How I Structure Meal Planning, Cooking, and Leftovers

I love food. Like really, really love food. I read recipe blogs (for fun), discuss favourite foods at greath length with friends and family, reminisce about best meals, and, above all, love eating.

That said, food is a lot of work: from keeping a running list of what needs replacement in the cupboard, to shopping at the store (or sitting in the curbside pickup line), to putting things away, to prepping and serving food – and don’t forget cleaning up after it’s all over. In many parts of the world, for women at least, acquiring water and preparing food are the predominant activities in their lives.

We have a lot of time-saving advantages in the West – many of which are arguably very detrimental to our health (I just finished Hooked, a book all about food, free will, and how food giants exploit modern consumers).

For the most part, I prepare the food we eat from scratch. This takes considerable time, but it doesn’t have to be prohibitive (I spend a lot less time in the kitchen than I used to). I buy most bread products, though we’re pretty low consumers in that department. But I make all our soups and casseroles; I chop the veggies and hardboil the eggs and cube the cheese. I’m getting a bit better at letting myself spend money on conveniences – I did buy pre-sliced cheese for the kids lunchboxes this year – revolutionary – and have bought some Zoodles (getting bits of zucchini out of a spiralizer is about as fun as ironing in my opinion…and ironing ranks right up there with getting a root canal).

Meal planning

I don’t have a specific meal-planning schedule. I tend to plan things out for the week ahead on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but this is usually just a rough sketch. I shop sales – and try to use seasonal veggies – so often base our menu off what is available/economical.

I think one of my biggest tricks has to do with a predetermined culinary bent – I love to eat the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I prepare a broad range of dishes and enjoy experimenting with new recipes, but I rarely get tired of rotating standard favourites.

Back when I was completing my undergrad I ate the same thing 90% of the time for breakfast: an English muffin with peanut butter and banana. I never once got tired of it. Last year I went almost a month eating the exact same salad for lunch every day. While I prioritize making healthy meals, I don’t necessarily aim for novelty. I rotate about 15(ish) primary meals and have another dozen or so that I cook less frequently. For me holidays and special occasions have their own pre-set menu, and most of those dishes are unique to specific times of the year.

For day-to-day inspiration, I enjoy the Pinch of Yum and Ambitious Kitchen websites; Oh She Glows cookbooks are wonderful, even if you aren’t pursuing a plant-centric diet.


My part-time work schedule can be quite flexible and since COVID, I work exclusively from home. What I’ve found works best (and something I instituted last year for the first time): setting aside 2 hours twice a week (I did this from 9 – 11 AM on Tuesday/Thursday mornings) for cooking. I haven’t stuck with this over the summer – when our schedules and menus change dramatically anyway – but plan to go back to the same system this fall.

In those two hours I’ll prep veggies for lunches, make a soup that’s destined straight for the freezer, prepare a different soup (but one that shares some of the same ingredients) for supper that night and prepare some protein (a chicken, for example) that will get used a few different ways during the week.

I’d say this new system has halved the time I’m in the kitchen. It is a MESS by the end of the two hours, but I usually get 4-5 items (several mains, several sides/a baked good, and some lunchbox prep) completed in those two hours.

While I might not always have a specific menu in place at the start of the week, it does follow a predictable pattern:

Monday (a day I don’t cook): I pull something from the freezer. Sometimes this is frozen leftovers, and sometimes this might be a dish I’ve prepared to go directly in the freezer. If it’s something like meatballs, I would cook rice and warm up a veggie, but nothing that involves chopping or pureeing. Minimal effort is key.

Tuesday (a day I cook): this will be a more involved meal. Sometimes I’ll cook the whole meal up in the morning (like I might actually prepare a stir-fry and then refrigerate it). Sometimes, though, I’ll just get the components ready in the morning and cook them fresh at supper time. These meals tend to be heartier and more involved. I always make sure to cook extra – either for the freezer or for Wednesday…

Wednesday (a day I don’t cook): leftovers. This will be a mish-mash of what’s in the fridge, typically a combination of leftovers from Monday/Tuesday evening.

Thursday (a day I cook): again, this is a fresh meal. Ditto Tuesday’s directive.

