Starting medical school is one of the most exciting moments in a physicians career… but it can be a little daunting! This talk is one I gave recently to the college students in the Baylor College of Medicine Summer Surgery Program. In addition to talking about how medical school is different from college, I also included my top 10 tips for successfully making this important transition.
I was delighted to be asked to be the AOA visiting professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine this week. The following is the speech I gave at the induction banquet. For those who are not in medicine, Alpha Omega Alpha is the “Phi Beta Kappa” of medical school, an honor society that recognizes students who are at the top of their class… but who have also demonstrated service, leadership and professionalism.
What an honor that I have been asked to be here tonight for this celebration! I am in the company of superstars and great friends, both new and old … what could be better?
I want to start by congratulating the junior AOA, resident and faculty inductees. For the junior AOA inductees, you are clearly on a strong path to excellence which will serve you well. Although I’m going to address my remarks to the graduating seniors, please know that I haven’t forgotten you or what it took for you to be here tonight. For the resident and faculty inductees, you have been singled out for this very particular honor because you are amazing clinicians, educators and role models. Thank you for what you do.
I thought I’d start with a short description of what it means to be inducted into AOA from the AOA website.
“Election to Alpha Omega Alpha is an honor signifying a lasting commitment to scholarship, leadership, professionalism, and service. A lifelong honor, membership in the society confers recognition for a physician’s dedication to the profession and art of healing.”
Induction into AOA is a major milestone in your career and, based on your predecessors in the organization, it also represents the beginning of a remarkable journey. It’s a journey that you won’t take alone. If history is a guide, you represent the future leaders of medicine, which means you’ll be guiding others on this journey as well.
That’s the reason I decided I should talk about how to use a compass.
I suspect that you have all used a compass before but, like me, you probably haven’t given it much thought. A traditional compass works by aligning a needle to the magnetic pulls of the north and south poles. Although we really could use either north or south as a reference point, by convention we use north. I’m not going to get into the differences between true north and magnetic north*… suffice it to say that because a compass lets us know where north is, we can calculate the difference between “true north” and where we are heading, which in nautical terms, is called our “absolute bearing”.
So where am I going with this? Why is it important to have a point of reference, a “true north”, as you start your journey through residency into the practice of medicine?
I know you’ve already been on services where the focus seemed to be more on checking the boxes on the scut list than on caring for the patients… and you had the feeling that there was something missing.
That’s why you need a “true north”.
You’ve also been on committees or in organizations that seemed to worry more about policies and procedures than how to use those policies and procedures for the better good.
That’s why you need a “true north.”
And I know that you have experienced days where you manifested one or more of the three cardinal symptoms of burnout, days when you lost enthusiasm for your work, felt that patients were objects rather than people and/or decided everyone around you could do a better job than you could.
That’s why you need a “true north”.
Unless you know where your “true north” is, you can’t navigate… you can’t make the adjustments that keep you on course.
The single most important piece of advice I can give you as you start on this journey is to make sure you know where “true north” is for you. As each of you define your own personal “true north”, you will share things in common. For example, loving your family and friends, being kind, and trying to make a difference. But even though there will be common themes, “true north” will be a little different for each of you. This is not as abstract a concept as you might think. It is not only possible to articulate your goals, what gives you meaning and how you define your own integrity, it’s important to do so. And, yes, I mean write them down, think about them, and revise them when necessary. When you hit the inevitable days of stormy weather, having a compass that it true is critically important.
In reading about compasses, I also learned that the traditional compass has to be held level to work. I learned that “when the compass is held level, the needle turns until, after a few seconds to allow oscillation to die out, it settles into its equilibrium orientation.”
What a great image. You have to be still to let the compass equilibrate. You have to be mindful to look at the needle to calculate your absolute bearing. And then you have to take that information and apply it to correct your course. And to do so, you have to hold the compass level, which I think is a great metaphor for taking care of yourself – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
There is not a lot in the day to day life of an intern, resident or practicing physician that teaches us the skill of focusing on that still point, on getting our bearings to make sure we don’t veer off course.
It’s not a trivial problem. Veering off course can result in doing something we don’t want to do or, more importantly, becoming someone we don’t want to be. More importantly for those of you just starting on this journey, a small error in navigation at the beginning of a journey results in a very large error when you arrive. That’s why, as you start this journey, it’s so important to know what “true north” is for you.
