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Your Go-To Guide for Meal Planning

Let me set the scene: It's 5:30 pm, and you're leaving work. You're hungry, but you have no idea what's for dinner (or if you even have food at home at all!) I've been there. You think "A quick stop by Chipotle will give me dinner AND lunch for tomorrow. surely that makes more sense than going to the store and then cooking." I completely get it. But once you start adding up those Chipotle and Panera runs, your wallet thins out pretty quickly!

Meal planning and prepping often gets a bad wrap because it seems overwhelming, but I'm here to share my best tips and tricks for those of you who are looking to make progress on your nutrition goals this year. I'm calling this a go-to, grace-filled guide to meal planning. So what's the point of meal planning? It's two-fold, not only will planning and prepping your meals give you control over what you're putting in your body (goodbye weekly Chick-fil-a trips!), but it is also much more economical. I'm sharing my best tips below, but it isn't an exhaustive list. I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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If you follow my #TendingListTuesday updates, you'll know that "Plan and Prep Meals" has been a weekly goal for months!

Set realistic expectations. It wouldn't feel fair to write this post without starting with this tip. One of my best pieces of advice is to set realistic expectations as you start meal planning and prepping. There are going to be times when you rock your week–you'll do all the organizing, prepping, cooking, and come in under budget to boot! But there will also be times you eat an entire pizza instead of saving some for lunch and you find yourself at Food Lion the next morning buying Spaghettio's for lunch...🙈  Give yourself grace, and remind yourself that you can and will make progress each week.

Invest in the right containers. I've found that having the right containers and tools is essential to meal planning and prepping. There is nothing worse than making a batch of quinoa, putting it into a Tupperware container, and then ransacking your kitchen looking for the lid. I used my recent move as an opportunity to throw out my old plastic containers and invest in some new glass containers. I'm able to easily divide leftovers into lunch or dinner portions for the upcoming weeks. I recommend starting with a set to see which sizes you use most frequently, then buying a few extras individually. My favorites are from Ikea (here, here, and here), but there plenty of other options out there, too! Budget tip: Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals are a great time to stock up!

Create a bank of easy, go-to meals. Pinterest and your favorite blogs are a great starting point, but I like the idea of crowd-sourcing, too! Use your social feeds to ask for your friends' favorite meals, and ACTUALLY RECORD THEM SOMEWHERE. Whether it's a cute recipe box or digitally on your Pinterest board or Google Drive, make sure these are all aggregated in one spot so that when it comes time to choose recipes you can be efficient. If you aren't a recipe follower (ahem, me!), then create a typical shopping list for the week, and bookmark it somewhere. This is my favorite shopping list template, and I use it week after week to avoid overbuying.

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Here's this week's meals for me. You'll see that it's pretty simple and there are a lot of leftovers. I didn't add breakfast since I'm eating the same thing–yogurt, homemade granola, and berries.

Know yourself, your family situation, and your lifestyle. I'm a notorious meal-repeater. I typically eat the same breakfast and lunch for two reasons. It saves me from decision fatigue, and it saves me money because I'm only cooking for one person. If I want to mix things up, I'll split a Hello Fresh delivery with my boyfriend for some variety. Depending on your family situation, your meals will likely look very different than mine, and that's okay! Budget Tip: Email me if you want to try Hello Fresh, and I'll share my referral code for $30 off your first Hello Fresh box.

Schedule a weekly meal planning session. Take 30 minutes one day per week to plan your meals and shopping list. I spend time Sunday afternoon planning my meals, and it's a breeze and prepares me to go grocery shopping. My typical agenda is below, and while it might seem long, it rarely takes more than 30 minutes:

