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Your Self-Talk Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know


I'd tried everything to keep my meal prep on the rails.

A spreadsheet to calculate my nutrition.

Lists of recipes I could draw from to fill in my meal plan.

Highly-regarded methods, like mis en place, to keep my cooking organized.

And yet, I still wasn't consistently eating healthy. Nor was I serving up the meals that would lead to health for my family.

If I had all these things leaned in my favor, why was my problem becoming coming worse?

Negative Self-Talk is Self Sabatoge

I'm going to be honest: I have a history of negative self-talk.

Those thoughts that seem to bubble up out of nowhere, just to tell me that I can't do it. Or to complain about a problem I just encountered. How much I simply don't enjoy the task at hand.

It wouldn't take long before my train of thought was dragging me down, reducing my desire to continue, and building a procrastination response for the next time.

For many aspects of my life, this was simply the default response. And I had virtually no awareness that I was doing it.

But I was acutely aware that I wasn't reaching my goals, resulting in even more negative self-talk.

Just like meal prep, I had everything I needed.

There was no shortage of information, tools, guides, or even time.

It was my mindset that was holding me back.

What Your Self-Talk is Saying About Your Mindset

Don't get me wrong - I'm a confident, capable guy.

So it came as a huge surprise to me when I realized just how negative my self-talk had become in the kitchen.

Between having our third child, starting a business, and after-school activities, Dina and I have become busier than ever. Cooking doesn't feel easy as it used to be.

And somewhere in there, a part of me has started to believe that I'll never keep up, no matter how hard I try.

And as Carol Dweck, author of Mindset says:

"Whether you believe you can or you can't, you're right."

Our self-talk is simply a reflection of what we believe to be true about ourselves.

In terms of cooking, what I have is called a fixed mindset. I'm stuck as the person I am and unless the circumstances around my problem change, then I'll never make it.

A person with a growth mindset would persist until they succeed. They would have the belief that not only is it possible, they're well on their way to getting there.

As Carol Dweck says in her book, a fixed mindset person says, "I can't do it."

A growth mindset person says, "I can't do it - yet."

Cultivating a Growth Mindset in the Kitchen

Mindset is based on belief of what is possible and a belief is something we learn.

Our brains are constantly building and recreating models of how the world works - whether those models are effective or not.

There is absolutely no value in me believing that I can't maintain healthy cooking long-term. But as far as my brain is concerned, that's reality. And every time I let that negative self-talk run wild, I'm allowing that belief to be reinforced.

That's not something to be ashamed of. I'd wager that we all have this problem in some aspects of our life and we're simply unaware that it's happening.

And even if we are aware, we might not believe it's possible to change it.

I used to have that belief about my ability to learn new things. I have ADHD and elementary school was tough for me.

I didn't want the same future for my kids (ADHD is hereditary), so I made a concentrated effort as an adult to 'learn how to learn'.

And while I really did build skill in learning, the real treasure has been in understanding how the brain learns.

As I mentioned, beliefs are learned - often haphazardly.

I'm going to show you how I train my mind to let go of a limiting belief and replace it with one that empowers me.

Challenging your negative thoughts by writing them down

What I do is take a sheet of paper and draw two columns - one for the negative thoughts that are bound to come up and the other for a positive counter-thought. Earlier this week, I was trying this in the kitchen while making my kid's lunches - generally a low-point in my day. Within minutes, I had a list of recurring negative thoughts. Negative: The kids are distracting me, and I can't get the work done on time. Counter: The kids need help getting organized. After that, I can focus. Negative: They're not going to eat this, so what's the point? Counter: If they're not eating it, they're obviously not hungry. The negative self-talk I was used to simply never took off, and I had an exceptionally relaxed morning. That same feeling has now been carrying on throughout the week. Why does this work? According to Barbara Oakley, author of Mind For Numbers, our brains have two modes of thought - Focused and Diffuse. Focused mode is what I'm using to write this blog post right now. We consciously decide what we're going to focus on. Diffuse mode is an unconscious process, where the brain keeps working on whatever we've deemed important. If you've ever been thinking about a problem, only for the solution to appear out of nowhere when you're in the shower, that's the result of diffuse mode. When we make the effort to write down and counter our negative thoughts, we're inviting our minds to re-calibrate and respond differently next time. We train our minds to work for us, rather than against us.