As you articulate what your “true north” is, I would also urge you to translate it into something that is easy to remember for those times that you are making a decision in a difficult moment. For me, my “true north” as a physician has been distilled into three rules that I try to follow and that I teach my trainees.
Rule 1: Do what’s right for the patient.
Rule 2: Look cool doing it.
Rule 3: Don’t hurt anything that has a name.
Let me expand just a little…
Rule 1 means always do what’s right for the patient. Even if you are tired, even if others disagree, even if you don’t get paid, even if it’s not technically “your” patient – do what’s right. It also means developing an life-long method to deliberately read and study so you know the right thing to do. And it means doing all of this with compassion and integrity.
Rule 2, “Look cool doing it”, means practicing your art until you look cool. If you are surgeon, make sure your movements look like Tai Chi and that you have no wasted motion. If you are a pathologist, learn all the variations on the themes that cells can create. No matter what your specialty, read about each of your patients, prepare for all cases, procedures and conferences deliberately and diligently. “Look cool doing it” also means don’t lose your cool. Be professional, which at its core is just another way of saying kindness and integrity matter.
Rule 3, “Don’t hurt anything that has a name”, certainly means don’t cut the ureter if you are doing a colectomy, but it means more than that because…
You have a name.
Your significant other has a name.
Your institution, your friends, your family all have names.
You are about to embark on the amazing and challenging journey of residency… I know you have a sense of trepidation and also a sense of incredible excitement. Everyone in this room who has been there remembers and, to be honest, is probably a little jealous. What an amazing time to start a career in medicine.
Congratulations on all you have accomplished so far. I wish you smooth sailing and a compass that is true.
*Because I am using “true north” as a metaphor, the scientists will have to forgive me. There is a difference between “true north”, which is the actual north pole and “magnetic north” which is what a compass shows. Here’s a great link that explains this further: Magnetic North vs Geographic (True) North Pole
A few years after I started as an attending in pediatric surgery, I was called to see a little girl who had been with her father at a construction site. For whatever reason, a wall under construction had fallen and she was caught under it. Her injuries were severe, with massive blood loss from a crushed liver. We opened her chest, packed the liver, transfused her massively but to no avail…
I vividly remember what happened next. Instead of the usual quiet moment of reflection, the team started talking about our week, carrying on a conversation as though this was just one more event in a busy day. It hit me how unusual this was as I was driving home. It was the middle of the night and, as I drove into my neighborhood, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling anything, that the sadness and other emotions I usually felt when I lost a patient weren’t there.
A cat darted in front of my car. I got out of the car, looked at the cat and burst into sobs… which continued for a good 30-40 minutes.
The loss of a patient, the loss of a pet, or even the loss of a dream related to your career leads to grief. Granted, the depth of grief may be, and should be, less than the loss of a family member, but it is grief nonetheless. Because these losses are often viewed as “less serious”, people may feel that it’s somehow “not normal” to feel true grief when they occur. This is particularly true for physicians, who often have to suppress these feelings to be able to treat the next patient.
Here’s the single most important message…It’s ok to feel the loss.
The ability to cry over a tragic injury or loss of a patient is the sign of a compassionate physician or provider, not a sign of weakness. For all of us who experience these losses, It is important to allow ourselves to grieve, if that is what we are feeling. Although this will mean different things for different people, here are a few ways that might help…
Share your thoughts with someone you trust. Talk to your friends and, in particular, senior colleagues. It is important for your future patients that you are allowed the space to grieve. It is also normal to worry about returning to work if you’ve experienced a particularly traumatic loss. If you have a colleague who has lost a patient, let them know in direct or indirect ways that you are there for them if they need to talk.
If you are the team leader, talk to your team. It’s important to debrief with your team (and anyone else who was there) immediately afterwards and a few days later. Make sure you acknowledge how hard this is and ask if people are ok. Remember for many of your learners, this may be their first time to experience the loss of a patient… how you respond will be remembered as their example for the future.
“Good models teach us to handle the experiences that change us.” Thomas J. Krizek.
Communicate with the family. Immediately afterwards, just be with them. It is human nature to avoid “bothering them” in their time of grief but try to go. Bearing witness to their grief by sitting silently with them is a powerful way to help. Write a condolence letter. Call, email or write a note 3-6 months later to let them know you are thinking of them and to ask if they have any lingering questions. Offer to meet with them if they would like.
