10 Free or Low Cost Ways to Create Language Immersion at Home

¡Buenos días a todos!

When we hear the words “language immersion,” we typically think of living in a foreign country for a period of time and being completely surrounded with the target language one is trying to learn. Over the past 2 months, however, I’ve made giant strides in my Spanish listening and speaking capabilities, without ever setting foot in a Spanish-speaking country! 

Thankfully, gaining conversational fluency doesn’t require extensive travel or a lot of money. The suggestions I’m listing below can apply to any language, although all of my language-learning experiences at the moment involve Spanish.

1. Label household items in target language

This was one of the first things I did when I started getting aggressive with my Spanish learning goals two months ago. I even made big anchor charts to hang up in my living room, so I would be able to conjugate verbs on the fly. It’s important to not only label these every day items, but to be cognizant of actually using these words when you speak… even if it’s something as simple as, “Quiero un cafe” or “Dame mi bolsa”

2. Build a strong foundation through free apps

Two words: Duolingo and Memrise. Memrise is a bit slow and focuses more on memorizing individual words or phrases, while Duolingo follows a series of lessons that are strategically designed to build your foundation. It is an AWESOME app and one of the best resources you will find for free!

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3. Change your phone settings to target language

While it can sometimes be frustrating to get a notification you don’t totally understand, it has forced me to get more familiar with certain words. This setting also puts my Google Maps directions into Spanish, and will automatically translate people’s posts from Instagram and Facebook into Spanish. Like most people, I use my phone a lot, so I am constantly learning Spanish this way.

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4. Listen to free podcasts while working out or driving to work

I recently discovered Coffee Break Spanish through Spotify, and I love it! The episodes feature Mark, an experienced language teacher, and Kara, his student. The podcast is recorded in Scotland, but Mark’s Castillian Spanish accent sounds very authentic. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and very easy to follow along with during your commute to and from work, or during exercise!

5. Speak to native speakers

I’m fortunate to work very closely with three lovely native Spanish speakers. I attempt to speak to them and ask them to correct my grammar when I say something incorrectly. I ask a lot of questions and actively listen when they converse with each other.

However, a lot of people trying to learn a language do not have that same advantage. If you are one of these people, I highly recommend you check out Italki. You can pair yourself up with a language partner for a free language exchange. You would help them out with their English while they help you out with your target language. Another feature I will soon try out is the private tutor feature… it’s not free, but the first three lessons come at a significant discount. Even at full price, the half hour and hour long lessons are reasonably priced and completely catered to your level of proficiency.

 

6.Watch a TV show and/or news every day

Remember watching Destinos during your high school or college Spanish courses? I do. I recently started watching these again with a more critical ear, and it really helps you get better adapted to understanding spoken Spanish. The language is pretty basic and best for beginners.

A woman who works as a Spanish interpreter at my school gave me this piece of advice: “Watch a telenovela and a news broadcast every day! Telenovelas (soap operas) will teach you conversational Spanish and the news will teach you more educated Spanish.”

7. MUSICA, MUSICA, MUSICA

I wrote about this earlier this month because it is undoubtedly my favorite way to learn Spanish. As I become better versed in the different genres of Spanish music, I become increasingly passionate about the language. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time I listened to music in English for longer than 10 minutes or so! I actually prefer Spanish music now. Mariachi, bolero, salsa, traditional rock, even bachata… I’ve been listening to all of it and completing lyric studies with every song.

8. Read in target language everyday

Books, news articles, blogs… there is no shortage of free material online or in your public library. I purchased a slew of children’s books through Amazon earlier this month, but I also try to read from Ventimundos and El Pais as often as I can. Pretty soon I hope to graduate to novels for more extended reading.

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9. Seek out restaurants and stores of that language

For Spanish this is easy– just go to an authentic Mexican (or Colombian, Salvadorian, etc) restaurant and start speaking! “Estamos lista para pedir” – “We are ready to order,” etc. Even if I butcher a sentence, the person I’m speaking to understands what I’m trying to say… waiting until you have perfect grammar before you speak is the biggest mistake most people make when learning a language. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to try to speak first and the correct grammar will come in time.

As I said before, this doesn’t just apply to Spanish. If you’re trying to learn French, German, Mandarin Chinese… there are restaurants and businesses out there chock full of Native speakers. Tons of potential for you to converse.

10. Keep a journal in target language

Translating from Spanish to English is significantly easier than translating English into Spanish. Keeping a journal completely in Spanish is hard and something I’m still not doing 100% consistently, but when I do it, I always see the benefit. If you’re a beginner, your journal entry for the day could be just a simple list of things to do:

Wash the clothes – lava la ropa

Clean the kitchen – limpia la cocina

Walk the dogs – caminar con los perros

You get the idea!