  • Look at your calendar or planner and decide how many meals you need for the week. Consult with your spouse, a roommate, or children's calendars to make sure you on the same page. For example, some weeks I have my book club and won't need to plan for dinner. I typically write out my weekly meals in my Simplified Planner, and from there I can see any gaps. Tip: don't forget about snacks here! I plan for two snacks during each workday.
  • Check your freezer and pantry. Are you out of staples? Do you have food that is about to expire and you want to use? Figure those things out now so you can choose your meals accordingly.
  • See if there are any sales at your typical grocery stores. I do all of my shopping at Trader Joe's (there are no sales), but this can inform your meal planning for the week. Tip: You can easily view your local flyer for most stores online.
  • Plan out your meals. Using the recipe bank you created above and starting with breakfast (it's the easiest!), plan your meals and snacks for the week and write them down. Whether it's in your planner or on a notepad on your fridge or in your calendar app, make sure you can see what's on the menu.
  • Make your shopping list from the meals. Write down everything you need for the week, and be sure to stick to it. Tip: If you're prone to forget your list or aren't heading to the grocery store until later, go ahead and take a photo of it, too.

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Head to the grocery store. Grab a snack, your reusable shopping bags, and get to shopping! This isn't required, but I like to add a rough estimate of prices beside each item so I don't have sticker shock when I head to the register. When I get home, I immediately unpack my groceries and start chopping, prepping, or roasting things as necessary.

Incorporate these steps into your PowerSheetsIf you're starting from scratch, add "Create a bank of recipes" to your monthly goals next month. Maybe you add "Meal plan and prep" to your weekly goals. Whatever it is, writing it down will help keep you accountable! Tip: Use the grocery cart sticker from our sticker book to add some color to your PowerSheets!

Whew! That was a long post, but I hope it was helpful. Now it's your turn; I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share any tips or favorite recipes you have! I don't claim to be an expert in meal planning and prepping, and I'd love to learn from you!

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Saying No Is Okay

How do they do it all?

If you're anything like me, you've probably asked yourself this question about your friend, that inspiring lady you follow on Instagram or the perfectly-put-together girl you see next to you at your barre class. I know it can be easy to make assumptions about people we follow, particularly on social media, but we've learned that every yes is attached to a no. In order to say yes to what matters in our lives, it means saying no to some surprising things. We're sharing a few surprising things we say no to, and we hope it encourages you to prioritize what matters most to you, and say no (or not right now) to the rest!

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I say no to painting my nails, washing my hair every day, and switching up my accessories. Wearing the same necklace, earrings, and rings every day means that's one less decision I have to make in the mornings! -Emily

I say no to more than one hang out with a friend each week. This may be my introvert speaking, but limiting my free time available to hang out with friends means quite a few things to me: I have a small (but closer) group of friends who I am comfortable with all of the time, I have to do less manipulating to our meal-plans and dog-walking schedules with my boyfriend, I save money that would go toward food or drinks or gas, and I feel totally refreshed and ready to hang out with them and then tend to myself by limiting my time out. -Nicole

I say no to planning elaborate and meat-filled meals during the week. Not only is it time-consuming, it's expensive to cook a variety of food for a single person. Instead, I have a pretty consistent rotation of small and inexpensive meals that I eat regularly, most of which are vegetarian. I use get-togethers or date nights in to flex my cooking skills and eat some meat. -Jess

I say no to traditional dinners and meal prep (for now). Our family is in a season where my husband is traveling often and most weeks I'm single parenting. I've grown weary trying to fit the grocery shopping, kid pickups at two different locations, making sit-down family dinners, bath and bedtime in the two and a half hour time window that I have between pick-up and bedtime (our kids' school time starts super early, so they have 5:30am wake-up times). I'm leaning on services like Shipt to have groceries delivered. It adds a few dollars to our monthly budget, but it has been such a huge stress relief and time savings that it is worth it for me. I'm giving myself grace that this is just a season for our dinners (I love to cook and have family gathered 'round the table). -Amber

I have been saying no to using my car and choosing to walk instead! For example, it is a 15-minute walk to the grocery store, and I am able to carry two bags of groceries on the way back. Because I'm only buying for myself, I have found it easy to get some extra steps in, save a few dollars on gas, and still be able to manage to carry my groceries on the way home. It also keeps me from sneaking a pint of ice cream into the cart because it might melt on the way home! -Kaylee

I say no to social media on the weekends! I've been taking social-media-free weekends for over six years, and it has been one of the biggest blessings for my heart, my marriage, and now my family. On Friday, I delete the apps from my phone so I'm not tempted to choose them over connecting with the people I love. -Lara

Tell us below: What surprising thing do you say no to? We'd love to hear from you in the comments, and your words could be encouraging for someone else!

