Healthy Banana Bread (that’s 21 Day Fix Approved!)

Healthy Banana Bread that's 21 day fix approved. No sugar. No butter.

Okay, so I really love banana bread. And my mom has this great recipe that is SO not healthy, but man, it’s good. All the buttery, sugary goodness you could ask for. However, since I’m currently doing another round of 21 Day Fix and I all but signed in blood that I would actually be good this time for the whole three weeks, mom’s banana bread was unfortunately off the table.

On Pinterest there were hundreds of recipes but they all called for ingredients that I didn’t have and some appeared more like a science experiment than an actual recipe. I just wanted something simple made with clean ingredients, was that too much to ask for? So, I ended up combining several recipes into one, adding a few remnants from my childhood recipe, and coming up with something that was not only delicious, but I could actually have a few slices without ruining my healthy trend. Enjoy!

Healthy Banana Bread (that’s 21 Day Fix Approved!)

DRY INGREDIENTS:
2 cups of flour of your choice (whole wheat/gluten-free/unbleached AP/almond)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon or apple pie spice

WET INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp vanilla

OTHER INGREDIENTS:
3 eggs
2 1/3 cups bananas (about 5 small bananas)

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mashed the bananas and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well.
4. In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and cream together. Stir in mashed bananas, then beat eggs (I like doing it in the same measuring cup), add, and blend together.
5. Fold wet mixture into flour mixture. Fold gently, being careful not to over mix (or the bread will turn out flat and tough).
6. Lightly grease two 9×5 loaf pans with a little coconut oil. Pour batter into the two loaf pans
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
8. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Shake the pans gently, flip over, and allow loaves to cool on wire rack.

Serving Size: 1 slice
21 Day Fix: 1 yellow, 1/2 purple, 1 tsp.

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Healthy Weekly Dinner Plan | Vol. 1

Healthy Weekly Meal Plan | Vol. 1

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to come up with what to cook for dinner. Between Pinterest and Facebook, there are are so many recipes that it can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Even if you find a recipe that sounds good, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to turn out that well for you or become another case of Pinterest fail.

For this weekly dinner plan, I wanted to share tried and true recipes from some of my favorite food blogs. But in addition to these being absolutely delicious meals, they are also healthy and build off of the same shopping list.

For breakfast I usually do Shakeology (duh!) and for lunch, it’s a filling salad + protein. For dinner, I’m a big believer of cook-once-use-twice and not repeating flavors more than 2x a week.

Dinner #1- Loaded TexMex Sweet Potatoes
Dinner #2- Spaghetti Squash with Bacon, Spinach, and Goat Cheese
Dinner #3- Stuffed Zucchini
Dinner #4- Salmon Quinoa Burgers
Dinner #5- Zucchini Noodles with Cilantro Lime Chicken
Dessert- Greek Yogurt Chocolate Fudge Pops

Enjoy!

The above images belong to their respective owners. Visit blog links for credit. 

Working Out During a Visit from Aunt Flo

At one point or another, we’ve probably all had that unwelcome house guest. You know, that person that comes for just “just a few days” and end up stays for what seems like forever. At first, we don’t mind so much, and then it just starts to get inconvenient. Uncomfortable. Maybe even a tad awkward. And for half the world’s population, that unwelcome guest comes every.single.month.

Hello, Aunt Flo. How nice it is to see you again. *cough*

Workouts + a Visit from Aunt Flo

Let’s be honest, for those first few days of Aunt Flo’s visit, the last thing we want to do is workout. We’re tired, we’re achy, we’re bloated. And as my one of besties says, we’re “bleeding like a stuck pig.”

Yuck.

But we’re women. We suck it up and power on anyways. We’re strong and aren’t going to let a little extra discomfort/mess/awkwardness stop us. Yet, it’s not exactly easy to workout while Shark Week is going on below. However, there are some things we can do to at least make it a little more comfortable.

WORKING OUT ACTUALLY HELPS SYMPTOMS
This one actually blew my brains a little bit. Turns out, increased movement and activity during periods helps relieve cramping, aches, and can even reduce heavy flows. Sweating causes you to shed water, which can help with bloating. And let’s not forget those mood-enhancing endorphins; always a plus when we feel like biting everyone’s head off.

