Preparation is Everything – How Unemployment Helped Me Reach My Nutrition Goals

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What do frugal families and people who are skilled at managing their weight have in common? It hit me the other day as I saw a powerlifter friend on Facebook exclaim “chicken breasts are $1.97 a pound at Hy-Vee this week! Get it!”

They know that preparation is a cornerstone to success.

It took a challenging period in my life to give me the tools that have helped me nail my nutrition goals, both for weight loss and for performance.

In 2008, I was a stay-at-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. I remember standing at our kitchen counter making dinner when my husband came home from work. He looked like someone had died. “What’s wrong,” I joked. “Did you get fired?” In that instant I knew that ridiculous joke was actually a reality. The recession had hit, and he was the low man on the corporate totem pole. For the first time in his life, he lost his job.

We’d made the decision when our children were young that I would stay at home with them and delay my own career. It was a good life. We had enough, though I don’t think I appreciated it until we felt like we had lost it all.

Very quickly I shifted into survival mode. I had a history of depression and anxiety, but strangely I felt more focused than ever before: I had babies to protect. I got a part-time job so my husband could still collect unemployment and look for employment. We juggled new schedules. I had to learn new choreography for the daily dance of our lives.

Obligatory adorable baby pic because they’re all giants now.

A big part of getting by was cutting our food budget. I quickly learned the lesson that I still now lean on: preparation is everything. The big things I learned  still play a big role in how I handle my nutrition, and they allow my family to eat well without breaking the bank. (Although budgeting is getting tougher as my kids get older – they eat like a pack of starved wolves!)

Key Factors:

  • Menu Planning based on what key ingredients I already had in my stockpile

  • Grocery Shopping

  • Cooking Meals Ahead of Time for Busy Days

    Menu Planning
    Planning our weekly menu saves us money because I’m not constantly running to the store. Every trip I pick up extra stuff that I don’t always need. Planning also helps me stay on track with my nutrition goals. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is to be realistic with what I’m going to make for dinner. When I get too ambitious with my plan, it backfires and I sometimes don’t have the energy or desire to cook.

    When I plan my menu, I think about healthy meals that also incorporate food that’s on sale at the supermarket or that I may have on hand. This leads me to another skill I learned:

  • Stockpiling
    Stockpiling is a big practice among frugal people. It seemed a little extreme but it is actually a helpful way to make healthy cooking on a budget more doable. Having a chest freezer makes this a hell of a lot easier too.

    photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

    photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

    I began scanning the weekly grocery ads and when items were at a good price, I’d buy as many as I felt like I could afford. The first few months of this were tough because I didn’t yet have resources in my pantry and freezer. Meat was the main item I targeted for stockpiling. Meat can be really expensive, and I found that the difference between the regular sticker price and the sale price was often pretty large. Stockpiling meshes really well with the  next strategy:

    Freezing Meals for Later Use
    Freezing meals is another trick I picked up from the mommy brigade: I could either fully or partially prepare meals for later use and save both time and money. If I have to make marinade for chicken breasts, it doesn’t take me much longer to prepare a marinade for six batches of chicken than it does for one. Getting multiple meals out of 1 prep session kicks ass.

    I also found that preparing freezer meals saved me money beyond just having available ingredients that I’d stockpiled at a good price. How many times have you bought a bag of celery, only to use 2 stalks and have the rest of it go to waste? If I prepared several batches of a recipe, I made better use of the ingredients I had to buy to create it. Look for an article soon with more details for a  freezer meal how-to and recipes.



    Bro Prep
    I later found that my dinner preparation was going well but I had really poor choices available for lunch. Have you ever seen the pics of weight lifters displaying their neat rows of meals in Tupperware for the week? I don’t think I could eat the same thing every day, but they’re on to something. Many fitness geeks do batch cooking of a main ingredient, like chicken, and have it on hand all week for salads, sandwiches, and whatever else sounds good. When they plan their meals, they also plan for breakfast and lunch and make sure that everything they might want is on hand.

    The Big Picture
    Most of the time, when I find myself eating food that doesn’t support my goals it’s because I’m caught without the food I need. I’m not talking about celebration meals or treats – those are important too and we need to incorporate them into our lives. But if we’re perpetually calling for take-out or nibbling on snacks because we have nothing in the house to make for lunch, the likely skill we must build is preparation.