Friday (a day I don’t cook): Waffle day! I know this is traditionally pizza night in many households, but last year I started making a new waffle recipe. The kids and I usually go sweet – peanut butter, fruit, and bit of maple syrup – while John prefers savory (topped with bacon and eggs, for example). I almost always prep the waffles in advance (in that 2-hour cooking spree on Tuesday or Thursday morning; they refrigerate and freeze well).

Saturday and Sunday: These are date nights at home; John usually cooks or orders takeout, so I’m off the hook. One of these nights the kids will eat leftovers from Thursday/Friday, and the other night they usually have some fun and fast item (boxed Mac n’ Cheese, scrambled eggs, homemade pizza, toast and fruit).

I happen to enjoy cooking and while I can find it all overwhelming at times, I don’t really want to eliminate the responsibility from my life. I get pleasure from experimenting with new recipes and like knowing what’s gone in to the items we’re consuming.

That said, cooking is definitely something that can be outsourced with zero guilt! Delivery/take-out, meal-delivery baskets or skipping some steps (pre-cut veggies, pre-sliced cheese for the win) to expedite the process are all great workarounds!

Don’t Quote Me: Food, And the Choices I Make Around It, Do Not Indicate My Worth As a Human

There is no cheating, there are decisions. There is no failure, just consequences.

Food, for many of us, is a very weighty subject (in every sense of the word). How much we eat, what we eat and where (take-out in front of the TV; sitting around a table with family), how we eat (quickly, emotionally; slowly, mindfully) – these can occupy significant mental headspace.

It’s tempting (and can, in some cases, be helpful) to carefully examine our own behaviours around food; it can be easy to start labeling patterns as good vs. bad, healthy vs. unhealthy. While choices do matter very much, what, how, where, and when we eat does not have to be a statement about our worth or significance. It doesn’t have to be some damning aspect of our personality that defines us.

I love this quote from Melissa Hartwig Urban’s (the co-founder of Whole30) book Food Freedom.

You do not cheat; you make a choice. You do not fail; you make a choice. Your choices do not define you as a person. There is no guilt, shame, or punishment, only consequences.

Imagine, for a moment, that your food is just food, and that your choices are just choices. What you eat is not a statement about your self-worth, your value, or your significance in this world.

Melissa Hartwig

Imagine – food being just food, choices being just choices.

Food for thought indeed…

What Do Your Kids Eat: Q&A

How could I do a week of food-related posts and not wade into the murky waters that is feeding children. I feel like I have relatively little drama to report, but it’s always interesting to see how different families navigate the potential minefields associated with nourishing finicky eaters.

What do your kids eat?

Peeling some garlic for a cilantro + avocado dressing.

Mostly they eat what we eat. This was our plan as soon as they started eating solids. But, there are definitely some caveats to that.

While we rarely cook a separate meal for our kids (except on Saturday and Sunday evenings when John and I have an in-home date), their relative serving sizes of various items can vary. Saturday or Sunday they’ll tend to have something easy and “kid” friendly like boxed Mac n’ Cheese or Naan-bread pizzas or cheese omelets, and the other supper is typically leftovers.

Occasionally I’ll make a meal that’s, how shall I put this, not their “favourite” (trust me, they use much stronger language in describing it). If there are leftovers and I can’t bear the thought of fielding endless complaints and a 50-minute timeline for eating 6 bites, I’ll let them have something different in place of the leftovers (it’s typically something delicious, like a Thai stir-fry, they’re balking at, so larger servings of the leftovers for the adults is a good thing).

What if they refuse to eat something?

We’re largely past this stage. At 6.5 and 10.5, while they might voice a strong opinion about something, the worst they do is complain. Occasionally someone (ahem, the 6-year-old) will refuse to eat a particular meal – this usually requires some perfect storm of a less-preferred food item + some emotional response (tired, fighting with his older sister). We tend to not make a huge deal of this but will give a timeline that the food will be available. After that point, the kids are expected to wait until the next meal. When they were little we used to say: “Well, hopefully, you like the next meal more.” Between the two of them, a handful of meals have been skipped over the years – no one starved and they have pretty solid eating habits.