FIND THE “TOOLS” THAT ARE RIGHT FOR YOU
Personally, those extra-duty tampons work well for me and I barely notice them, especially when using the special active style. However, some of my friends are more sensitive and have to use pads. If you do go with pads, spring for the wider style that can handle the increased movement. No matter what you use, tampon, pads, menstrual cup, just make sure it’s fresh and ready to go.

SWITCH UP FOR A DIFFERENT WORKOUT OR TRY MODIFIED
Without fail, I have to to skip or modify the first day. I feel like doing absolutely nothing and can barely walk two steps without having to *ahem* visit the ladies room. Instead of a full workout of burpees and beast mode, I practice PiYo’s modified yoga poses or do some simple walking/stroller gliding. If you can manage the more intense workouts, great! But if you need to switch to low-impact, fine. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and if you can only manage 1/2 a workout because it is begging for rest, do it. Just stay on track. Meanwhile, for the rest of the week, switch out from P90X to PiYo or at least try to the modified and see if that’s more comfortable for you.

DRINK EXTRA WATER
During their period, women lose extra fluids which can lead to feel listless and light-headed. Increase your water consumption by at least 10-20% and be careful when moving or standing up quickly.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT GEAR
This may be Aunt Flo 101, but choose your clothing wisely. Dark, loose fitting pants and shorts tend to be best as they hid any “leaks” and boycuts and high-cuts are better choices then the lacies when it comes to panties.

REALIZE THAT PERIOD = POWER
As irony would have it, during the period week of period your levels of the estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, which means increased sense of power, lower core body temperature, higher pain tolerance, and faster recovery. If you can combat the icky, low energy feeling, the you can actually experience better results from your workouts.

Shark Week, a visit from Aunt Flo, “that time of the month” – regardless of what you call it, with just a few smart changes you can keep up with your workouts, make progress, and deserve that extra bit of chocolate that’s pretty much mandatory.

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#TeamChicFit Kelli France: Sugar Free BBQ Sauce

Today we have a guest post in the form of an awesome recipe from none other than MY coach the awesome Kelli France.

SUGAR-FREE BBQ SAUCE

3/4 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot over medium heat.

2. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 mins.

3. Use the sauce immediately or store in a jar in the fridge for 1-2 weeks

Crustless Spinach and Turkey Bacon Quiche

A lighter version of a brunch favorite, this quiche is packed with turkey bacon, spinach, mushrooms, onions, and topped with cheese. Serve with fruit on the side for a protein-packed breakfast or pair with a mixed greens salad for a filling dinner.

Light Crustless Spinach and Turkey Bacon Quiche

This is my favorite way to have quiche. Now, I love a flaky, buttery crust as much as the next southern gal, but when it comes to quiche, I find myself really preferring crustless. The problem is that without the crust it’s easy to veer into the egg casserole category. But with generous fillings and the right egg consistency, all it takes is baking it in the same pie dish (sans crust) to give that classic quiche look and feel. For fillings, you can’t go wrong with mushrooms and onions, especially when combined with turkey bacon and spinach.

Light Crustless Spinach and Turkey Bacon Quiche 2

 The thing I really love about quiches (besides the whole breakfast for dinner thing) is that they can be so customized. Pretty much anything you can order in an omelette can be made into a quiche, and then some! Bell peppers, asparagus, even Denver-style, broccoli, steak, artichokes, you name it.

For the light version, substitute greek yogurt or low fat milk, and cut down/out the cheese. Of course, I’m one to keep the cheese and do 10 extra sit-ups instead.

For breakfast or brunch, pair with fresh fruit or something sweet, like french toast. For dinner, pair with a mixed greens salad.

