Strategies for Busy Families
As a mother of two little girls, a 3- and a 5-year-old, life gets busy quickly. Add on to that a full time job and busy can easily become hectic. For me, simplicity, structure and strategies for ease are essential to ensuring household sanity. This is especially so because you can’t predict unpredictability but you can be certain curveballs will come. The more prepared I am for what I know I can expect, the more bandwidth I have for everything else. So here are a few of my strategies for success.
Food - Use a portion of your weekend to plan ahead for the week.
- Create a meal plan—and corresponding shopping list—for the week. These can be saved and recycled. Start by marking out any special occasions for the week—school activities, work socials, holidays, parties, etc. Then fill in the rest. I have offered a few of our go-tos for breakfasts and lunches and you can find more in The Whole Foods Diet and our Meal Planner.
- Breakfast – I usually have three choices for our weekday breakfasts: oatmeal packed with fresh fruits like blueberries, strawberries, apples or bananas; toast with avocado and salsa or fresh tomatoes; and granola or cereal with a non-dairy milk. If choosing oatmeal, this could be made on a Sunday in a big pot or slow cooker and last for the week. The weekends get more creative and include pancakes, muffins, scrambles with hash browns, etc.
- Lunch – About half of our weekday lunches are leftovers – as is or repurposed. These include rice and bean tortillas, pasta dishes and veggie burgers. The other half are quick and easy and include pita with hummus, avocado, sprouts and tomatoes; beans, corn and salsa mixed together and packaged in tortillas; pasta made the night before mixed with hummus or tomato sauce; peanut butter and banana sandwiches; salad greens mixed with beans, baby carrots, corn, avocado and cherry tomatoes.
- Get the family involved in grocery shopping. We do ours on Sunday morning. Stores are not as busy and the girls get excited about Smoothie Sundays, a breakfast they have associated with the experience. Bringing them along and getting their help in collecting our foods for the week has allowed them to feel more involved in the process and more likely to eat the foods “they” bought.
- Cook ahead whenever possible. We like to come home from our grocery shop and get some basics ready for the week. Finger food vegetables are washed and cut up so you can reach into the refrigerator for cherry tomatoes, cucumber, celery, carrot sticks, bell peppers in a rainbow of colors, cauliflower cut into bit sized florets, etc. A grain of the week (rice, millet, quinoa) is prepared in a rice cooker. And we make a soup that will last through the week (split pea, minestrone, vegetable).
Life – Fill your “jar” with those things that matter most.
- Cherish your “yeses” and find your “noes”. With many opportunities and limited time, it is impossible to say yes to everything. Identify those activities, engagements and events that are most important to you and your family. These are the moments that enrich your life and make it full. Prioritize those and politely decline the rest.
- Let your autopilot work for you! Establish healthy behaviors that become routine. As Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do – excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Most of us don't think much about getting dressed every morning before heading out; it comes automatically whether we are sad, mad, tired or stressed. You can create similar routines around fitness, mindfulness and personal or family time by setting aside specific times of the day or week to accomplish tasks. Remember that you can start with small chunks of time first and build up when possible.
- Make sure to get your zzzz’s. The importance of sleep is all too often underrated. Everyday stressors contributing to physical, emotional and mental stress are only exacerbated by lack of sleep. The result is that we cannot function optimally leading us to make poorer decisions regarding our diet, our lifestyle and our overall wellbeing. To improve our choices, adequate sleep helps to enhance our functioning. If the choice is between tidying up the house, folding the laundry, paying the bills or getting enough sleep, I vote for sleep every time. When you feel renewed and refreshed, the tasks listed above can be done in half the time it would take when exhausted and burnt out.
- Find time for yourself every day. If you are burnt out and running on fumes or functioning purely out of obligation to the point of resentment you are no good to yourself, your partner, your family or your work. Take the time—even five minutes a day at first—to renew. This could mean a few stretches, listening to your favorite song or sipping a cup of tea slowly and deliberately. You will be paying it forward in productivity, fulfillment and reconnection.
There are always exceptions to the rules we make for ourselves, which is expected. It is for this reason that optimizing your health and wellbeing on every other occasion becomes that much more important. So whenever possible, live smarter (not harder) by putting strategies in place to be successful day-to-day.