• Rebecca Zaborowski

Let's face it, meal planning can be very frustrating. We see perfected plans everywhere about meal prep and cooking all day Sunday for meals throughout the week and those are great ideas, but maybe not for everyone. While I am in no way knocking these plans because I agree that they are a great way to be organized and

still get dinner of the table every night, sometimes they just aren't as practical for everyone. Maybe it worked for a week or two, but then you lost steam and it was back to cereal for dinner, maybe you don't want to spend a whole day prepping, whatever, I get it because I can't do it either, though I envy those who can. What I can do is still get dinner on the table every night. How you ask? By avoiding meal planning paralysis. What?


MEAL PLANNING PARALYSIS!


It's a term I have invented for when you desperately want to be able to meal plan so you try to do it using all the many ideas you have found, then you are just overwhelmed by so many ways to do it, so many recipes to make, and then wanting to make them all to perfection that you end up not getting any of it done. Maybe this only happens to absolute perfectionists, but it happens to me and I don't consider myself a perfectionist, I'm more of a functionalist, just make it work. So how do we avoid this pitfall and still eat healthy? I can only tell you how I have figured it out for our family of 4 and hope it can work for you, so I'll lay it out.

First, I make a list of the things I need for at least 2 (or 3 if I'm feeling ambitious) recipes we will have during the week and a side to go with it. The recipes are usually simple, take 30-40 minutes, and ALWAYS have a vegetable. Side items are generally also another vegetable and/or fruit. (Read the blog on MyPlate, this my visualization tool for meals). This part does take a bit of thinking ahead of time, but once you start you will build up an arsenal of recipes that you can rotate. Then, I double everything. If I want leftovers for lunches, I make even a little more and put it aside just before serving, this also avoids overeating at dinner.

Our general pattern goes like this:

I make one thing on Monday, doubled, then we eat leftovers Tuesday, make 1 thing Wednesday, doubled, leftovers Thursday, and Friday is our day for fun meals like pizza or a particular restaurant favorite. Saturday is flexible with sandwiches, any leftovers, etc, which is great for food waste and we tend to have leftovers from our fun Friday. Sundays are the day to test recipes to possibly put into the rotation, sometimes making extra for leftovers for Monday lunch. What I'm really doing is an on-the-fly type meal planning because I don't know which day we'll have what recipe, but I know I have what I need to make it. It's still a form of batch cooking, but it's not all day Sunday and for myself personally, it helps with not facing having to eat the same thing all week. I can break up some days with another meal and then come back to any leftovers later on.

Another thing we do is leave a lot of the less nutritious stuff at the store. Along with meals, we know there are also snacks, which can be a pitfall of their own when dinner is delayed or even falls out completely. What we can do, however, is still frame our snacks in the same way we do meals, just on a smaller scale. So any snack type foods must still fit into our MyPlate frame of reference. This also indirectly helps with our meal planning because let's just say on our "cooking" night, we ran out of time to actually cook. Or we ran out of leftovers and haven't gone to the store again yet. No problem, anything we grab from the pantry will suffice because we know if we brought it home, it can go on our plate. Then even if it does turn into a cereal night (check those labels for fiber and added sugars, I see a future blog on these!), the kids can also still have maybe some raw veggies or fruit, or even a snack bar (again, checking labels) and they're still getting a healthy meal, even if you didn't cook. I didn't say it would always look perfect or pretty, but perfection is not to goal here, nutrition is. Who cares what it looks like if you are all getting what you need? It can be the weirdest combination of food, but if it's nutritious food that fills up tummies, then do it.

I know many might say this method is still "work" and you're right. It does still take a little forethought, a little recipe searching, and a little studying up on some more nutritious food options, but once you get all these tools in your toolbox and some go-to recipes you all enjoy, you'll feel less stressed about meal planning. If possible, it helps to get both parents in on the go-to recipes so either one can throw it together based on what's happening at the time. If it's only 1 person that does the meals, it's still manageable. Due to deployments and long TDYs, I have experienced both one person and two person schedules during times of full-time working and part-time working, and it has worked (for us) in all situations. It can be rocky at times, but we live in the real-world, so that's expected. Overall, it helps avoid meal planning paralysis because it's broken up into smaller chunks of cooking (less overwhelming than all day cooking) and with only about 2 (maybe 3 if you want) recipes to work with each week instead of 7 and provides some flexibility for evenings when you change your mind about what you want to eat or something happens that causes your schedule to shift. Realistically, I can't promise NO stress because hungry kids exist in the first place (haha), but I can say you might feel less guilt about letting them forage for their own meal sometimes because you have left the less nutritious stuff at the store and you can feel more comfortable about any food choices they grab.

