Joy Bauer's 5-step plan to get back on track — before the holidays

The quarantine creep — brought to you by sweatpants, banana bread and lots of couch time.
Full Length Of Young Woman Lying On Bed
The quarantine struggle is real. Paolo Modugno / EyeEm / Getty Images

When Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC anchor and NBC News business correspondent, called me complaining about what she called the "quarantine creep," it didn't take very long to zero in on what exactly that meant. Low energy? Check. Tight clothes? Check. Mealtime decision fatigue? Heavy check mark.

This "creeping" feeling is one that Stephanie has experienced before. She wrote about it back in 2018 — and even came up with a plan to beat it. And then came COVID-19. The busy mom of three was struggling with the same problems many of us are: Working from home while trying to raise, feed and homeschool kids all at the same time. And she felt like she was failing.

Of course, she wasn't failing — she just needed a plan to get back on track. Here's the 5-step routine I shared with Stephanie that can work for you, too.

1. Jumpstart your mindset

When we start our day with intention and energy, we set the stage for a positive day. Taking a few moments in the morning to reset and reclaim your time by meditating, stretching, going through your schedule and getting dressed can go a long way.

  • Start the day with a solid stretch and 30-60 seconds of deep breaths.
  • Plan your menu and psych yourself up for a great day. Having a road map and positive attitude is key.
  • Get dressed. Even if you’re working from home and nobody sees you (at least from the waist down) it’s important to feel your best and on top of your game. Brush your hair and wear an outfit that makes you feel put together. Make sure that at least twice a week you wear fitted jeans or a dress that's zipped all the way.

2. Make mealtimes matter

Now that so many of us have transitioned from our office to our kitchen office, we are getting tons more use from our ovens, stoves, food processors and more. We are experimenting with new foods, testing new recipes and cooking more than ever. That means we have more control over what we’re eating and feeding our families. This couldn’t make me happier!

Breakfast and lunch meals tend to be repetitious and that’s not a bad thing. If you have kids, make sure your options work for the entire family. Here are a few to get you started:

Breakfast:

Enjoy a breakfast that’s filled with satiating protein and fiber. This combo will keep your blood sugars steady so you’ll feel fueled until lunchtime. Translation: you’ll be able to rock through your morning to-do list.

Lunch:

Don’t forget to unplug when lunchtime rolls around. Take a break from work and make it a rule that you can only eat when sitting down. This will help you focus on savoring what’s in front of you, and prevent you from becoming distracted and unaware that you’re full. 

Dinner:

Here's a pro tip for you: Organize theme nights. Dinner tends to be the trickiest of the three meals. It's the end of the day, we're tired, we have a lot on our minds, people are on different schedules and we often wait until the last minute. No wonder we rely on takeout or pizza delivery.

When the type of cuisine is already chosen, all you have to do is vary the meals and recipes. For example, for Stir-fry Saturday, you can choose shrimp, chicken or tofu as a lean protein for your stir-fry, and then toss in whatever veggies you have on hand. Get the kids involved with choosing menu options, making decorations or getting dressed up according to the theme.

Joy Bauer's Black Bean Tacos

3. Snack smart

Ideally, enjoy 1-2 snacks per day that contain wholesome ingredients and taste delicious. This will help you feel fueled and energized between meals.

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Here are a few tips to keep you on track:

  • Make a list of healthful munchies and stock the kitchen.
  • Let produce play a starring role. You’re more likely to eat foods when they’re in plain sight, so keep fresh  fruits, vegetables or whole-grain popcorn visible. Do this, and when  afternoon hunger  strikes,  you’ll reach for apples, grapes  and carrots  instead of chips, cookies  and pretzels. 
  • Limit baking sessions to 2 times per week and opt for healthier treats.

If your kids are really into baking and there are more goodies than you’d like to have in the house, consider safely surprising neighbors or friends with baked goods ... share the deliciousness!

4. Exercise every day

Ideally you want to get in 30 minutes of exercise each day — and, yes, walking counts. I realize it’s easier said than done, but here are some ways to sneak it in and make it more fun: enjoy listening to music or a book on tape, or multitask while working and take conference calls while pacing around the living room, walking on the treadmill or outside.

  • Set alarms to get up from your desk, stretch and walk around the house.
  • Drop and give me 10: 10 pushups, 10 sit-ups or 10-second planks. Do this once or twice each day.
  • Walk around during phone calls and work calls.
  • Do a workout video alone or with the family.
  • Family dance/exercise party: have 1 person be the leader that day to pick the music and lead the moves. Walking in place and funny dance moves are encouraged. This could be a midday break or anytime that works with the family's schedule. If you're single, have your own dance party.

5. Stay hydrated

How much water (or fluid, in general) do you need to stay properly hydrated? A good guideline: Aim for half your weight in ounces per day. If you’re an avid exerciser, spend long periods of time outside, or live in a particularly dry climate, you may need even more. Plain, sparkling water, coffee or tea counts toward your goal. Drink up!

Start a fun family hydration challenge to get you going: Everybody gets a cool, reusable water bottle and marks off on a chart each time they refill their bottle. Choose one adult winner and one kid winner at the end of the week — or for individuals, challenge yourself and celebrate your success with some sort of healthy reward. You can even challenge a friend virtually.

For more tasty and healthy recipes, visit JoyBauer.com.