Go to the visitation and/or the funeral. Even after a hard journey together, even if you question if you could have done something different, go to the funeral if it feels like you should. Not just for the family, who will be very appreciative – but for you. There is closure in ceremony for everyone.
Take care of yourself. Focus on self-care by being with family and friends, eating good food, exercising, sleeping and doing the things you love. It is both the burden and privilege of our profession that we experience these moments of intense and tender transitions…. but sometimes it hurts.
The “clean slate” of a new year almost always leads us to think of resolutions … things we could change to make our lives better. This is a great time for reflection to realize what you have accomplished, where you’d like to be in a year, and what changes you need to arrive at that goal. I just finished reading Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean which provided some useful ideas about making resolutions.
Know why you want to make the change
“There has to be an ultimate goal that is really worth achieving or the habit will be almost impossible to ingrain.” Jeremy Dean
Let’s take one example – losing weight. It’s fine to say you want to lose weight… but why? Wanting to fit into your clothes is not a trivial reason, but will it really motivate you when it gets tough as much as these?
- Being able to “walk the walk” when you talk to patients about losing weight
- Reduction in your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a variety of other health problems
- More energy, better mood, less pain…
What’s important is that you find reasons that resonate for you. Do a little research and write down why you want to make the change. Plan to review this, and revise it when needed, on a regular basis.
Make the resolution then make a plan.
To continue the losing weight example, what are the specific new habits you want to develop? Are they “SMART” changes? (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based). For example…
- I will eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- I will set the alarm clock 15 minutes early to do push-ups, crunches and squats before I go to the hospital.
- I will plan my meals and shop once a week so I can take healthy food with me to work.
- I will schedule my workouts every weekend so I can attend at least two spin classes a week.
- I will cook one healthy dish on the weekend that I can eat for at least 4 meals during the week
Develop the “what if” plan.
The next step is to imagine all the things that might derail you and write down a specific plan for each of them. This will be an ongoing process… as you come up with new excuses to not follow through with your new habit, add it to the list.
Back to the example of losing weight….
- If I forget to bring fruit/veggies with me to work, I will go to the cafeteria or lounge to get at least 2 servings to eat at work.
- If I walk by MacDonald’s and feel drawn in by the smell of the fries, I will remember that I’m trying to set a good example for my patients
- If I hit snooze on my alarm clock, I will move it across the room.
- If I think I’m too tired to go shopping for the week, I will remember that this is the key to having healthy food at work.
“Making healthy habits should be a voyage of discovery.” Jeremy Dean
Self-monitoring is critically important to maintaining a new habit. It doesn’t matter if you use an app like My Fitness Pal, a calendar, a spreadsheet or a system like the Bullet Journal… stay accountable by keeping track.
As the habit becomes engrained, change it a little to keep it interesting.
Working out with exactly the same routine quickly becomes boring. It’s one of the reasons people love group classes like spin classes – the instructors are always changing the routine. Be mindful and creative… but stay out of ruts!
“Making or breaking a habit is really just the start. To develop a truly fulfilling and satisfying happy habit, it’s about more than just repetition and maintenance; it’s about finding ways to continually adjust and tweak habits to keep them new; to avoid mind wandering and the less pleasurable emotional states that accompany it. There is great enjoyment to be had in these small changes to routines. When life is the same every day, it gets boring.” Jeremy Deans
Looking for inspiration? Here’s a list of New Year’s Resolutions for medical students, residents and busy docs. Pick 1 or 2 and start working on your plan, your what-ifs and how you will monitor them!
- Learn to meditate and spend at least 10 minutes every day meditating with HeadSpace. (Here’s the TED talk that introduced me to this great app.)
- Eat fruits and veggies with every meal.
- Walk 10,000 steps per day.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevators.
- Learn the names of all the people you work with… the guy who mops the floor, the clerk at the desk, the person who works in the blood bank.
- Write down three things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed.
- Log all cases (if this applies to you) the same day and finish medical records within 24 hours.
- Use a system like the Bullet Journal or Remember The Milk to become more organized and never miss a deadline (including the birthdays of your family and friends)
- Cook your own meals at home (take a class if you need to).
- Be on time to conferences, rounding, meetings, classes, etc.
- Spend at least half a day a week “unplugged” and use it to play.