Mains are enforced, sides are not

One child adores olives, the other hates them. One tolerates raw bell peppers, they make another child gag – literally. I try to have options. I like to incorporate things they don’t like in ways that are more palatable (I make a chicken curry with cooked, diced bell peppers and no one complains; I’ll dice up mushrooms in chili and no one notices). If we’re having a roasted chicken and there are two vegetables, I’ll let the kids chose only one if they like.

they eat a lot more gluten, dairy and sugar than I do

It is a PB&J summer for them, after all. After completing a Whole30 (see below), I don’t think anyone is dramatically impacted by any specific food group.

They eat toast once a week or so; their cereal is “healthier” but still comes with sugar added. While they may naturally eat less gluten/dairy/soy/sugar than some of their peers simply because I avoid most of those things in my cooking – I don’t stop them from consuming those foods, especially when out and about.

I do try to at least temper their access to sugary treats, but it seems every event (camps, potlucks, meals with friends, the never-ending stream of birthday parties) comes with some dessert option and for now I let them go with it. I have a hard time resisting homemade sweets so my solution has been to dramatically reduce the number of homemade sweets I make. But they still have lots, and lots, and lots of treats.

2021’s birthday cookie cake.

what about elimination diets? did they do the whole-30 with you?

Last year I cut out caffeine, dairy, soy, peanut butter, garlic and gluten for almost 3 months. The only major culprit I could isolate was garlic – how ironic, as I LOVE garlic. I did not have the kids adhere to any of these changes (aside from the fact that I wasn’t making shared dishes with soy sauce, peanut butter, garlic, etc). But their school lunchboxes stayed the same, they still had dessert, peanut butter on toast, and milk on their morning oatmeal.

When we did Whole30 last June, the kids came along for the ride. It went remarkably well (though I didn’t feel great, likely in large part due to the excessive and daily consumption of garlic, which I’ve now isolated is a real trigger for me?!). The ONLY struggle was cow’s milk. Oats are considered off-limits for Whole30, and almond/cashew/coconut milk just did not meet muster for one child. We all survived it, but there were a few tears over the one month off cow’s milk for said child (who, also ironically, had a dairy allergy as a baby).

How do you get them to eat things they don’t like?

My goal as a mother is not to inflict culinary misery on my kids. I don’t want them to grow up feeling like they have to like everything and I think there are some challenges from my own childhood that are rearing their head now in my eating habits (not being able to detect hunger cues, feeling the urge to clear my plate at EVERY meal, despite fullness, to access dessert).

That said, I try hard to make meals that are healthy, engage their palate, but don’t directly interfere with their likes/dislikes. Left to their own devices, neither of my kids would take veggies with their meatballs and rice. But it’s non-negotiable for me. My kids eat salad and curry and, yes, even stir-fries every once in a while. They don’t ask for a different meal because that has never been the expectation (they do, however, sometimes complain about what’s on offer).

The preschool program both kids attended as youngsters would ask each child at meal times: “Would you like a lot or a little.” A little could mean one green bean from the backyard garden, but it was all about trying new things. I think giving kids a sense of control, while concurrently nudging them to try new flavours and gain experience in curating a broad palate, is an important part of growing up.

I also don’t think that having a picky eater is necessarily an indication of future preferences. I didn’t have a broad palate as a child (though I did have to eat what was put in front of me) and now love a huge range of foods that would be foreign to my parents. My father cannot wrap his head around why anyone would eat sushi, for instance. Also, I once went to a delicious Indian restaurant with my brother and parents. My Dad took one bite of the basmati rice and said “This tastes like cardboard.” For some context, I grew up on Minute Rice…

What COULD use some tweaking?

My eating habits are always evolving and, at this point at least, this has very definite impacts on the kids. They eat nutritional yeast and nori and banana ice cream and drink sparkling water because the adults in the house – who have the buying power – do.

There are always improvements that can be made both in the food itself and consumption patterns. I definitely eat too fast. The kids are a bit slower, but I think we’d all do well to pace ourselves and enjoy the process of eating a bit more, allowing our food to digest and our conversations to grow (the sad reality is a delicious meal that took 2 hours to prepare, can take 5 minutes to eat).