Crustless Spinach and Turkey Bacon Quiche
Serves 6
Prep Time     15 min    |      Cook Time     50 min       |       Total Time      1 hr 5 min 
Ingredients
  1. 8 eggs
  2. 1 cup of milk or greek yogurt for light version
  3. 1/2 onion, chopped
  4. 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  5. 4-6 slices of turkey bacon, chopped
  6. 2 cups packed fresh spinach
  7. 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  8. 1 cup shredded cheese, any kind (leave out or reduce for light version)
  9. 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  10. 1/2 tsp parsley
  11. salt & pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 325F. While oven is warming up, chop and slice the vegetables and turkey bacon.
  2. 2. Put a little olive or canola oil to a skillet and add the mushrooms, onions, and turkey bacon. Sauté for 7-8 minutes, or until onions are translucent and bacon cooked through.
  3. 3. Break the eggs into a bowl and add the milk (can also substitute greek yogurt). Add the paprika, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. 4. Spray a piepan or casserole dish with non-stick spray and put onion mixture on bottom. Tear spinach into small pieces and add on top. Stir in all of the parmesan cheese and 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese.
  5. 5. Pour the egg mixture onto everything, making sure it is spread evenly and all layers are saturated. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
  6. 6. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 50 minutes at 325F until the eggs are set and no longer jiggly. If not done after 50 minutes, bake for an additional five minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Notes
  1. – Quiche makes great leftovers and can be stored in the fridge for up to four days.
  2. – If freezing, use a disposable pie pan and bake for only 40 minutes before removing, allowing to cool, and freezing. To cook, allow to thaw overnight and bake at 350F until done (approx. 20-30 minutes). Keeps up to 2 months in the freezer.
  3. – Whole milk is preferred for the creamy texture it gives. Can also use 1/2 milk and 1/2 sour cream or heavy cream.
  4. – This quiche is designed to be fluffier. For a denser quiche, reduce to 3/4 cup of milk
Calories     231    |      Protein     18g       |       Carbs      5g 

Why I love Shakeology (and why I didn’t at first)

To be completely honest, I have to admit that I haven’t always been a fan of Shakeology.

Shocker, I know.

Why I love Shakeology and didn't at first

Like a lot us, I balked at the price initially. I mean $120 a month was nearly half our food budget! I could get a lot of meals out of $120 (even more if I used coupons) and I just couldn’t justify spending that much on myself. Yet, I knew that my body was craving something better than pancakes and eggs. So I tried making smoothies for myself, and I did a pretty good job, if I do say so. Still, those ingredients added up and I was still missing out on key vitamins and nutrients. Sure, I could have taken a multivitamin, but if I couldn’t remember to take my prenatal pill while pregnant, what would make me start remember to take a multivitamin each day?

When I finally made the choice to get fit, I chose the PiYo Challenge Pack that came with a month’s supply of the Chocolate/Vanilla/Strawberry Shakeology. And I was surprised to find that I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Of course, since they cut down on sugars and use natural and alternative sweeteners, it does have a different taste initially than real sugar. And man, I love real sugar. But guess what? Loads of sugar isn’t good for me or my goal of getting fit. Who knew? So my compromise is a tiny drizzle of honey to offset the taste and I’m good-to-go.

Flavor-wise, I wasn’t as big of a fan of the Strawberry, though some of my team members live and die by a strawberry & fresh berry shake like that pictured above (and I have to admit that it does look good). The vanilla I liked, especially when doing some of the flavor combinations, like cheesecake and pumpkin pie.

But the love of MY life was, of course, the chocolate. In fact, I believe it’s the highest selling Shakeology flavor. After all, who doesn’t like chocolate? My favorite flavor combo, which seems to be the most popular recipe, too, is Chocolate + Peanut Butter + Banana (click for full recipe). Mmmm… just like a frosty.

And now to the price- which is what I originally balked at. At $120 a month ($20+ discount for coaches!!!), it seems really high at first, but when I broke it down, it was really doable. You see, these aren’t supposed to be in addition to all your meals, but in place of a meal. Thus, the meal replacement shake or “the healthiest meal of the day” as they call it. For me, I do the shakes for breakfast, so let’s break down my typical healthy breakfast:

Zucchini – $1.49/lb (0.5 lb) – 75 cents
Eggs – $1.99/dozen (used two) – 33 cents
Cheese – $2.50/8 cups (used 1/3 cup) – 10 cents
Turkey Bacon – $2.99/package (used 3 strips) – 39 cents
Mushrooms – $3.49/lb (used 3 mushrooms) – 50 cents
Onions – $0.99/lb (used 1/4 cup) – 12 cents
Spinach -$2.99/package (used 1 cup) – 37 cents
Whole Grain Toast – $2.50/loaf (used 1 slice) – 20 cents
Orange – $1.25/lb (used 1 orange) – 26 cents

Total: $3.02

So we’re already over three dollars and that doesn’t even add in the morning coffee. Not to mention, while healthy, there’s only a handful of the necessary daily nutrients covered in that breakfast. Our bodies need those nutrients in order to be healthy, to stay mentally focused, and to maintain the metabolism jump-started by exercise. Sure, we could make a green smoothie and pop a multivitamin, and that would definitely be better than the Country Boy breakfast at Cracker Barrel, but how nice it would be to get everyone at once, for the less than the cost of a Starbucks Frappuccino and 1/2 the price of a smoothie at one of those fancy juice bars.