Mindset Matters More Than Technique

Whether your goal is, your mindset matters - a lot.

For me, the sheer thought of planning next week's meals brings up a raft of negative thoughts and feelings:

  • "Ugh... this is going to be exhausting"

  • "That's going to be a long grocery list. When am I even going to shop?"

  • "How should I know what to plan for next week Thursday? Who knows if I'll even be in the mood for that!"

Here's the thing:

A lot of us know exactly what we need to do. We even know how to do it.

But it's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a goal if you don't have the right mindset.

What's interesting is that since I started writing this post and challenging my self-talk in the kitchen, I've already started to feel like my success is inevitable.

Hope and optimism are like plants - if you keep putting them in the shade, they'll wither. Give them sunlight and they flourish.

If your best laid plans keep failing, I encourage you to give this a try.

And if you find success or have overcome this problem in the past, please share your story!

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It doesn't matter who you ask - everyone is busy.

As parent and business owner, I can relate.

If I'm not working, I'm parenting.

My time is constantly being squeezed, and I don't get time to myself until late at night.

And, of course, that's also when I'm tired out.

Now here's the thing: I know what I signed up for.

I love being a parent. I love my job.

But I can't ignore that it's becoming more difficult to put healthy food on the table.

Some days, I barely beat the school bus home and immediately have to decide what's for dinner, if I have enough time to cook it, and get the job done - all before we have to leave for dance class.

It's no wonder some people hate cooking.

It's hard to keep up. It feels like another chore you have to slide in sideways, in-between all the other things you have to do.

So that's why the concept of time blocking is so interesting to me.

A man burning his dinner
Stressful day? Make it worse by rushing in the kitchen!

What is Time Blocking?

I'll let productivity author Cal Newport do the explaining:

Time blocking is a time management method that asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks. Instead of keeping an open-ended to-do list of things you’ll get to as you’re able, you’ll start each day with a concrete schedule that lays out what you’ll work on and when.

And while time management methods are mostly applied to work environments, take a look at this list and tell me it doesn't reflect what everyday parents are dealing with:

Try time blocking if you... - Juggle many different projects/responsibilities - Spend too much time in “reactive mode” - Battle constant interruptions throughout the day - Struggle to find the time and mental space for big-picture thinking

Juggling household, work, and parenting responsibilities?

Constant interruptions from my kids when I'm trying to cook?

Reacting to time pressure and letting that dictate what I make for dinner?

Time blocking sounds like exactly what we need.

How to Get Started

I'll be honest: the first time I thought about applying this idea to meal prep, I was skeptical.

When I'm at work, the kids are at school.

By the time they go to bed, I'm tired.

"Block off two hours a week for meal prep!?!"

My laughter could be heard for miles.

But when I really dug into my family's routine, I noticed some options.

The one that works best for me is that when my kids get some TV on Sunday, I make a point of being in the kitchen.

So now the question becomes:

What are you going to do with that time?

I have a simple rule for when I'm trying something new: seek out people who know more than I do.

That led me to Jessica Fisher's book, "Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook".

The first part of the book lays out all the ways you can prep ahead and use your freezer to alleviate stress off during the week.

The author describes what you can freeze, how to freeze it, and how long it lasts.

I regularly use freezer meals for my lunches (meal kits are great for this), but what was new to me is the concept of component ingredients.

For example, if I have cooked rice and diced chicken breast in my freezer, I can make a batch of healthy rice bowls within 15 minutes. All I need to do is toss some veggies in a pan, add the frozen ingredients, some sauce, and voila - dinner is ready.