I’m curious to see what food preferences crop up as they get older and develop more mature palates. I’m aiming to give them a good foundation – and the rest will be up to them.

My Food Habits Through the Years: What’s Changed & What I Eat Now

Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Food sustains us physically and mentally. It provides the energy we need to lead productive, healthy lives, but also offers a sense of community, security, and cultural identity (at a national level and within core family units).

But, sadly, food has also come to represent struggle and guilt and corporate greed. The fact that access to food and clean water can be prohibitive for so many on our planet is appalling. Waste, power struggles, and the ravages of famine and war create a complicated web of motivations and consequences that lead to these shortcomings. And, of course, individuals that are already marginalized bear the brunt of this cascade.

I wish I could fix all the woes of society. I can’t (He can!), but recognizing the issue is an important first step both individually and collectively.

I love that my neighbours put out baskets of free (no-spray!) home-grown veggies from the surplus of their garden. I appreciate that I live in a part of the country where farm markets and vegetable stalls show up in happy clusters everywhere – a dozen within 5 minutes of my home – with relatively affordable prices on fresh produce, with some of the excess donated to local food banks. I’m glad my local grocery store reduces produce that is past its prime so that bag of wilted spinach can get a new life in my pot of chili instead of ending up in a dumpster.

None of these solve the world’s problems, but they’re all steps in the right direction. Food, and our relationship with it, can be messy – at both geopolitical and personal levels. I’ll deal with the latter from here on out.

WHAT Did I eat Growing Up (0-17)

My mom was a very traditional cook: meat, potatoes, and vegetables formed the basis for most meals. Food was largely cooked from scratch, though things like condensed soups were in regular rotation for casseroles. Mom was a good cook, and I still love and crave many of the dishes from my childhood.

But, portions were large and dessert was served at both lunch AND supper. There were stints of cutting back on fat or using things like Splenda to artificially sweeten things. Weight was a perpetual struggle for several family members. I don’t remember any discussions about healthy eating, other than things like butter and eggs were seen to be Critical Enemy #1.

I ate heaping bowls of Fruit Loops for breakfast with impunity, there was always ice cream in the freezer, and we drank Kool-Aid and Tang and Pepsi (Diet, of course).

But the bread was always homemade, we almost never ate fast food, and we rarely snacked between meals – all behaviours that stick with me today.

middle years (17-25)

When I left home at 17 for university (goodness I was young), I hit the jackpot – though at first I thought I’d been punk’d.

Because I was so young my parents wanted to make sure I maintained the security of a home environment. A few phone calls later and I was living in a small, lime green bedroom in an old home with creaky floors alongside a widowed 82-year-old fidgety (and sometimes cranky) woman named Dorthy.

Turns out, Dorthy (or Dot, as I called her) was amazing. A feminist who enjoyed her daily libations, she could run circles around me. Between bridge clubs and birthday clubs and church clubs and movie clubs, she practically needed a private secretary to organize her schedule. She had a sharp wit, always wore bright red lipstick when she was leaving the house, and happened to do my laundry for me. Also, she was a fabulous cook.

I gained an appreciation for butter (I grew up on margarine only) and steamed vegetables (always, always boiled at home). I learned to control portion sizes (smaller plates, slower eating). I ate quiche (yech) and brussels sprouts (surprisingly delicious) and curried chicken (yes, please) for the first time. Dessert was served occasionally, without any guilt or artificial sweeteners.

Next up was 1-year sharing a house (and kitchen) with two middle-aged ladies. I ate a lot of eggs. I can’t remember much else in terms of food from that year aside from eggs – usually microwaved – on a toasted bagel with ketchup.

Then marriage! The bliss of our own tiny apartment kitchen. We were both finishing Master’s degrees and money wasn’t exactly growing on trees. We bought concentrated juice that was basically sugar water, ate Kraft Dinner, and had dessert frequently. Where was Dot when we needed her?

what i eat now (25-)

Breakfast in bed Mother’s Day 2021; I rarely eat breakfast, but it was worth it for a banana with PB + raisins + walnuts. A slightly refined ants-on-a-log. And coffee; Daddy helped with that.