    How to Get Better at Preparation 
    If you struggle with any of these habits, you can nail them. I promise! But habits like meal prep are actually skills that we have to learn. Pick one small habit, like planning a menu for a few days, and observe what went well and what needs work. Go from there, step by step.

    How has the skill of preparation impacted your own fitness journey, either positively or negatively? Have a tip or comment?Please share it in a comment!

School’s Out For Summer: A Playground Workout For When The Kids Are Home

Photo by

Photo by

We’re in week 1 of summer vacation and already my schedule has been blown to smithereens. With school-aged kids, I have  found my groove during the school year. I go to work, find time to get chores done in the early mornings or evenings, and pick up my crazy train of boys at 3:45 every afternoon. Until this week: enter summer vacation.

We decided to juggle schedules so that either my husband, me, or my mom could be home with the kids all summer. I love seeing my little guys more frequently. We’re playing board games, going to the pool, the zoo, and also digging out long forgotten toys. But some of our regular tasks have become trickier to accomplish. For many parents, that includes getting exercise.

I miss the days when my boys were all small enough to be pushed around in the stroller. They’re roughly 17 months apart, so we had only a brief window of time when all three kids would happily ride along. Soon enough they began to squawk at their rolling prison and demand to be allowed to walk, only to either run off or roll around on the ground. Bye bye, stroller walking.

You had one job, kid. Ride. Just ride. Photo credit: Bari Bookout

You had one job, kid. Ride. Just ride. Photo credit: Bari Bookout

Enter the playground workout – parents of young kids can all appreciate the beauty of taking the kids to the park. Kids can run and climb all their crazy out. Sometimes my friends and I sit and chat while they play. But if you’re pressed to find time to get moving, the playground is a pretty damn good gym in the summer time. Especially if you’re up for a little play too. Read on:

Fitness + Funness (is that a word?)
I got creative and designed a strength workout in my back yard while my kids played.  What I forgot, however, was that kids rarely give you 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to exercise. Duh! As if!

Pay attention to meeeee.

Pay attention to meeeee.

So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Play is important for adults too – it helps us beat stress, connect to others, and stay sharp.  Annie Brees and I even created a program here in Des Moines called Recess for adult playground games.

I created this workout as a “meet in the middle”solution for getting some strength and conditioning work in while having fun in the yard or playground. Play is a fantastic way to bond with our kids, even if sometimes you wish they’d give you 10 minutes to get stuff done, or just go to the bathroom in peace.  Take short bursts of time to run around and move with them, and they’ll likely let you sneak in some sets of strength moves too. If they’re old enough, they can join in too.

The Work Hard Play Hard Workout:
3-4 rounds of the following, or as many as you can do with you kids cooperating:

1. As many reps of pullups/negative pullups (start at the top and slowly lower) as you can do from monkey bars…



10-12 suspension rows with a swing


2. 1 round of freeze tag.

3. 8-10 Bulgarian Split squats per leg, using a step or bench for rear leg.

Put your front foot around 3 feet in front of your bench, and your back foot elevated  on the bench. Slowly lower your rear knee toward the floor. It's okay to lean forward a bit on these to focus on your booty.

Put your front foot around 3 feet in front of your bench, and your back foot elevated on the bench. Slowly lower your rear knee toward the floor. It’s okay to lean forward a bit on these to focus on your booty.

4. Handstand/cartwheel/somersault showdown. Warning: somersaults are a lot more uncomfortable when you’re 40 years old. Good God.

henry handstand

5. As many pushups as you can do with good form. Use a bench or stair if it’s too hard to go from the ground.


6. 5 minutes of kickball, soccer, or playing catch.


7. 10 Leg curls using the swing.

Put your heels on the seat of the swing. Lift your hips and bring your heels toward your butt.

Put your heels on the seat of the swing. Lift your hips and bring your heels toward your butt. Try to keep your hips up high for the whole set.

8. Red Light Green Light – sprint, crawl, or shuffle your way to victory.

Finally, after the workout, play a round of hide and go seek. Find a really good hiding spot. Bring a good book, and maybe you’ll get a few minutes of quiet. Seriously though, when I take a little time to play with my kids for even a little while, they burn off their crazy, fight less, and then chill out so I can get some work done. Plus we have a good time together. Go play!

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