One word of caution about these suggestions: while I have found all of these to be effective, what you get out of language learning has everything to do with what you put in. Everything requires work on your part, and the will to learn and improve! Passively listening to podcasts, music, or TV shows will not do much for you. I’ve been working diligently for the past two months, but I’m still no where near fluency. With more time and hard work, though, I will get there– and so can you!

Con amor y amistad,

Eva

Immersion

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Meal Prep Monday: Skinny Chipotle Burrito Bowls

Despite Chipotle’s bad rep from its contamination crisis over a year ago, I have always loved this chain for its tasty combination of simple, hearty ingredients. My go-to is the chicken burrito bowl, which I frequently copy for my weekly meal prep. As much as I love Chipotle, this version is cheaper and healthier. It costs less than $2-3 a serving and can be prepared as “clean” as you want it. It also takes only 30 minutes or so to prep a week’s worth of these lunches.

Ingredients

4-5 chicken breasts, seasoned with cayenne and garlic salt – grilled or cooked by stove top

2 cans of black beans or pinto beans – I prefer organic, low sodium

4-5 servings of brown rice

Four bell peppers for fajita veggies – onion optional

Lettuce or spinach

Shredded cheese – optional, if you’re really trying to cut down on calories

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This is the brown rice from Costco I’m currently using, although I prefer the generic boil-in-a-bag versions from Walmart and HEB
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These are my go-to black beans from… Costco! No extra salt added, organic.

Begin by cooking the chicken and fajita veggies. I had these going simultaneously in order to save time. Normally I would recommend grilling the chicken, but the weather is crap today!

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This is a fairly simple process. I cut up bite-size pieces of chicken and seasoned with garlic salt and cayenne pepper, then topped with a couple tablespoons of hot sauce for color and a spicy kick. I cut-up the bell pepper and cooked over medium high heat, drizzled with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt/pepper to taste. This step takes about 15 minutes.

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As the chicken and veggies cook, I drained the black beans and microwaved the brown rice — then mixed and placed into a separate bowl.

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Since I didn’t have lettuce on hand, I covered the bottom of my meal-prep containers with spinach, then topped with the beans & rice mixture.

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Finally, top with as much chicken and fajita veggies as your heart desires. If you’re on a strict diet, you can stop there. The shredded cheese really does make it taste better, though:

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Other ways to jazz it up:

-Add some salsa verde or red sauce

-Add lime juice

-Use a combination of black and pinto beans

-Top with some healthy guacamole

-Add pico de gallo (it’s not many calories and tastes delicious!)

-Add corn salsa

Approximate nutritional values: 350 calories, 35g protein, 35g carbohydrates, 16g fiber

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February Goals Update and Progress

I hope every one had a great Valentine’s Day this past week! Ours was pretty low-key, since every day is Valentine’s Day at the Love Nest. It’s hard to believe we only have 9 days left in February!

Unfortunately, I’m already not doing too well on two of my February goals. One of the goals was to post twice a week (epic fail for this past week– I didn’t even get to 1 post!) and the other was to get started on rolling over my old 403b from my first job to a traditional IRA (another epic fail– I haven’t even gotten the ball rolling).

On a positive note, I am making progress with my 6-hour weekly Spanish learning commitment, yesterday I watched about 12 episodes of Destinos, and I went back on Duolingo and practiced on some of my weaker skills throughout the week. I’m also poised to complete my first principal certification course with an A. So far, I’m making good on 50% of my goals for this month.

But 50% is not 100%, and when I set a goal, I aim to achieve it… especially since I openly shared these goals on my blog. 0 blog posts last week mean that I’m on the hook for more posts this week.

This month has been a complete whirlwind. With testing season upon us in the public school world, my duties at work have completely dominated my life. I coordinate placement and testing decisions for all ESL students at my campus (and we have the highest number in the district), which means this is an extremely hectic time of year– and it doesn’t help that this is my first year in this job! March will only become busier.

I could go on and on about how busy and stressful work is, but that doesn’t change anything. I set goals earlier this month, and damn it, I’m going to achieve them! More on this at the end of the month.

Love,
Eva

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5 Steps to Paying Off Debt / How We Paid Off $30k in 1 year

In November 2015, my husband and I purchased a brand new SUV that was well over $30k in value. All things considered, the vehicle was a pretty good deal and were able to shave off some of the cost by trading in an old car. Purchasing a brand new SUV was not a wise financial choice, per se– brand new cars lose a majority of its value in the first couple years of owning it. I learned this from Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover after the fact, and in all likelihood, our next car purchase will most likely be used.

