Lindsay Stenovec MS, RD, CLEC is a mom, registered dietitian nutritionist and lactation educator living in San Diego with her husband and two sons. Lindsay believes in judgment-free nutrition and offers feeding advice that empowers parents to reduce stress around feeding while nurturing healthy relationships with food and body.
As I entered into my second trimester of pregnancy with my son, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant plan to batch cook and freeze several weeks’ worth of nourishing meals during my third trimester. As a registered dietitian and the primary cook in our family, I wanted to make sure that we’d be able to continue eating healthfully, even in those first few crazy weeks after the baby was born. But as the weeks passed by and I entered my third trimester, I quickly realized that the hours of shopping and prep required for these meals was the last thing my very pregnant body was interested in doing. I knew right then and there that we’d need a more realistic “plan B” that would help us eat well with limited time.
In this third part of a four-part series for Plum’s Keeping it Together campaign, I thought I’d share some of the realistic meal planning hacks that my husband and I came up with along the way that can help you feel less frazzled and more empowered to tackle meal time as new parents. The good news is that once you get these tips down, they can last well beyond the postpartum period.
Create Your Staples List
Start by brainstorming a list with your partner about the foods your family eats every week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and then make a list of those items – such as bread, fruit and milk. Be sure to organize the list by section of the grocery store – produce, dairy, frozen – this will help minimize the time you or your partner spend wandering aimlessly through the aisles. A well-organized list can also be shared with friends and family who offer to help by taking a trip to the grocery store and can easily be entered into an online grocery delivery service.
Focus on “Autopilot Meals”
Keep in mind that the postnatal period is not a time for making your most Instagram worthy meals. Instead, focus on identifying a few “autopilot meals” – those are the familiar dishes you or your partner could practically make in your sleep you know them so well. Ideally, these dishes also require minimal time and clean up, like whole wheat spaghetti and meat sauce with a pre-mixed kale slaw salad. Remember, meals don’t have to be gourmet to be nourishing – setting those kinds of expectations can sabotage efforts from the beginning – leaving families without a realistic or sustainable plan.
Time is a precious commodity during the first few months after the baby is born, so when you have a minute to think about meal planning, why not plan for the next two or even three weeks? Create and organize recipes by week for each autopilot meal so that they can be used to make quick grocery lists. This can be done using recipe cards, a binder, or an online recipe app. The next time you or your partner are headed to the store, just grab the collection of recipes and a fresh copy of your staples list and you’ll have what you need to make grocery shopping a cinch.
Even though I learned that batch cooking weeks’ worth of frozen meals wasn’t entirely realistic in my 3rd trimester, we were still able to prepare and freeze a small amount of pre-made meals as a backup for those, especially crazy days. Things that worked well for us were breakfast items like scrambled egg muffin cups and overnight oat combos and a few simple lunch or dinner options like soups and burritos that are ready to thaw and eat. I also recommend stocking up on snack foods like trail mix, bars, yogurt, fruit, nuts, and whole wheat crackers. One of my favorite homemade snacks to give and receive postpartum is no bake energy bites – rolled up balls of oats, nut butter, honey, flaxseeds, and chocolate chips!
This postpartum meal planning system will keep on giving! It may take some time to put together initially, but after that work is done, the weekly time spent planning will be minimal and you and your partner can avoid using precious energy and brain power on reinventing the wheel every time you head out to grocery shop.
Stay tuned for my final post in this series where we’ll navigate the questions and expectations that come with making infant feeding decisions.