My eating habits have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Micro-adjustments have added up to fundamental shifts in my ideology around food. I’ve had some testing for food sensitivities which has coloured my experience. But mostly I’ve (though this is also a collective family journey) listened to my body (and the scale) to isolate what foods serve my health.

I’ve tried Whole-30 (twice), gone on trial elimination diets (cutting out coffee, gluten, soy, tomato, garlic, peanut butter, dairy). I’ve tried keto (which doesn’t work for me) and intermittent fasting (which definitely works for me). After years of tweaking and trying different things here, in general terms, is what I embrace and avoid:

  • I eat relatively little dairy. I developed a lactose intolerance after the birth of my first child and never drink cows milk (oat and coconut milk for the win!). I’ve gone months abstaining from all dairy, but am at the point where occassional dairy is fine. I consume butter regularly, but have also made ghee (butter with the milk solids removed) which is delcious but seems like an unnecessary step for me at this point. I have ice cream a few times a month, and a few cubes of cheese once a week or so if it’s in the house.
  • I eat relatively little wheat. I’ve been tested for gluten intolerances and have gone off gluten (and all grains) for stretches of time, but don’t have any major reaction to wheat. I just don’t feel great after eating baked goods and bread, so I avoid them most of the time but definitely not all the time. This ebbs and flows (I consume more of these items in the summer and around Christmas for sure!).
  • I drink relatively little caffeine. My primary drink is water. I have coffee (with oat milk or a soy creamer) a few times a week, unless I’m on vacation when I drink it daily. I’ll drink a decaf chai tea a few times a week. Over time it really starts to upset my stomach and I can get a “crash” from the caffeine that is counter-productive to the stimulant effect.
  • I eat a relatively high-fat diet. I eat nuts almost every day. I eat eggs and butter and fatty fish and avocados and, occassionally, bulletproof coffee. I eat homemade salad dressings with olive oil. This is counter to everything I knew growing up, but my cholesterol levels and overall health has definitely improved.
  • I watch carbs, but not in any formal keto-style. I try to eat fruit daily and consume lots of starchy vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes with soft fried eggs is one of my favourite meals, day or night). I don’t eat many crackers or bread products, but if I do it’s typically corn tortillas for wraps or I’ll eat tuna salad scooped out onto sweet potato or rice crackers. I eat some rice, but relatively little of white potatoes or pasta.
  • I eat a lot of soups, stews and chowders. I find this to be a great way to get lots of vegetables in to my family. It’s also easy to prepare soups ahead of time; they freeze well and heat up quickly for leftovers.
  • I eat a lot of eggs. Eggs are so versatile (scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, omlette-style), my whole family loves them, and they’re quick to prepare, yet are very filling. I eat eggs almost every day.
  • I eat a moderate amount of modified baked goods (that rely heavily on oats and coconut flour). Most weeks I make a modified version of this muffin, using less than 1/4 cup brown sugar (or dates); I make a banana bread that has no sugar added and uses coconut flour (which I enjoy just as much, and find almost as naturally sweet as my old recipe that called for 2 cups of white sugar!!). “Dessert” can be as simple a handful of dates with a gob of almond butter on each one. Around birthdays and special celebrations I do revert to family-favourite recipes: carrot cake with cream cheese (lactose free helps my tummy) frosting, cherry cheesecake, ginger cookies. But, for the most part, I don’t bake that much.

Generally, I don’t eat anything until around lunchtime. I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue for years, in part due to anemia, and skipping breakfast (high treason in my house growing up) seems to really help with metabolic regulation/energy crashes. But for lunch/supper, here are the sort of things I would consume in a typical week.

  • Tuna salad, kippers (smoked herring); occassionally some shaved turkey or ham
  • Spinach + veggie salad (usually with this as a dressing, using no soy sauce and about 1/2 the maple syrup – this dressing would be good on an old shoe. Love it!)
  • Roasted veggies (zucchini, sweet potato, bell peppers, cauliflower/broccoli)
  • Eggs (in any style!)
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Fruit – fresh apples, berries, bananas; dried figs, dates, or mango
  • Homemade sushi (a dollap of rice, a few slivers of veggie, a bit of filling – crab or smoked salmon – all hand-rolled up in little sheets of nori).
  • Chicken mango curry or stirfry over rice
  • A soup of some sort
  • Oatmeal – bowls of oatmeal topped with peanut butter and fruit, or these waffles.