Regardless, we suddenly had about 30k of debt to pay off. Just some background: My husband and I are not fans of debt. We were both fortunate enough to not have student loans or credit card debt when we met each other, and managed to pay for our wedding out of our own pockets. I learned from my childhood experiences that credit cards are a bad idea until you have the self-control and ability to pay off your balances every month.

So how did we do it?

5 steps to paying off debt - pinterest photo

Step #1: Write down your total monthly income and necessary expenses each month

How much money is coming in each month? If you are not on a predictable salary schedule, look at the last few months of bank statements and make your best estimate. Once you have figured that out, make a list of all necessary expenses you have each month: rent or mortgage, utilities, cell phone, home/car insurance, groceries, internet, child care, any loans you are paying off, etc. These are things that don’t automatically come out of your paycheck.

Step #2: Figure out where else your money is going

This can be a hard pill to swallow. Look at your past bank/credit card statements and calculate how much money is being spent on unnecessary things. How much money are you spending on eating out and entertainment? Impulse purchases? When we made the decision to save money more aggressively, we discovered that we were spending upwards of $300 some months on things that were not as important as paying off our debt.One of the biggest problems with people who are not able to pay off debt is that they spend more than they take in. They live beyond their means and wonder why they don’t have the money when an emergency pops up. Figuring out your biggest money-sucks is absolutely critical to your financial health.

Step #3: Set a monthly savings goal

How much money are you trying to pay off? Is there something like a wedding or down payment on a house that you are working towards? Maybe both? Calculate how much you need to save on a monthly basis in order to get there. It’s also important to be realistic. If your house is living on one income and you have 10k in debt to pay off, it’s going to be hard to reach that goal in 3-4 months without gaining another income.

In our case, we had a $30,000 car loan and a two-income household. We knew anything under 1 year would be nearly impossible to pay off with our incomes, but if we started to pretend as though we were living under one income, we could reach our goal in about a year and still have money for vacationing and high quality of living. Keep your goal written on the fridge or bathroom mirror so it’s always visible and easy to remember!

Step #4: Create a budget and plan each month before it begins

Now that you know your monthly income, necessary/unnecessary expenses, and savings goal, it is time to create your budget. Tools like Every Dollar and You Need a Budget make it very easy to create an online budget that automatically links to your bank and credit card accounts. Of course, you could always do it the old fashioned way and create a paper budget or an Excel spreadsheet, but in my opinion, non-electronic methods require more work and are therefore harder to follow.

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EveryDollar.com

All these steps are important, but this step requires the most work on your part and is most critical you follow — particularly if you are the type who easily forgets where their money is coming and going from. Revisit your budget throughout the month, and more importantly, at the end of the month. Get in the habit of monitoring where your hard-earned dollars are going and hold yourself accountable when you don’t stick to your budget!

Step 5: Get creative!

It’s possible to pay off debt quickly simply by religiously sticking to the steps I talked about above, but what if you live in a one-income household where it’s already hard enough to make ends meet? Get creative! There are tons of amazing Frugal Living blogs such as Frugal Florida Mom that provide tons of helpful information in budgeting and saving money. Aside from staying away from unnecessary expenses, you can also…

  1. Sell things you no longer use or need – host a garage sale or sell online!
  2. Create DIY projects and sell them on Etsy or Facebook Marketplace
  3. Teach yourself a skill, such as graphics and web design, and charge for your services
  4. Teach or tutor online if you have a skill, language, or subject you know a lot about (I did this when I was scrapping by during my 1st year as a poor teacher)
  5. Buy more expensive items, such as meat and certain produce, when prices are lowest and freeze
  6. My favorite: CROCK POT MEALS. Make these in bulk and thaw/cook as needed!

I’m just scratching the surface here. Financial wellness and literacy is a huge source of interest for me, and I can’t wait to share more information with you as I become better versed in the world of investments, retirement accounts, and next-level saving and budgeting! Tune in for more!

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February: Goal-Setting

February so far has been absolutely nuts for me. I know it makes much more sense to make a goal-setting post at the beginning of the month, instead of 10 days into it, but what can I say? This idea presented itself to me a couple days ago, and I’m just now able to write about it. I’m sick at home with what might actually be the beginnings of a flu… fingers crossed that it is not!

I’ve always been big on lists and goal-setting. It keeps me organized and gives me a clear vision on how to properly allocate my time and energy. It was creating lists of goals that allowed me to graduate college with honors a year early, earn scholarships to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, pay for our wedding, down payment on our house, lose 40 lbs, etc. Goal setting = good. So here are my goals for the rest of this month:

1. Complete my first course for principal certification with an A – I’m at the tail end of my first course for my administrative certification program. So far, I have an A, but there is a lot that still needs to be completed and graded. This program is way more demanding than I initially gave it credit for.