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And with flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, greenberry, vegan chocolate, vegan tropical strawberry, and the newly-released café latte, I love that I can get my nutrition and decadence together in one glass. Oh, and as a busy mom that 1/2 the time forgets to even eat breakfast, it’s nice to be able to whip something up in less than two minutes. Stick that blender in the dishwasher and head out the door, perpetually five minutes late to everywhere and everything.

title image credit: Shakeology blog

Making Healthy Swaps

Making Healthy Swaps

Never underestimate the power of a smart choice. Or in this case, a smart swap. Here are some of my favorites things to switch out for better and healthier options:

Pasta  —————> Zucchini or Squash, cut in spirals, ribbons, or chunks
Rice —————->  Cauliflower, chopped and pulsed in food processor
Chinese Noodles ——>  Zucchini, cut thinly
Tortillas/Wraps ——->   Lettuce cups
Tortilla Chips ——–>    Romaine hearts (the inner most part)
Sour Cream ———->   Greek Yogurt
Half and Half ———>   Almond Milk
Peanut Butter ———>  PB2
Ground Beef ———->   Lentils (try it!)
Lasagna Noodles ——->  Zucchini, cut in thin, wide slices
Mashed Potatoes ——-> Mashed Cauliflower
Pasta —————->  Spaghetti Squash
Crackers ————->  Cucumber Slices
Dipping Ranch ——–>  Hummus
Potato Chips ———-> Baked Kale
Munchy Snack ——–> Almonds
French Fries ———-> Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Ice Cream ————> Frozen Banana and Strawberry Sorbet
White Rice ———–> Brown Rice or Quinoa
Mayo —————>  Mashed Avocado
Butter ————–>  Coconut Oil

Try all the swaps out and see which ones work for you. Personally, I can’t give up my sour cream and butter, but I’m totally cool with mashed cauliflower and zucchini noodles. And I’m trying to like avocado, I promise. My husband would be so happy if I finally liked those disgusting, mushy, green things. For now, I’ll use the teeniest tiniest bit of mayo and call it good.

title image credit: Tracy Benjamin

Yes, You CAN Eat Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, you can eat healthy, even organic, while on a budget. We have in our minds this idea that eating healthy costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars, picturing $800 and $1000 a month grocery bills. And yes, you could go nuts and buy $8 apiece heirloom tomatoes or you could make smart, careful choices, and feed your family good, clean, wholesome (delicious!) food without blowing your budget every single month.

Yes, You CAN Eat Healthy on a Budget

Believe it or not, our monthly grocery budget is less than $300. Some months I’m really on top of my game and manage to get it under $200, and then we use the extra to throw at our debt or have a family fun splurge. (Who am I kidding? It always goes to family fun splurge)

How? No, I’m not one of those crazy coupon clippers. Mostly because Alaska’s newspapers don’t carry those wonderful, thick stack of coupons on Sundays… or any days. But, my favorite store, Fred Meyer’s, has their own store coupons + manufacturer’s coupons, too. And bonus points that they have them all in an app so no clipping required!

I’ve learned my local stores, who carries what for the best regular price, as well as their sale and markdown trends. For example, Fred Meyer marks down their produce, even organic, between 10am and 1pm, so going at 11am seems to be the perfect time. Eggs, including organic, are marked down every three weeks or so, milk less often, but the almond milk goes on sale monthly.

Meanwhile, across the street, Carrs has meat on sale at least every other day. Pork, chicken, beef, seafood, you name it. I can usually grab chicken for $1.25 or less a pound and stock up. Our two chest freezers are so full right now that I’m “forbidden” from buying any more meat. But it’s so difficult to be good when the prices are low!

