Fact: parents of tiny humans have zero time. Somehow, between eating, sleeping, and pooping, babies manage to consume every hour of the day. Activities that you used to take for granted like showering and having an adult conversation about something other than the baby become luxuries on par with a trip to the spa.
In those crazy first months (who are we kidding, years), preparing healthy food for the grown-ups in your family can be one of the first things to fall by the wayside. You’re tired. You’re distracted. You’re focused on feeding your little one - not yourself. Pizza to the rescue.
While I’m the last person who is going to tell you to give up pizza, it is important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others… and that includes eating healthy, delicious food that nourishes your body and soul.
Enter meal planning. Over the course of several blogs in Tinyhood’s new “Meal Planning 101” series, I’ll give you the tools and strategies you need to make meal planning a sanity-saving reality in your home.
(Want to skip the series and get all my meal planning strategies at once? Check out our Meal planning for New Parents class.)
4 key benefits of meal planning
Let’s start with the basics. Why meal plan at all? Meal planning delivers a variety of benefits for your family.
1. Health. You can’t eat healthy at home if there is no healthy food at home. Meal planning ensures that you have good food on hand and, perhaps more importantly, that it’s easy to prepare and eat (so that you actually eat it!)
2. Time. While it may seem time-consuming at first, smart meal planning actually saves serious time by consolidating prep and streamlining your options. Less time spent on prep means more time enjoying your food and your family.
3. Money. This is a big one, especially for new parents. Meal planning reduces impulse buys and takeout orders while reducing food waste and helping you buy in bulk more effectively.
4. Convenience. Getting to the grocery store (or even getting online to order groceries) can be a Herculean feat when you have a new baby. Meal planning means fewer trips to the grocery store and less time spent shopping when you do hit the aisles.
Creating balanced meals and healthy snacks
As a registered dietician, the first point above - health - is closest to my heart. I love meal planning because it allows me and my family to consistently eat healthy, balanced meals. But what exactly is a healthy, balanced meal? It’s important to know what we’re aiming for in the meals that we’re planning.
I use the “healthy eating plate” as my guideline for each week’s meals.
If you use these guidelines as a formula, it’s easy to put together different combinations. For example:
- Grilled chicken, roasted broccoli, whole wheat pasta with pesto
- Baked salmon, stir-fried veggies, brown rice
- Black beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion in a whole wheat tortilla
The possibilities here are pretty much endless. By focusing on the type of food vs. the exact food, you can personalize your healthy eating plate for the things you love to eat.
How about snacks? The rule of thumb for snacks is that it should include protein + fiber to keep you full and satisfied until the next meal.
Healthy snacks include protein and fiber
Same idea here as with the healthy eating plate. You can mix and match different proteins and fiber sources to ensure you’re eating something you like AND something that’s good for your body.
- Protein: eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, seafood, beans, tofu, nuts, lentils
- Fiber: fruits, vegetables, whole grains
What do great snacks look like in practice?
- Hummus + carrots or whole wheat pretzels
- Peanut butter + apple, banana, or celery
- Hard boiled eggs + grapes
- Cheese + whole grain crackers
Easy, right? Meal planning isn’t about making fancy meals or restricting what you eat. It simply gives you a framework for creating easy, healthy meals that benefit your body, your schedule, and your wallet.
Don’t want to wait? Dive into all things meal planning in our Tinyhood's course, Meal Planning for New Parents. I share all of my best tips, tricks, and strategies for building a meal plan that your entire family will love.