I hope this at least gives you an idea for a meal planning system if you aren't able or don't want to do giant batch cooking in one day or have trouble planning 7 days worth of meals with something different each day. For more ideas about healthy eating check out the Read page and don't forget to listen to the Playing With Food-Eat. Play. Balance. podcast. Thank you for reading and we'll chat again soon!


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  • Rebecca Zaborowski

Recently, I have had the privilege to work with a few different age groups on some nutrition projects and it occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with MyPlate. While many have HEARD of it, not many were very clear on what it meant. They understood it had something to do with eating healthy, but not much more than that. So I'd like to take a minute and talk about it. MyPlate was developed by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2011 as a replacement of the Food Pyramid. If you'd like, there is a nice timeline of the evolution of USDA food guides here.

As a person that grew up with the Food Pyramid, I appreciate the simplicity of the plate as it doesn't show serving sizes, because they're built in. The plate sections ARE the serving size. While actual serving sizes have an important role, as a kid, I found them incredibly confusing. What was a serving size and how do I know? While I get it now, I still like the way MyPlate makes it much more basic with the simple idea of fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, emphasizing their important role in the diet. Easy, right? Especially for kids that could care less about what a serving size is.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, nutrition can be confusing with all of the information out there, but it doesn't have to be. While I know that MyPlate does not take into consideration any kind of medical conditions that require some extra attention, what it does do is allow us to refocus what our true goal in healthy living is...building the nutrition foundation. It breaks down all of the information out there and simply says, here, eat this and cut out the rest. While we can go deeper and explain about whole grains, meaning they have more fiber, or talk about the different types of protein (plant vs. meat), it can also be as basic just make it look like the plate on a regular basis. No need to debate about anything further, just pick one from each category in it's most basic form. MyPlate is just your regular size dinner plate with fruit, veggies, a protein, a grain, and a dairy on it. All your choice of taste and design. Though I do recommend limiting the fried versions, but you knew that already ;) This is HUGE in my mind due to my childhood confusion about serving sizes and how much we should be eating. The plate shows you where it goes and how much because it's just...there. It helps retrain your mind to always ask, where's my vegetable? Where's my fruit? Then if you're still hungry after eating the full dinner plate, start again with the vegetable. You don't have to ask what vegetable is best or whether it's a "superfood" (see my thoughts on superfoods here), just pick one! The beauty! The simplicity! Again, this doesn't mean it has to be plain food, it just makes you see it there first, like an exercise in visualization for your plate. It also doesn't even really represent or show the less nutritious things like candy, cookies, junk food, etc. While these might be things we want occasionally, they aren't the focus. In my mind, they aren't on the plate because they don't need to be there all the time like these items that are on the plate, they're "extra". We have them on the side sometimes, but they aren't necessary on the plate all the time.

So next time you build your plate, visualize MyPlate and ask, where's my vegetable and where does it go? For more talk on healthy nutrition (and some gaming fun) don't forget the Playing With Food podcast on your favorite listening platform. Thank you to all of the wonderful listeners and readers out there and remember, to get the best out of your play, get the best out of your plate.



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  • Rebecca Zaborowski

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was never really into video games. As a self-proclaimed girly girl, I always assumed they were a "boy" thing and continued on with my little pony, barbies, and eventually transitioning to other activities like dance and field hockey. However, along with the many changes in views on gender stereotype we have seen over the years, there has also been a slow change in video games. From new technology, to more games, to perhaps simply more accessibility to play, there is less and less of any one "standard type" of video game player. Much like the slow change of video games, my interest in gaming was a slow change as well. It began when I got married to someone who enjoyed a tradition of Saturday morning video games. Then kids arrived on the scene and more and more of what I had thought of as "boy" things started to show up, to include more video games as they became old enough to actually play until one day, I joined and officially became a thirty-something newb. If you're wondering what that is, it is this:


NEWB: Honest, humble, polite players who strive to better themselves by playing as a team and seeking the advice of others.