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How To Use Stickers In Your PowerSheets and Planner

If you've seen my PowerSheets or calendar on Instagram, you know that I'm a big fan of my favorite black pen. A year ago, I probably would have scoffed at the idea of using color in my planner or PowerSheets, but I've been converted after using our Cultivate What Matters Sticker Book for the past eight months! I'm here to share some of the ways I use stickers in my PowerSheets and Simplified Planner, and I'd love to hear from you, too!

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PowerSheets Prep Day Stickers: We've said over and over again that we created our sticker book to be intentional, and I'd argue that this is one of the most intentional stickers in the whole book! I add a PowerSheets Prep Day sticker to my planner on the last Friday of each month to remind me to prepare well for the month ahead!

Establish a monthly planning day. This doesn't have to take a long time, but try to spend an hour at the beginning of the month looking at your calendar and PowerSheets. Tip: Do it right after you finish your PowerSheets prep for efficiency! Mark any upcoming birthdays, appointments, meetings, bills, coffee or play dates with stickers on your monthly calendar spread so you can visually see what's in store for the month. This will help you see the whole month at a glance, and prioritize or reschedule if you find one week is filling up faster than others.

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Keep the stickers accessible! You won't use the stickers if they aren't near your PowerSheets or planner, so keep them together! I tore the page of stickers you see above out of my book, and I keep it in the front pocket of my planner. If I add a meeting, appointment, or get a bill notification, it's easy for me to add that to my calendar right then and there!

Use them to celebrate. Celebrating often conjures up this grand idea of throwing a party, going on a trip, or spending a lot of money, but what if we celebrated in a smaller way (and more frequently!?) While filling out my August PowerSheets, I decided that I wanted to try to use some of my stickers to mark my progress this month. I'm going to start by using the shopping cart sticker for my weekly goal of meal planning and prepping. Each time I put a sticker on my PowerSheets, I'll be reminded of the little by little progress!

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Have fun! Don't take yourself too seriously! Use the stickers because they are exciting and help you focus on what matters, but don't get overwhelmed by making it look perfect! This is your planner, not a work of art! If you put too much pressure on yourself, you'll never even start!

Now through July 31st, everything in the Cultivate Shop is 25% off–no code needed! If you're as big of a fan of the sticker book as I am, now is the time to stock up. We are releasing a new sticker book at the end of the year, so when this one is gone, it's gone!

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Making Things Happen is Happening in 2018

We're thrilled to be releasing tickets for our 2018 Spring Making Things Happen Conference in Chapel Hill, NC on March 19-20, 2018!

The Making Things Happen Conference is unlike any other conference. MTH is the work you do before investing in other conferences. Before you take action on what’s important to you, you have to know where you’re going. This intensive was created to give you a solid foundation and action plan. It was created to help you simplify and gain direction. One of the most tangible ways I can describe MTH to you is simply this: MTH is like PowerSheets in person.

I know there are many of you out there who weren't able to get a set of 2017 PowerSheets. While they're not exactly the same (obviously, the price point is quite different!), we truly believe that the experience of attending the Making Things Happen Intensive is similar to walking into a set of PowerSheets–but far, far better! We often describe PowerSheets as a guided coaching tool, but at MTH, you actually DO have a guide and a coach: Lara Casey herself and a group of accountability partners.

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Photo by Amy Nicole Photography

I know what you're thinking. "That sounds great and all, Jess, but March 2018 is months away and I can't afford to think that far ahead."

Allow me to politely respond with this: You simply can't afford NOT to think that far ahead.

MTH is about digging deep, establishing priorities, uncovering a purposeful vision for your life and business, and discovering how to make what matters most happen. Making Things Happen was founded on the idea that you have the choice to change your life. This time is an investment in you and your future. We prioritize what is important to us. Register for your seat today, add it to your calendar, and plan to be there with us!

