdown and meals. I have been responsible for all but 4 – 5 meals during the last 83 days. The 4 – 5 meals were when we ordered in.

Part of that is a control issue (I do like to plan and cook the meals, and make sure than we don’t eat the same thing too much), part of that was a logistics issue (I am better at getting things done in the short time after work and when we want to eat) and part of that is a planning issue (at the start especially, there was so much that wasn’t available and food needed to be used up to make sure nothing went to waste).

Very soon though, I realised that after more than 8 hours of sitting at a desk, I enjoyed the chopping and slicing, combining, and flavouring. Doing things with my hands enabled me to use other parts of my mind and body. Is it the same for you?

Breakfast

Everyone is on a different schedule so does their own thing. I have noticed that during winter, my husband’s been preparing enough oats for him and the kids (I don’t eat any mushy food – I like my oats toasted and hard, like in granola). Friends, if people take over tasks in the house, say nothing!

We have variations on cereals like all-bran flakes, muesli, yoghurt, toast, etc. Nothing fancy or cooked.

Lunch

I usually loosely plan lunches – sandwiches with tuna, eggs, cheese, ham (when it was warmer), sometimes leftovers, etc.

I usually make the kids’ lunches – they are quite capable but I am not a fan of cleaning up after them as they don’t see all the crumbs, etc.

Suppers

I definitely make a menu plan. The menu plan is loose so I often swop meals around within the week, or abandon something altogether if I’m not in the mood to cook that meal.

Of course, as always, I run a very tight freezer inventory because I hate forgotten food and I love using up things. I’m a finisher.

On the weekends, I prepare that evening’s meal plus at least one extra. E.g. while I’m cooking pasta, I’m assembling enchiladas for the freezer. Sometimes the extras even run to two extra meals, which really helps during the week when I don’t have much time. Long-time readers will know that I always advocate cooking a double batch. When I did those enchiladas, there was enough filling for two meals – yay!

Working during this pandemic has been relentless and I’m afraid I’m not very good at switching off (yet) without a hard deadline like a Zumba class, so it helps when there are healthy meals in the freezer.

I always love cooking during winter so it’s been fun to experiment with the occasional new meal and to try desserts.

One thing I will say – I have not once baked banana bread or even been tempted to make a sourdough bread 😉

What’s been your lockdown meals situation? Have you been eating out of your freezer and using up food? Would you say you’ve eaten better (healthier) or not so much?

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