This is opposed to the other spelling of the word with a different definition of:

NOOB: Relies on cheap tactics to barely finish second-to-last on the team, and often blame others for their mistakes.


I found these on Urban dictionary, but I won't post the link for these definitions as Urban dictionary is not know for hiding the unsavory and I'd rather not send you there, but unfortunately, along with that thirty-something newb title, I have also sadly fallen away from some of the slang of youth and had to brave Urban dictionary as it is surprisingly helpful in this area, if not incredibly offensive at times (most of the time). In any case, there you have it. I'm a newb. I use this spelling because though I am competitive at times, I work to do exactly as it says "strive to better myself by playing as a team and seeking the advice of others", the others being my husband, my kids, and anyone willing to show me how to stop somehow getting stuck in the sky in Minecraft, who knew that was a thing?

Which brings me to an interesting point on the idea of playing as a team. A study conducted at Brigham Young University and published in 2018 by Mark J. Keith, Greg Anderson, James Gaskin, and Douglas L. Dean called Team Video Gaming for Team Building: Effects on Team Performance, found here, looked at how video games that use the collaborative team concept may influence team building skills. While they were looking at older students (about college age), they did find an overall positive effect on how the use of these games helped improve team performance in newly formed teams. Young children and already established teams were not studied. We are also discussing non-violent, problem solving games, as a different discussion would be held in debating violent games. In any game, however, age recommendations should be adhered to or play should be altered for appropriate age range use or with parent guidance as appropriate. For example, Minecraft has also now been implemented in schools in an educational version to work as a tool to help critical thinking and collaboration skills, you can read about it here. The reality is though, video games are a part of our kids world now more than ever as well as more and more we are realizing that virtual collaboration will be a huge part of their workforce in the future. While we may not think a level in a video game is as important as a work proposal, I would argue that for a young kid, it is, making the mindset of honing those virtual skills very important to them. As a parent, I tend to overlook this in my struggle to balance their screen time use to recommended amounts, only to realize that entire amount was used for school work.

So what do we do? Join them in their game for little bit, then turn it off and go for a walk or something and not worry about how much time was spent on either because it was all spent with your kids. Which this, my dear readers, is one of my main reasons in becoming a newb as an adult. While I did discover that I actually enjoy video games in my own right, what I truly enjoy is being able to collaborate as a team with my family and while they teach me the game, I as the parent, can teach them team building skills and understanding how to work together in hopes that someday this will translate into real-world skills. I know many are saying sports do the same and I agree, but it's all about finding the niche that helps you relate to your kids and in my house, it's video games. They not only provide the team-building aspect, but they also help to build conversation with my kids because when we are going for that walk we talk about aspects of the game, strategy of play, and other fun things that may seem trivial from an outside perspective, but I find priceless because they are focused conversations with my kids and they are excited about it. Maybe we had board game nights with our families growing up, but now it's video games, whose to say one is better than the other if the end result of quality family time is the same? I hope that even as they grow into teenagers, video games can be something we can relate on and that maybe they provide a continued window of opportunity for focused conversation as adolescence takes over and they become "embarrassed" by everything I do. Maybe by then I'll no longer be such a newb and they'll actually WANT me on their team, one can hope. While I definitely don't condone constant overtime of video games, I see it much like everything else we do and it just needs to be balanced. There may be some days we play longer and some days not at all, but always remember the importance of what matters not only in our relationships, but in our health, which I would argue both can be influenced by either. So if you aren't already an avid game player, join me in my newb-ness (I just made that word up, maybe it'll catch on) and then just continue to make sure to move, eat well, and always enjoy time well spent.


If you have time to spend listening to a podcast with your kids, don't forget ours Playing With Food-Eat. Play. Balance. Catch you next time!



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