Planning and preparing healthy meals can be a challenge for busy women. Chef and registered dietician Allison Schaaf offers some great thoughts on managing a busy life and getting nutritious meals on the table–and she's offering a special deal for listeners for a service that can help.
Planning in advance to make weeknight meals stress-free
I was introduced to chef and registered dietician Allison Schaaf and her company, Prep Dish, last year when Prep Dish sponsored a few episodes of The Productive Woman. I've looked forward to the opportunity to talk with her, not only about how she manages her own busy life, but also about her suggestions for how we all can do a better (and more efficient) job of putting meals on the table day after day.
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How Allison starts her day
Each day for Allison consists of different routines and processes, but one thing she tries to maintain as consistently as possible is her morning routine. She says it’s helpful for starting her day on the right page.
A typical morning routine for her consists of:
● Waking up and going to her patio with some hot lemon water
● Writing in her gratitude journal
● Meditation and prayers
This routine ideally lasts for 20-25 minutes and can help set the day for Allison.
Following this, she sits down to a hot breakfast with her husband and looks at one or two of the biggest tasks for the day. She tries to look at her email only at predetermined times during the day to keep it from consuming a majority her time.
With all the things Allison does with her business, and the new ideas that pop into her head, she reminds herself to take a step back to make sure she’s not doing too much. As with many productive women, making sure to take care of everything important to her is also a priority for Allison.
Tools and resources to stay productive
- Boomerang — This add-on for Gmail lets you read an email, and if you want to clear your Inbox, but don’t want to lose the email so you can tackle it later, it’ll Boomerang it back to your inbox at a later time.
- Headspace — This app is especially handy for learning how to meditate and calm the mind. Allison says she uses it especially when traveling.
- Day Designer — Although Allison still puts tasks on her iCal digitally, she was excited to receive a Day Designer to use for this year so she could hand write her daily to-do list. The feature she likes the most is the section of each day to list the top three things she hopes to accomplish.
Tips for streamlining meal prep
- Don’t wait until 5 p.m. to think about dinner. You’re already hungry, and that’s when bad decisions are made. It’s too easy to grab a take-out menu instead of cooking a nutritious meal. Planning ahead of time, when you have the energy, can help you eat based on your nutritional goals.
- Spending a chunk of time one day a week to prepare ahead can help you make better choices. If you already have something like cucumbers sliced and ready to go, it’s easier to reach for those as a snack, as opposed to opening the fridge to see an uncut cucumber you don’t want to take the time to slice and eat. Putting the energy and time into preparing food in advance may motivate you to use what you’ve already prepared.
- Prep Dish can help with menu planning, especially since the recipes are made with “real” food (not processed), and the meal plans can be customized to be gluten-free, dairy-free, or paleo.
Saving time using Prep Dish
Allison has a background as a chef and dietitian. In her own home, she found it easier on Sunday afternoons to prepare everything in advance for her meals throughout the week. Feeling this would be useful for almost anyone, she began her meal planning website service.
Those who sign up for Prep Dish receive a weekend email that links to three different PDFs:
- A grocery list for that week's meals
- Prep day instructions
- Instructions for each night to put the dishes together. These are usually quick and easy, since the bulk of the work is done on a day you can devote a few hours to prepping everything ahead of time.
The meal prep takes about 2-3 hours on one day and saves time throughout the week, since many dishes are easy to throw together and in the oven on busy weeknights. Starting in 2016, she’ll be rolling out her Super Fast Meal Plan, which is more bare-bones and only requires an hour of prep time.
Why the gluten-free and paleo options?
Allison found out her body doesn’t tolerate gluten, and once she eliminated it from her diet, she found her immune system and sleeping habits improved. She recommends listening to your body and seeing how food makes you feel, and she tries to keep the Prep Dish meal plans easily adaptable for dietary preferences.
Who should consider going gluten-free?
If you feel you may be intolerant to gluten, find a dietician or medical professional to help you track your symptoms and have blood tests done to determine which types of foods cause negative reactions. You can also try to eliminate certain foods and see if the symptoms go away.
Gluten is found in breads, pastas, baked goods — anything that uses basic flour. Allison doesn’t use gluten-free alternatives because, although they may be helpful to some, they may be more processed and are not considered “real” foods, and they may also upset your digestive system in a similar way to products containing gluten.
Dealing with stress
Allison's approach to dealing with particularly stressful days depends on her mood and energy. Sometimes, a walk is all that’s needed to clear her head. Or, since she works from home, she can lay down and take a nap. One thing she’s noticed is if she tries to power through when she’s tired, a task that normally would take 20 minutes can take much longer. Sometimes, it can be just as simple as taking time to recognize she’s stressed and write a quick list of what’s really important.
Her best advice: Whenever you’re feeling scattered, just take a few deep breaths to put things back into perspective.
What’s next for Allison?
Allison, her husband, and her cat are moving to Puerto Rico. As for Prep Dish, she’s working on putting out new products and videos, as well as continuing to connect with her subscribers and getting to know them better.
Connect with Allison
On the PrepDish website
Special offer for our listeners!
Try out Prep Dish for $4 for the first month by going to PrepDish.com/productivewoman.
What do you think?
More About Allison
Chef Allison Schaaf, MS, RD, LD is a food, nutrition & culinary expert and founder of Prep Dish, a subscription-based gluten-free and paleo meal plan service. Allison has helped people achieve their nutrition goals for over ﬁfteen years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Nutrition from Johnson & Wales University and a Masters in Nutrition Communications from Tufts University, and she became a Registered Dietitian at New England Medical Center. When she isn’t cooking, Allison fully embraces life as an Austinite, supporting the amazing food scene and enjoying the year-round warm temperatures. She is an avid yogi and enjoys hiking, standup paddle boarding, and regular runs around Lady Bird Lake. Allison is also an avid traveler and draws culinary inspiration from each trip. Recent adventures include Africa, Japan, South America, Spain, and frequent trips to Colorado, California, and her home state of Kansas.
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