- Keep a journal to remember the important events of the day, vent about things that upset you, and make plans for the future.
- Read something that is not medical every day.
- Stop eating fast food.
- Drink less alcohol or stop all together.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep any night you are not on call. (and have a plan post call to sleep more)
- Cut out all added sugar.
- Drink more water.
- Keep your house neater… or at least a part of your house!
- Stop texting while driving.
- Learn about motivational interviewing to help your patients.
- Read a major textbook in your field in one year.
- Learn something new from every patient you see
- Try a new way to exercise every month
- Set your intention for the day every morning.
- Eat breakfast every morning.
- Set limits on checking email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Plan your meals for the week on the weekend to make sure you have great food on call and at work.
- If you have to sit a lot at work, come up with a plan to not be so sedentary.
This is a truly wonderful piece from Emily Gibson, re-posted here with her permission from her beautiful blog, Barnstorming. Enjoy!
As we drown in the overwhelm of modern day health care duties, most physicians I know, including myself, fail to follow their own advice. Far too many of us have become overly tired, irritable and resentful about our workload. It is difficult to look forward to the dawn of the next work day.
Medical journals and blogs label this as “physician burnout” but the reality is very few of us are so fried we want to abandon practicing medicine. Instead, we are weary of being distracted by irrelevant busy work from what we spent long years training to do: helping people get well, stay well and be well, and when the time comes, die well.
Instead, we are busy documenting-documenting-documenting for the benefit of insurance companies and to satisfy state and federal government regulations. Very little of this has anything to do with the well-being of the patient and only serves to lengthen our work days — interminably.
Today I decided to take a rare mid-week day off at home to consider the advice we physicians all know but don’t always allow ourselves to follow:
Sleep. Plenty. Weekend and days-off naps are not only permitted but required. It’s one thing you can’t delegate someone else to do for you. It’s restorative, and it’s necessary.
Don’t skip meals because you are too busy to chew. Ever. Especially if there is family involved.
Drink water throughout the work day.
Go to the bathroom when it is time to go and not four or even eight hours later.
Nurture the people (and other breathing beings) who love and care for you because you will need them when things get rough.
Exercise whenever possible. Take the stairs. Park on the far side of the lot. Dance on the way to the next exam room.
Believe in something more infinite than you are as you are absolutely finite and need to remember your limits.
Weep if you need to, even in front of others. Holding it in hurts more.
Time off is sacred. When not on call, don’t take calls except from family and friends. No exceptions.
Learn how to say no gracefully and gratefully — try “not now but maybe sometime in the future and thanks for thinking of me.”
Celebrate being unscheduled and unplanned when not scheduled and planned.
Get away. Far away. Whenever possible. The backyard counts.
Connect regularly with people and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with medicine and health care.
Cherish co-workers, mentors, coaches and teachers that can help you grow and refine your profession and your person.
Start your work day on time. End your work day a little before you think you ought to.
Smile at people who are not expecting it, especially your co-workers. Smile at people who you don’t think warrant it. If you can’t get your lips to smile, smile with your eyes.
Take a day off from caring for others to care for yourself. Even a hug from yourself counts as a hug.
Practice gratitude daily. Doctoring is the best work there is anywhere and be blessed by it even on the days you prefer to forget.
“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness.”*
On the flight home yesterday I finished Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (She’s probably known to you for her NY Times Best Seller Eat, Pray, Love). For me, one of the overarching messages of her book was this – When you see what you do as your vocation (from Latin vocātiō, meaning “a call or summons”), and not just your job, it will transform how you view your work – a concept which I believe may be necessary (but not sufficient) to treat or prevent burnout.
As I read her thoughts on how to live a creative life, I realized that there were other ideas that applied to physicians, physicians in training and others who serve:
Just show up. Every day.
“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least”
Learning and practicing medicine (or any other field) means showing up – really showing up – every day. Everyone in the first year of medical school learns that it is different than college. Cramming for exams is not only ineffective, it’s just wrong. You are no longer studying for a grade on a test…. it’s now about the patients you will take care of in the future. The same holds true during residency and when you begin your practice. It’s not just when you are a trainee. Part of the “work” of medicine remains “unglamorous, disciplined labor”… keeping up with the literature, going to teaching conferences when you could be doing something else, finishing your hospital charts, being on call.