2. Rollover my retirement savings into a traditional IRA – Several years ago, I opened up a retirement account with my first school district. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured at some point I would need to save for retirement. Going with this particular type of investment strategy and company ended up being a mistake, so I’m finally trying to get the ball rolling on putting this money into an IRA without all the ridiculous fees I was paying before!

3. Post at least twice a week and grow this blog – With so much going on, it’s easy to ignore this blog. I’m going to make every effort to not let that happen. I enjoy blogging and meeting new people/blogs on WordPress; it’s fun and relaxing. I’m interested in learning from more seasoned bloggers how to improve this one.

4. Dedicate at least six hours a week to language learning – I’ve written about my quest to improve my Spanish twice in this blog so far. Six hours a week is much more realistic than 1 hour a day, since my schedule doesn’t always allow that kind of time for explicit language learning. Typically I use the weekend as my catch-up time!


Those are some pretty big goals for the next 17.5 days, so I’m going to leave it at that. I will follow up on this blog at the end of the month to check my progress and set new goals for March!

Love,

Eva

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Monday Meal Prep: Mahi Mahi Veggie Ramen “Bowls”

Thanks to the crockpot meals I put together last weekend, I still have dinner food for this work week– that means time for lunch prep this week! I’m trying to get back into a consistent exercise schedule, but with my job duties (which are increasingly eating up more personal time), learning Spanish, taking care of my dogs, keeping my house clean and husband fed, not to mention keeping up with this blog– it’s hard!

Nevertheless, I will always make time for weekly meal prep because it allows me to know exactly what I’m putting in my body and prevent weight gain, even when I don’t have time to exercise often. Diet is 80% of the battle, and if that part is squared away, then you continue to look and feel good!

On the lunch menu this week is a lovely concoction of Mahi Mahi marinated in garlic and ginger sauce, steamed Asian veggie medley, millet & brown rice ramen, and pot stickers. I call it the Mahi Mahi Veggie Ramen “Bowl”:

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I found this item at Costco a few weeks ago and thought it would be a great change from the usual brown rice that I include in my lunches. I also haven’t eaten ramen since I was overweight and in college, but this version is definitely much healthier. Hence why I bought it!

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Once I set the fish to bake, I steamed about 5 cups of veggies– I’ll be honest, I eyeballed the amount for four equal-sized portions.

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Immediately after setting the veggies to steam, I boiled some water, then dropped the ramen in when my veggies had about 7 minutes to go. This particular kind of ramen cooks VERY fast!

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Next up was the Pot Stickers! I wish I could take credit for hand-making these, but it was from Costco. This item is not whole grain, but it carries quite a bit of protein with each piece. Each potsticker is about 52 calories, and I included 2 in each lunch container. The rest were for my husband to snack on.

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And that’s basically it! Just dress up with some soy sauce or Sriracha and this is a delicious, healthy lunch. As you can see, I’m a big fan of Costco’s frozen organic produce and miscellaneous organic items. It makes meal prep a breeze… these four portions took me less than an hour to put together. Even my lunch containers are from Costco!

Hope this gave someone a good lunch prep idea! Approximate numbers: 350 calories, 30g protein

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A Fun Way to Learn Another Language / Una divertida manera de aprender otro idioma

In January, I wrote here about finally buckling down and increasing my Spanish proficiency for personal and professional reasons. My dad is a native Spanish speaker and my mom quickly picked up the language when they were married in the 1970s. Growing up in South Texas, I picked up a few phrases and important words, but the language simply wasn’t spoken very much at home… so I became resigned about being able to ever learn Spanish. About 80% of the country only speaks one language, and for most of my life, I was okay with being part of that majority.

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Mis padres (en el centro) en su dia de boda

Until now. The truth is, that it’s never too late to learn a second language. Kids do pick up languages faster than adults, but a big reason for this is that kids learn by babbling and speaking with whatever words they know. Adults obsess over correct verb conjugations and grammar rules in the target language, so it takes much longer for them to get comfortable with speaking.

I practice daily in different ways, but the most fun way is by listening and studying MUSIC! I complete lyric studies of my favorite Spanish songs — songs that I don’t mind listening to over and over — by studying the Spanish words and translating them into English.

Mira esto:

 

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La Tortura – This one took a while, because it’s super fast!

 

 

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Tu, by Shakira. This song is perfect for beginners!