Likewise, farmers markets are a great source of local, fresh produce and resources. Often held seasonly (though some run year-round) you can good deals on some pretty amazing produce all the while supporting the local economy and small farms. I can get a 14-inch, thick zucchini for $5. You can’t beat that. (And check out my list of smart swaps to find out what to do with all that zucchini)

Take this next week’s trip to the grocery store to really study their prices, sales, and trends. Don’t be afraid to ask the store associate when things go on sale or what day has the freshest products (which would last longer back at home). Make a list of all your favorite products and ingredients, and shop around for the best price, keeping in mind that if you have to drive 30 miles out of the way to save $1, it’s probably not worth it. Combine that trip with other errands to make sure you actually save money in the long run.

It really is possible to eat healthy, clean food while on a budget. And both you and your wallet will feel better for it!

title image credit: Karin Dalziel

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shakeology Recipe

This right here is my favorite recipe for protein shakes. Actually, to be completely honest, it’s the ONLY recipe that I like. Yes, I’m picky when it comes to health shakes, which is strange because I’ve never really been a picky eater. When you’re married to an Eskimo who regularly enjoys dishes like “Fish Head Soup” and paired with a Southern upbringing that dictates that you eat whatever is set in front of you, pickiness just isn’t an issue. Yet, when it comes to health shakes, suddenly I am acutely aware of texture and that weird aftertaste left by artificial sweeteners. It doesn’t bother most people, but it does me for some odd reason. But a little extra drizzle of honey balances that out just fine.

This recipe is seriously delicious and is my “reward” for working out. Chocolate milkshake for breakfast? Yes, please!

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Shakeology Recipe

PEANUT BUTTER & CHOCOLATE PROTEIN SHAKE RECIPE

Ingredients:

1 heaping scoop of chocolate Shakeology (can use vanilla or cafe latte and add cocoa powder to taste)
8oz of almond milk or 2% milk
1 banana
2 tsp of peanut butter or peanut butter powder or almond butter (can add more to taste)
Dash of Cinnamon
Handful of ice cubes

Instructions:

1. Place milk, chocolate protein mix, banana, peanut butter, and cinnamon in a blender

2. Blend until smooth (usually 30 seconds), scraping sides as needed

3. Add handful of ice to reach desired constancy.

Notes:

– More ice = a thicker shake. If you add too much ice and the shake is too thick, add more milk to thin out.

– Feel free to add more banana and peanut butter for more flavor. I actually enjoy 1.5 bananas, frozen in advance for a creamier texture.

Makes 1.5 servings (I usually make enough to share with the kids or save the extra portion 

My Sanity Saving Morning Routine

My Sanity Saving Morning Routine

It seems that one of those inevitable truths of life is that if your morning goes awry, it’s hard to reclaim the rest of your day. Rough mornings throw off your groove, to borrow the phrase. Having a plan usually makes a morning run smoother but even the best of plans can still leave you feeling frazzled, stressed, and drained.

Call me crazy, but I really love mornings. Even on those not-so-rare days where I went to bed too late and got up too early with little sleep in between, even then I still love the fresh promise of the new day and all the potential it holds. Still, for all my pep and hope, if the morning starts to fall apart then my day falls apart, too. I find myself losing focusing, energy zapped, my productivity next to nothing. And if by some miracle we manage to stick to our schedule, I’ve lost every ounce of sanity in the meantime and probably have a couple of new gray hairs to boot.

You wouldn’t think it at first, but there is a huge difference between having a morning routine vs. a schedule. A schedule has set tasks and if those tasks aren’t completed on time, then you’re left playing catch up the rest of the day. Meanwhile, a routine is merely a series of familiar tasks that happen when they happen. Got showered and dressed quicker than expected? Now you can enjoy an unhurried breakfast and perhaps even a few leisurely moments before getting started with your day.

The truth of the matter is that I can’t stick to a schedule. But a “To Do List” I can do! A set routine and way of doing things that is so easy I can do it pre-coffee, that I can do. The thing with routines is that they become second nature, and one task naturally progresses to the next. Having the same routine every morning helps make the complicated tasks more familiar and before you realize it, you’re sipping your second cup of still-hot java while the disherwasher’s going, laundry done, living room picked up, kids dressed, and three things are already checked off the to-do list.