But the work of medicine is also about showing up every day in another sense, too – truly showing up for the people who rely on you – no matter what. That, too, can be “unglamorous, disciplined labor” when you are tired or stressed.
“Work with all your heart, because—I promise—if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.”
“They are your patients… from the first day of medical school until you retire.
“Most of all, there is this truth: No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself. Eventually, the teachers won’t be there anymore. The walls of the school will fall away, and you’ll be on your own. The hours that you will then put into practice, study, auditions, and creation will be entirely up to you. The sooner and more passionately you get married to this idea—that it is ultimately entirely up to you—the better off you’ll be.”
Caring for others gives us joy but also gives us the responsibility to know the best thing to do for them. Whether you are a first year student, 3rd year resident or a PGY35 attending, we are all still learning. “Life long learning” is not just a phrase, it’s the reality of what we do.
It’s called the practice of medicine for a reason.
“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”
Learn the art of deliberate practice early. Deliberate practice, to use a musical analogy I learned in Cal Newton’s fantastic book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, doesn’t mean playing the piece from start to finish 20 times in an hour. It means spending 55 minutes on the small section that you struggle with, repeating it 100 times before you play the piece through once. It means instead of reading the comfortable material on the anatomy of the kidney, you deliberately tackle how the nephron works. It means that instead of doing the computer-simulated cholecystectomy 10 times you spend an hour tying intracorporeal knots in the trainer. Find the thing that is not easy and practice it over and over until it becomes easy.
There is Peril in Perfectionism
“There are only so many hours in a day, after all. There are only so many days in a year, only so many years in a life. You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.”
One of the greatest attributes of those who care for others is their devotion to the people they serve. But perfectionism, taken to its extreme, is dangerous. Extending your time to study for Step 1 beyond what is reasonable to try to get a higher score, revisiting decisions about patient care to the point of anxiety, worrying that your GPA has to be perfect are all counterproductive. The motivation to do well is like a cardiac sarcomere – a little worry will make you more effective, but stretched too far, there won’t be any output at all.
Curiosity can overcome fear.
“No, when I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”
It’s something most students don’t realize, but no matter how long you practice medicine, there are days when you are afraid. It takes courage to do what we do. Remember, being courageous is not an absence of fear, it’s being able to do what’s right despite the fear. I agree complete with Elizabeth Gilbert that curiosity helps. When you have something that doesn’t go the way you expect or frightens you, instead of beating yourself up (“I should have studied more”….”I could have made a different decision”…etc…etc) become curious. If you are thinking about a complication, commit to finding everything you can about the procedure and how to prevent complications. If you didn’t do as well on your test as you thought you should, look up different techniques to study, take notes, and remember information, and go back to make sure you really understood what was being tested.
Even more powerful than curiosity is gratitude. Fear and gratitude cannot exist at the same moment. Try it – the next time you are about to snap because your EMR freezes be grateful that you can see the computer, be grateful you have work, be grateful you have been trained to help other human beings …and see what happens.
“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”
Your worth is not the same as your “success”.
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
Wow…. This one is so important.
It’s not what you make on Step 1. It’s not how many cases you do, how many patients you see or how much money you make. This concept is taught by every religion and philosopher I know – for a reason. Be devoted to doing the best you can and to forgiving yourself (and learning from it) when you fall short.
One last thing….for medical students trying to choose a specialty – forget about finding your passion.
This is a little longer quote than the others, and mirrors a similar message in So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love .
Find something, even a little tiny thing, that makes you curious (or fills you with wonder) and follow it. Dedicate yourself to following that curiosity and it will likely lead you to your career.
“May I also urge you to forget about passion? Perhaps you are surprised to hear this from me, but I am somewhat against passion. Or at least, I am against the preaching of passion. I don’t believe in telling people, “All you need to do is to follow your passion, and everything will be fine.” I think this can be an unhelpful and even cruel suggestion at times. First of all, it can be an unnecessary piece of advice, because if someone has a clear passion, odds are they’re already following it and they don’t need anyone to tell them to pursue it…..I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone…..In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small?….But in that moment, if you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer. Do it. It’s a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it’s a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a voice in the desert; it’s just a harmless little scavenger hunt. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places. It may even eventually lead you to your passion—albeit through a strange, untraceable passageway of back alleys, underground caves, and secret doors.