 

Spanish movies and shows are great, but I find studying music so much more enjoyable. As an added bonus, it’s slower and easier to listen for individual parts than the rapid spoken Spanish on TV. I created a Spanish playlist in Spotify that I use with these lyrics studies. Right now I am listening to:

  1. A lot of Jarabe de Palo
  2. Shakira – though a lot of her music is pretty fast
  3. Selena, because, why not? She is the Queen of Tejano.

It’s also important to mention that I don’t just listen to these songs. Once I’ve heard the song once or twice, I sing along. Singing the words makes me feel more comfortable with correct pronunciation and rhythm. Yesterday I was listening to a recommended Spanish playlist on Spotify, and came across this beautiful gem covered from a 1960s love ballad from Argentina. It’s the latest song I’ve studied and sang out loud.

I have a tab dedicated to lyric studies in my Spanish Learning Binder:

 

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Mi Carpeta (binder). It has cheat sheets and sections for verb conjugation practice, reading exercises, etc.

As I dedicate more time and effort to increasing my Spanish proficiency, my vocabulary improves by the day. As vocabulary improves, speaking improves. It’s still a long road to fluency, but practice will help me get there!

Con amor,

 

Eva

 

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My Secret for Weight Maintenance: Daily Breakfast Smoothies

My only regret during my weight loss journey was that I didn’t discover the breakfast protein smoothie sooner. While I managed to lose plenty of weight without drinking a smoothie every morning, protein smoothies have been my secret weapon for keeping my weight consistent these past 3 years. When times get so busy that I’m not able to exercise for days or even weeks, I have managed to maintain a steady, lean 120 lbs – – largely due to these awesome smoothies!

I’d recommend at least one smoothie a day for breakfast to anyone looking to 1) lose weight, 2) maintain a certain weight/size, or 3) have a healthy, easy breakfast option on the go. People at work who see me drinking my smoothies often ask me how I decide what to put in them, how to make it, etc. The truth is: there is nothing to it! ANYONE can prep these over the weekend and have them ready to dump into a blender during the work week.

NOTE: These portions are for 2 smoothies each, since I drink these smoothies with my husband daily.

Step one: Protein + Fiber

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A big reason why these smoothies are so effective at weight loss/weight maintenance is that they are chock full of protein, which encourages muscle growth (supplemented with a weight training routine, of course) and prevents muscle loss. For those of you who are not big on Whey Protein, you can also use Plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt — though the smoothie will taste less sweet.

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The fiber and additional protein comes in the form of Flax seed (2 tablespoons) and Chia seed (1 tablespoon). Both are of filling fiber, which will keep your appetite at bay until you are ready for a mid-morning snack. Both are also full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which is amazing for fat burning– among many other health benefits!

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These have been the products I’ve used in my smoothies since this tradition began three years ago. All of these were purchased at Costco! The chia seed I purchased in bulk when it was on sale for $6 a bag, and the Flax seed runs at about $7. This particular brand of whey protein has the perfect protein/carbohydrate ratio and tastes great. One giant bag is about $35 at Costco, but will last us at least 2 months.

Step 2: Fruits + Veggies

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This is the basic combination of produce my husband enjoys. I will often alternate my fruits by the week. For example:

Week 1: frozen strawberries + spinach + banana

Week 2: blackberry/raspberry blend + spinach + banana

Week 3: mango + spinach + bananas

Some form of greens, whether it is spinach or spinach/kale, is a non-negotiable. I aim to get at least 3-4 servings of greens in each gallon-sized zip lock back, just in case I don’t get a ton of veggies in that day. The bananas are equally important, because without them, the texture and taste of the smoothie just isn’t the same. Plus, bananas add additional fiber and potassium. If a banana is browning, I may dice it up and include it in the gallon-sized zip lock bag. If bananas are perfectly yellow, I will typically add them into the smoothie the morning of.

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Step 3: Putting it all together

In the morning, these smoothies take me a grand total of 3 minutes to put together, because I’ve already put everything together over the weekend. Now it’s just a matter of dumping the protein + fiber bag and the fruits + veggies bag into my Blender Ninja, then adding either almond milk or coconut water (24-32oz, though I usually eyeball the right amount). I serve into two big cups and breakfast is served!

I drink my smoothie between 7-8am, and it’s so filling that I’m usually not hungry again until 11am or close to noon. I usually pack a protein car as a mid-morning snack just in case, but a lot of times the hunger just doesn’t kick in or I’ll forget.

Hope you’ll enjoy, if you haven’t already gotten into a daily smoothie routine of your own!

Approximate calories/protein/carbs per serving:

330 calories; 35g protein; 35g carbohydrates

 

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