While I don’t adhere to any specific diet (I don’t see any one food, or food group, as inherently “bad”, but know there are some things that just don’t serve me well physically or mentally), I’m so happy with how my journey with food has progressed.

There are some detours – I ate s’mores and homemade rolls and Mac n’Cheese and lemon pie on vacation – but that’s okay. Detours are a lot easier to navigate when you know how to get back on the main road.

Why I Didn’t Step on the Scale in June (And Only Once in July).

I’ve been monitoring my weight for longer than I care to remember. I struggled with being overweight for years; some of it was genetics, some of it was family lifestyle (a carb-heavy diet, dessert after every meal), but most of it was the fact I would sneak Thermoses full of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream to my bedroom at night.

I’ve come a long way from the ice cream addiction of my youth (I rarely eat ice cream now; though I have been known to covertly eat a Mars bar in the kitchen after I’ve just told the kids they can’t have a snack – shhhh).

Over the last decade or so I’ve completely re-invented my diet and have become an almost daily exerciser (well, with a brief and necessary pause, that I’m now in the process of exiting). And there have been results.

I now weigh nearly the same as I did when I was 12 years old (I am a healthy weight for my current age; I was not a healthy weight at 12). My cholesterol, an issue that has plagued me since childhood, is the best it’s ever been. I can run 5 km and carry on a conversation.

But I still keep a close eye on that scale. Some habits die hard.

I love food and gravitate towards it. Something to celebrate? Where’s the food? Something making me anxious? Where’s the food? Sad, happy, and every emotion in between calls for a round of sushi, a plate of cheesecake, a waffle piled high with fruit and chocolate, or a bag of deliciously salty, crunchy chips.

While I love food, I’ve made steady progress in improving my “relationship” with it. Are there regressions? Sure, but they’re fewer and farther between and I try to make it a conscious decision – say in the case of summer vacation. I’m getting better about tuning in to emotional responses, saying no when I’m not hungry, eliminating unnecessary snacking, and finding healthier alternatives to foods I used to crave. Things like coconut flour, sparkling water, dried figs, and nutritional yeast were definitely not in my culinary vocabulary as a child.

Yet I still follow that scale. I’ve recorded my weight in an app hundreds of times over the last 6 years. And for years this served me well. It helped me establish good routines surrounding eating and exercise regimes, held me accountable to these habits, and allowed me to better assess how different inputs affected my body. But lately…

If I looked down and saw a number I liked – on top of the world all day, applauding my good choices and willpower. See a number I dislike – well that was becoming a cue for discouragement, wallowing in guilt even if I’d been eating healthfully.

In the midst of a global pandemic and all the detritus of ordinary life I just had enough.

So, in June, I didn’t hop on the scale. Not a single time. The first day of July I ventured on, didn’t love the number, and stayed off the rest of the month. Likely a good idea – I went on an exercise strike and consumed far more carb-heavy home-cooking than normal (both conscious decisions).

Now it’s August. The scale has been an impartial tool for me this month. As I dive back into familiar, healthier habits, tracking my weight is serving as a helpful barometer again. But I’m willing to stop when it doesn’t. Because the number on the scale – or in the bank account or in the “likes” on an Instagram post or in the friends count on Facebook – is not a reflection of worth. We are, every single one of us on this planet, of incalculable value.