*Italics are quotes from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Since I read this on my Kindle, I don’t have page numbers!
It’s hard for those that haven’t been there to understand how medical school, residency and/or long hours in the hospital changes what and how we eat. There isn’t time to sit down to eat, there aren’t good choices and often, the only thing to eat is the “free” food at conferences. But…. Free food isn’t free. There’s a reason it’s cheap (poor ingredients) and that it “tastes good” (lots of fat, sugar and salt)… but it makes us feel terrible after we eat it. (Beware the middle of the night french fries!) More importantly, we aren’t providing the nutrients we need to take care of other people and ourselves. So, what’s the answer?
Spend the money and the time to invest in your health! Grabbing donuts or bagels in the surgeons’ lounge in the morning, pizza at noon-day conference and a hamburger at MacDonald’s in the middle of the night is terrible. (You know it’s true).
So what’s the alternative? Here’s a five-step, easy plan that will let you eat better, feel better and avoid gaining weight in medical school and residency. This is predicated on cooking your own food but you can use this plan if you don’t cook by buying prepackaged foods. But really…. If you can learn how to take out a gallbladder or care for ill patients in the ICU don’t you think you can learn how to sauté a few vegetables???
- Make a plan
- Make a shopping list
- Shop once for the week and (when you can) prep ahead
- Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days
- Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry
Make a plan
Map out your week’s meals and snacks using the “pizza rule” (nothing you cook should take longer to cook than it takes to order a pizza). Pay special attention to call days. It’s important to have really delicious food which can be grabbed in a minute when you are on call. I use Evernote to make my list for the week so I can share it with my family:
If you like to cook, you probably already know where to find recipes you’ll like. If you don’t cook regularly, I post recipes on @drmlb with #CallFood that meet the “pizza rule” and would be delicious on call. Here are few other sites I use regularly: Eating Well, Cooking LIght, My Recipes, Food Network, Kayln’s Kitchen, Skinny Taste. If you use Evernote to organize your list, it gives you one other advantage – you can download their add-on and clip recipes from the internet directly to Evernote. Each “note” (i.e. recipe) in Evernote can then be shared with whoever you cook with (i.e. whoever gets home first can start dinner!). It also lets you search all your notes so you can easily find your recipes in the future.
Make a shopping list
I use Grocery IQ for my shopping list. This app lets you organize your grocery list by the aisles in your favorite stores to make shopping faster. It also allows you to share the list with your significant other which means that whoever is able to get to the store first has the updated shopping list! I don’t really use the “coupon” feature or the barcode scanner, but if you choose to use these functions, please use the FoodEducate app with it to make sure your choices are healthy!
Shop once and (when you can) prep ahead
Planning lets you spend less time in the grocery store and absolutely means less food wasted. When you get home from the store think about the meals you are going to cook later in the week. If your carrot soup on Tuesday calls for sliced carrots, diced fennel and chopped onions, chop them when you get back from the store on Sunday and put your “mise en place” in baggies or containers in the refrigerator. Cooking is not that time consuming…. but prepping is!
One other good trick is to make “mirepoix” on the weekend for the week. Diced onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, etc can be prepped and put in a bag. It can be an instant stir-fry on nights when you need something fast. You can also put a handful in soups, omelettes, or wraps to get extra vegetables in your day. Mix it with leftover rice or other grains to make an instant salad (you can add tuna, if you want, too).
Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days.
You need good “comfort food” when you are working hard, but it can be both comforting and healthy. For example, this recipe for spaghetti squash lasagna. The preparation for this recipe isn’t that hard (you can steam the spaghetti squash in the microwave instead of roasting it in the oven, for example) but it’s a little too long for nights when you get home late and are really tired.
Learning to use a pressure cooker (my favorite) or a slow cooker like a crock pot is a great way to cook up a batch of something when you are home and doing other things without spending a large amount of time in the kitchen
No matter what you make or how you make it, make enough to freeze individual portions and then store them so they will stay fresh. Don’t forget to mark the containers with a Sharpie and eat them within 3-4 months!
Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry
Despite my best efforts to plan, there are weeks when I’ve miscalculated amounts, don’t have enough time or just don’t want to eat what I had planned. When that happens, it’s great to have a go-to “instant” meal, which usually comes out of the freezer and pantry. Here are some to get your list started!
Moroccan Lentil Stew – (particulary good with harissa and served over couscous)