My Sanity Saving Morning Routine

My Sanity Saving Morning Routine
(and a few tips too)

– Wake up before kids & take time for myself.
This is a big one but not always easy to do with a little boy that likes to wake up at the crack of dawn. (We set rules for what he can do if he wakes up early) Ideally, I like to wake up 1-2 hours before the kids so I can do my personal devotions and prayer time, return emails, get in a 20-minute workout (my favorite is PIYO), and be blow drying my hair as the kids wake up. This head start on the day proves to be invaluable even if I don’t get any tasks accomplished and have spent all the time on “me.” It provides a peaceful, relaxed start where I feel fresh, competent, and in control- ready to meet whatever challenges the day throws at me.

– Allow myself the privilege of sleeping in a least once a week.
This may seem like the direct opposite of the previous tip, but hear me out. We all have at least one morning a week where there is nothing pressing to be done. And on those mornings it’s tempting to wake up at the same time and play catch up on all the things we didn’t get accomplished during the past days. Yet, I’m a firm believer that those days are the most important days of all. Hitting snooze, or better yet, turning my alarm off completely, allows my body to get the rest it needs and has been sorely lacking. Even if I was able to get 8 hours of solid sleep each night for the past week, my body will still receive a boost from waking up naturally vs. jarring awake with my iPhone’s alarm.

– Set out clothes the night before.
The last thing I need is to realize that the kids have no clean socks when I’m already running late or spend 10 minutes arguing over the blue or green shirt. When putting the kids to bed I simply reach in their closets and lay out their outfits for the next day. And if I’m feeling really productive, I’ll even take the basket of clean clothes with me and put away the laundry before tucking them in for the night.

– If staying home, wear real clothes.
While it’s tempting to stay in yoga pants the whole day, once my workout is over I get dressed as if I’m going out in public, even if I’ll be staying home. Putting effort into my appearance somehow switches the day from “casual mode” to “productive mode” and has the added bonus of keeping me from feeling embarrassed when the UPS guy stops by. Of course, I’m a huge fan of PJ Thursday. The UPS guy will just have to deal with it.

– Have a dedicated spot for clothes, shoes, and coats.
It does no good to have everything set out in advance if the kids have to look in a different spot each time. The whole idea of a routine is daily consistency. If the kids know that the shoes are always in the wicker basket by the door when I tell them to “go get their shoes on” I won’t be fielding a dozen questions or having to give turn-by-turn directions to wear to find their mud boots. Of course, teaching the kids that the shoes go IN the buckets and not next to it or in the hallway is also key.

– Realize that even the youngest toddlers can still be helpers.
Young children love to help- so let them! It might take a tiny bit longer or turn out a bit messier, but helpful children are happy children and that means a happy mom, too. By giving my littlest simple tasks to do, such as putting the dirty sippy cups in the sink, stacking the library books by the door, straightening the throw pillows, or putting spoons next to the breakfast bowls, I teach her to contribute to the family and keep her from being underfoot or bored. I may still have to go behind and ensure that the task was completed correctly, but keep up the routine enough and soon even Sammy will be a full-fledged helpful helper.

– Create “Mini Routines” with each Morning Routine. 
With all the stuff to do each morning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’ve found that dividing my mornings up into smaller sections, each with its own mini routine has proven to be one of the best sanity saving tips out there. For example, serving the kids breakfast is made up several tasks: first I empty the dishwasher while the kids finish waking up, then I fix breakfast (cereal or toast if we’re going simple, eggs are medium difficulty, pancakes or breakfast bake for special mornings). While the kids are eating I load the dishwasher and start a sink of soapy water so I can wash dishes off and on during the rest of the morning. Last step is putting on a pot of coffee to perk while I finish my breakfast and get Caleb started on school. One main task of “eating breakfast” just took off half a dozen things off my to do list without any extra time and little additional effort.

– Take advantage of the power of five minutes.
It really is amazing what can be accomplished in just five minutes. Part of my morning routine is taking five minutes at a time and focusing on a certain task, project, or room. Living room messy? I set the timer on the oven and blitz clean for five minutes. If the timer goes off and I’m not done yet, I just set it for another five minutes- after all, that’s the beauty of a having a routine instead of a set schedule.

– Don’t put off the little stuff.
Many times I find myself putting off seemingly small, insignificant to-do’s simply because I don’t feel like doing them at that moment. But then all those small things pile up into one big thing and where’s the sanity in that? If something will take five minutes or less, I tell myself to suck it up and just do it. And then I reward myself with chocolate. Or more coffee. Or both.