Casual Friday + Life Update

  • July was tough. I’m processing and adjusting and using the challenges as an impetus to rethink my priorities. It’s all a work in progress and that has to be okay.
  • We’re back at the lake. I felt tense and tired and irritable the first few days – a ball of emotions all tangled up in one giant, exhausted, jumbled mess – it took time to unwind, with a few relapses along the way. A long, late-afternoon nap one afternoon helped. I made and ate my annual s’more; I roasted hotdogs and marshmallows and toasted thick slices of cinnamon raisin bread over a morning bonfire. I went fishing, made sand castles, and helped the kids build several “forts” in the woods. I watched hours and hours of Olympics coverage. I also ate sugar, much more of it than usual, as I let myself enjoy Mom’s homemade chocolate cookies and apple crisp with wild abandon, snacking on handfuls of her famous Nuts-and-Bolts. I drank coffee – lots of it – carting thermoses to the beach, in the boat, and on fishing expeditions to the marina.
  • Two of my favourite bloggers, Sarah Hart-Unger and Laura Vanderkam, have been talking about comparison lately. It’s a topic that warrants attention; we’re innudated with near-constant opportunity to compare these days – from mansions on Instagram to the perfectly manicured mom standing beside us at Tuesday evening soccer practice. My summer weeks spent at the lake all sound idyllic – and so many elements are – but I still felt the heavy weight of exhaustion no amount of coffee was ever going to completely counteract. We all want to put our best foot forward and I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. When we name the good in our lives it can buoy us and inspire others, but amidst the daily consumption of this material it can be nearly impossible to remember there is always, always more to everyone’s journey than their highlight reel – look no further than Simone Biles.
  • I continue with my exercise strike. One morning I woke up and said to John: “I cannot believe this time last year I would be up before 6:30, heading out for a run.” I’ve never had my body revolt in this way; not only do I not have the energy for exercise, I’m lacking all drive/compulsion to do so. Typically a daily exerciser, usually I start to crave it after a few days off. Current status = preservation mode? I know I’ll get back in to the routine, but it does feel strange and definitely is a wakeup call to just how tired and rundown I’ve become. That said, my recent combo of sugar + no exercise will have to be reckoned with eventually. Also, I can’t deny the irony of it all given my recent obsession with the Olympics which showcases the epitome of physical activity.
  • The kids fell in love with the Olympics for the first time this year. When Abby mentioned wanting to compete at the Olympics one day, I asked her what sport she’d participate in – “All of them,” was her confident and immediate reply. As I write this Levi is running laps around the house over and over and over, dripping with sweat, all in an effort to beat his “personal best.” I fell in love with the Olympics for the umpteenth time, as I do every time they roll around. I streamed live events well past my bedtime and checked headlines first thing each morning – not necessarily the best way to recupeate from burnout, but totally worth it. And watching Andre de Grasse take gold in the 200 m while my 10-year old was screaming at the screen willing him to carry his lead down the homestretch, well that was pretty awesome.

Here’s A Thought: Do You Binge or Savour?

Do you prefer to binge or savour?

At Christmas and on my birthday, I binge Twizzlers. Yes, Twizzlers. A huge part of the pleasure (for me) is to eat Twizzlers in large quantities. I feel minimal guilt – I eat very little candy the rest of the year – but that one package is consumed (almost exclusively by me) in about 24 hours. One piece of licorice is never enough. Yet, were I given an entire bowl of jelly beans, I could easily eat just one.

I binged Waco, but only allow myself one episode of The Great British Baking Show at a time. I’ve binged books in one night (regretting the decision early the next morning; though, for the right book, it’s totally worth it). When I recently re-read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I limited reading bouts to a single chapter at a time.

A few years ago I spent a glorious anniversary trip in Paris with my husband. There we binged on: art galleries, long walks, colourful storefronts, and fresh baguettes. We savoured: a van Gogh exhibit, our walk down the Champs de Elysses, a delectable eclair, filled with silky smooth crème pâtissière. One evening we spent several unhurried hours sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, watching the sunlight fade and surrounded by thousands of tourists and Parisians, the air filled with the scent of summer air and the cheerful sounds of music and laughter. Binge and savour.

My immediate family all have poor eyesight (except my Dad, who we joke got all the “good” genes…and now my two siblings who had corrective laser surgery); each year at Christmas my Mom would carve out time to sit in front of the Christmas tree, take off her glasses and glide in her rocking chair while the twinkling lights blurred to create a magical world reserved for the nearsighted. After binging on Christmas treats, concerts, presents, and family, this was an experience to savour.

Sometimes, the same experience can induce both binging and savouring. When we make our annual summer trip to my parent’s home at the lake, I binge s’mores but savour the campfire we toast them over. I binge sunsets, looking for them every single night, but then I sit on the beach and savour them.

Night after night – summer after summer – and it never gets old.