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Our Encouragement Crew gives the best welcome hugs! Photo by Carrie Joy Photography

You can read much more about Making Things Happen, as well as testimonials from our most recent class of attendees, here. If you'd like to learn more, we'd also encourage you to watch the replay of a previous webinar with Lara and a few MTH alums from all different backgrounds to see if the experience might be right for you.

If you're on the fence, now is the time. We intentionally chose not to host a Fall 2017 MTH, which means we have friends who have been waiting upwards of a year to register for Spring 2018. I have a feeling this might be the quickest sell-out, so don't delay in registering. Payment plans are available.

Questions? Leave a comment below and we'll happily answer them!

P.S. We're giving away a scholarship seat in memory of one of our dear long-time friends, Yvette Price, who embodied all that we teach at MTH. She was courageous in her battle with cancer and made what matters happen despite great challenges. She grew what would last longer than her: a whole lot of love and joy in the lives of others. In her honor, we're excited to give away one seat to either an alum or new attendee. This scholarship is for the full ticket price not including travel or accommodations. Enter to win the Yvette Price Scholarship over on Lara's blog by July 31st!

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How To Enjoy Reading

If you've spent even just a few moments with me, you'll know that I'm quite a bookworm. My favorite summer memories involve participating in the summer reading program at my childhood library, and Belle was (still is) my spirit Disney Princess. She has me at the yellow ballgown and her heart-eyed face when she saw the Beast's library; it was meant to be.

Anytime I talk about my unashamed love for reading, I'm often met with rebuttals like "I wish I liked to read" or "I don't have time to read." I'm not an expert by any means–there are friends who read dozens of more books each year than I do–but these are some of my best tips to help you cultivate a love of reading. When I posed this question on Instagram stories, I got more than 70 responses with your favorite tips (many of them already favorites of mine!) Thank you for sharing, friends!

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Make time for it. Simply put, you make time for what's important to you. I could be in the busiest season of my year (looking at you PowerSheets launch season), but I'm still going to find time to talk to my boyfriend. Why? Because he's important to me. The same is true for the other things in my life. Reading is important to me, so I've made time for it. I've added it to my PowerSheets Tending List, and it's been a game changer. Set aside 20 minutes each day to dive into your book. It doesn't matter what time of day as long as you are making time for it.

Find the best way to consume your books for your lifestyle. Reading has evolved so much in the past decade, and there are a variety of ways to consume books nowadays. From audiobooks to e-books to hard copies, the possibilities are endless. Gone are the days where reading means curling up on your couch. I've listened to almost as many audiobooks in 2017 that I've read because I often find myself in the car for long drives.

Keep a list of what you want to read next. Keeping a list will eliminate decision paralysis when it comes time to choosing what to read. I take screenshots of recommendations, add books to my Amazon cart (but try not to buy them!) or library queue. Knowing I have a few places to go for suggestions when it's time to choose my next book is so helpful!

Find a buddy! One of my goals for the coming year is to start a book club! Because everything is better with a buddy, and wine :) The accountability of knowing you have a reading buddy or book club can often be the fire you need to finish whatever book you've been reading.

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Always keep a book with you. Download the Kindle app on your phone. Keep a book in your purse or car. Set yourself up for success and use the small pockets of time throughout your day efficiently. I never regret the moments I choose to read a book instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media.

Track what you've read. Tracking your progress is fun and motivating! It's one of the reasons we updated 2017 PowerSheets to have a progress bar! I keep a private Pinterest board for books I've read each year since 2015. I love having books in one spot (where I can see covers, too) when someone asks for a recommendation. Others mentioned Goodreads, which I've heard great things about, too!

Read what you love. Don't guilt or trick yourself into reading something you aren't excited about. If you like reading non-fiction, read it (more power to you!) If you're a fan of young adult novels, go for it (and let's talk!). You'll never be motivated to finish a book if you feel obligated to read it. With that said, give yourself permission to put a book down if you just aren't into it.

Now it's your turn! Leave a comment with some of your favorite books! I'd love to add some titles to my TBR (to be read) list!

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