– Keep the kitchen table/island/counter clear.
This is one of those things that I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made until I incorporated it as part of our morning routine. The kitchen island is our gathering spot for afternoon coffee, where Caleb works on his math homework while Sammy colors. It’s where I go through bills and slice apples for mid-afternoon snacks. It doesn’t have to be spotless, that comes later, I just need it clear and useable.

– A routine puts the kids on auto pilot in a good way.
Every night before bed Caleb asks, “What are we doing in the morning?” and we go over all the events tomorrow holds. He gets most excited to hear that the next day is Library Day and since it’s one of our weekly routines, come the next morning he knows just what to do. Library books are gathered, an extra big breakfast is eaten, and Caleb asks if he’s earned enough stars on the reward chart to get a new Hot Wheels car from the thrift store after story time. Kids thrive on consistency. Knowing what to expect each day gives them time to anticipate their own responsibilities, prepare for any thing they don’t enjoy like nap time or homework, and allows the day to transition smoothly and naturally.

– Know that some mornings will go all wrong. 
It’s going to happen. Just regroup and start fresh. After all, in the famous words of Miss Scarlet O’hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

My Fitness Journey (on a roller coaster)

Fitness Journey on a Roller Coaster

Once I hit puberty, I became what’s known as chubby. I just couldn’t lose my baby fat from childhood. Even as I developed curves, I stayed chunky and just never felt very good about myself. Following a breakup (my first and only) when I was 18, I decided to concentrate on myself and get into shape. I was young and without commitments, so I worked out for an hour before work, 30 minutes during lunch break, and for up to two hours after work too. I counted calories, watched what I ate, and barely splurged at all. For three months I was the epitome of self-discipline. And it worked. I went from a size 14/16 to a teeny tiny size 5 and dropped nearly 30lbs. And more than the number on the scale, I felt great about myself.

Fast forward a few years and I was engaged to the most wonderful guy (yes, the one I had broken up with before. It was our we-need-to-get-serious-with-God phase), trying on wedding dress, and planning for a life together. On our wedding day, I had never felt more beautiful.

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After seven years of marriage and two kids, I found myself far from the size-six, toned bride I once was. Life had gotten busy, habits had gotten lazy, and the pounds started adding themselves to my waistline.

Gradually, at first, so that I barely noticed the weight gain. After all, it was to be expected that I’d keep some of that baby weight, but as I kept having to buy new jeans and found myself getting winded after climbing just a short flight of stairs, I knew that things were getting to a dangerous point.

So I tried half-hearted diets, fruitless hours spent at the gym and on the elliptical machine, but nothing really seemed to make any difference. My metabolism had changed after 10 years and I no longer could drop weight just like that *snaps fingers*

When I finally exchanged my pants for a size 16, I broke down. All the excuses and platitudes I had told myself were proven to be just that- excuses. In reality, I wasn’t “doing fine” and while, yes, I could be heavier, I was not healthy and things needed to change.

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A good/awesome/amazing friend of mine told me about this company called BeachBody and suggest that I give one of their programs a try. Now, I am a skeptic by nature I said no for the longest time, still trying to go about things on my own. But her success, and those of our mutual friends, kept coming back to me. Surely, if they could do it, I could too. Still, a $120 was a lot of money to us, especially with my husband having been recently laid off, but this was something that I needed to do for me. And for once, I needed to put myself first.

December 1, 2014- I started my first day of PiYo. And life hasn’t been the same since.

This past year has been an amazing, transformative journey. And yes, still a bit of a roller coaster. My 80/20 looked more like 10/90 at times. I went down nearly two sizes and 10 lbs only to go back up to nearly my starting weight. But I still count this year as a success. Not because of inches lost but because of confidence gained. Because I can now hike a mountain with my family without getting winded while carrying our daughter in her hike pack. I can run without feeling like I’m about pass out. My knees, which I fondly referred to as those of an eighty-year-old grandma, no longer ached after each workout.

Fitness and Goodness- Mid Year Progress

Even though I still have a long way to go, I feel good about my body for the first time time in seven years. I’ve learned to love my curves and hold my head up high because I am DOING, not just wishing. Each new goal reached makes me want to do a happy dance because I am setting an example for my children- to not except the way things are just because it’s the way things are, but pursue the best that life has to offer. And I am stronger and better for it.

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