By default, I tend toward bingeing – books, food, sitcoms, activities. Sometimes I need to be reminded that learning to savour is a valuable skill. Slowing down to better appreciate: the moment, the person, the art, the food, can lend a whole new experience.

As Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, so wisely pointed out: there is a time for everything under the sun. There are times to binge and times to savour. Maybe, if you’re lucky and have eyes tuned for it, you can find opportunities to binge-savour your own “sunset” moments this summer.

You’re An Adult. You Can Give Yourself Permission.

Not long ago I stumbled across an essay written by a woman dealing with an esophageal burn. To promote healing and lessen the pain, she was asked to follow a soft-food diet.

With many staple foods no longer an option, she was forced to confront the slew of arbitrary rules she had assigned to her eating over the years. In time, through consultation with a dietician, she was able to switch her focus to finding foods that didn’t cause discomfort, which required disregarding many of those self-imposed restrictions. She writes:

“I had never eaten a pint of ice cream as a meal in my life; I was convinced this was some kind of food rubicon I would cross, and that afterwards, all my meals would become pints of ice cream.”

One day hungry, and stuck in traffic, she bought ice cream:

“I ate my fill of dulce de leche ice cream with a plastic spoon as it grew cool and viscous at the edges and felt like I’d won a prize. Literally nothing bad happened. Instead, two good things happened: I was no longer painfully hungry, and I’d had ice cream.”

While the article then turns to discussing the benefits of intuitive eating – an approach to food that involves consuming foods to satisfy hunger, without restriction or labeling foods as “good” or “bad” – I was struck by her final observation.

At the worst of my injury, friends would say enviously, Oh, at least you get to eat all this ice cream. But guess what: We all do, whenever we want.

Wait a minute? I can eat ice cream for supper? Say it isn’t so!

This reminds me of an article/podcast episode from Gretchen Rubin where she relays the experience of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. Ironically enough, this excerpt also involves an adult consuming ice cream in a way most would consider unusual (more specifically, unusual in the context of the unwritten “rules” of adult moderation). It also succinctly highlights that we adults have far more autonomy over basic decisions than we acknowledge or leverage.

As a side effect of mild anemia, I struggle with cold extremities; my hands and feet are perpetually frozen (ice blocks, my family calls them). I exercise regularly, bundle up, wear heated socks, use Magic Bags constantly, turn up the heat, wear slippers, and have invested in the best quality winter gear for Canadian living. But, at the end of many days, the only thing that can bring relief is a very hot shower. For years I would look forward to the evening so I could finally get warm, thinking longingly of just getting the kids to bed so I could get relief from the penetrating cold.

This year I had an epiphany. I could take two showers in a single day. I could take ten if I wanted to. There was no shower patrol limiting my access; no cutoff valve on the hot water tank that would cut me off after five minutes of gloriously scalding water.

While I don’t do it very often, on those particularly frigid days when I just cannot get warm – I take a second shower. And, literally, nothing bad has every happened.

Another example involves sleep. One evening my husband and I, usually very responsible about our bedtime, stayed up and binged the entire Waco mini-series on Netflix. It was close to 2 AM before we finished and I felt both horribly guilty and exhilarated. It felt like I had just broken some high-school-era curfew; when the morning rolled around and my elders learned about this, I’d be grounded for a month and lose access to the family car to boot. But, once again, nothing bad happened.

Truth is, I’m an adult. A perk – and curse – is the right to make a tremendous number of decisions. Most of the rules I project onto my life are completely my own construct.

I can eat ice cream for supper. I can have dessert before a meal. I can mix a load of light and dark laundry. I can say yes to that late-night conversation with a friend, even though it’s past my bedtime; I can skip my morning run even if I’ve got a 30-day exercise streak; I can decide not to give teacher gifts this year.

Mileage will vary on this; I suspect different personality types would find wildly different applications. And I’m not advocating for rampant embrace of unhealthy decisions. But I think we would do well to revisit the rules we’ve assigned and see if they are adequately serving our needs. Eating ice cream for supper doesn’t make me an unhealthy person…it just makes me a person who ate ice cream for supper.

I’m actually not a big fan of ice cream anyway…now Zesty Cheese Doritos are another story. But chances are, if I pick up a bag for supper tomorrow night, literally nothing bad will happen.