Or if I'm making an easy meal like tacos, it becomes even easier if the taco beef is ready to go.

Bringing It All Together

Here's an example of a meal prep plan that I can cook within a 2 hour time block.

Here's my simple strategy:

Start with with the foods that take the longest to cook and easy to get started - chicken breasts, basmati rice, and whatever meal kit I'm putting in the slow cooker.

Then it's the stove-top recipes - taco beef and another meal kit for lunches.

Eventually, I have time where the food is just cooking and I work on the fresh prep.

By the time everything is cooked, I have most of the dishes done, and then it's a matter of putting things away.

Is it a busy job? Absolutely!

But way less stressful than being under time pressure, and it pays dividends during the week.

Ready to Try Time Blocking Your Meal Prep?

Reality is that we're busy and unfortunately, it's often our health that takes the hit. Food becomes an afterthought and there's no shortage of highly-processed foods to fill the gaps.

Or you're stuck in a constant cycle of trying to figure out what's for dinner.

If you're looking for a solution, time blocking your meal prep is a great place to start.


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5 simple steps to a more zen kitchen experience

I can’t count the number of times I’ve started a recipe, only to find that I’m missing a key ingredient. Or ran around the kitchen, searching for this one utensil that finally turns up in the bottom of the sink.

Not only is this exhausting, it often results in burnt food!

However, I recently learned about this set of techniques, and let me tell you: they work.

What is mis en place and how is going to bring peace to your kitchen?

Mis en place is the system French chef’s (and enlightened home cooks) use to get themselves organized before the first ingredient hits the pan. It means ‘everything in it’s place’ and follows these five steps:

  1. Read the entire recipe

  2. Prepare the work space

  3. Prepare the equipment

  4. Gather ingredients

  5. Prepare ingredients and place in bowls

This system will keep you organized during cooking, help you manage distractions (looking at you, kiddos), and if you cover and store the prepped ingredients, can be done well before you actually start cooking.

And plus, those bowls of prepared ingredients make a nice picture on Instagram!

Check out the steps in detail below:

The 5 Steps of Mis En Place

1. Read the Entire Recipe – it might sound like a no-brainer, but carefully reviewing the recipe is an essential part of the process. You want to find out:

  • What utensils, cookware, and appliances you’ll be using

  • Which ingredients you’ll need

  • When you’ll be using those ingredients in the process

  • How those ingredients need to be prepped.

2. Prepare Your Work Space – my work space consists of three things:

  • Counter-space for cutting

  • Counter-space by the stove

  • The sink

An empty sink makes dishes go a whole lot faster, because you an always find a pocket of time to rinse off the dishes that you’re done with, before they become hard to clean.

3. Prepare The Equipment – take out all the utensils and cookware you’ll need, and place them in the appropriate work spaces. For example, if I’m making Philly Cheese Casserole, I put my frying pan and pot directly onto the stove, and my casserole dish near the oven.

4. Gather Ingredients – take out all of the ingredients the recipe calls for, including sauces and spices. This when you’ll find out if you’re missing anything, without already being committed to the recipe.

5. Prep All Ingredients and Place in Bowls – this final step focuses on the following:

  • Cutting your vegetables down to size.

  • Cutting your meat down to size.

  • Portioning any dry ingredients, such as pasta, rice, and spices.

  • Portioning any liquid ingredients, like soy sauce, olive oil, and water for boiling.

Placing these ingredients in bowls does create extra dishes, but it also gives you the means to store all your prepped ingredients in the fridge, for later use. I like to combine my spices all in one bowl, and combine the vegetables that go into the pan together in separate bowls, just to cut down on dishes. But if you’re taking photos of the finished product, having all those ingredients in separate bowls makes for a nice complimentary picture!


Whether you’re already experiencing the Joy of Cooking or your process reminds you more of Hell’s Kitchen, the art of mis en place will make cooking a lot more manageable.

Be sure to let us know how it went next time you pop into Real Food!

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