When I was eight months pregnant, my friend — who was trying to explain the early days of parenthood to me — reported that when she was on maternity leave, sometimes she would go the entire day and forget to eat.
“Forget to eat?!” I replied in disbelief. “How do you forget to eat?!”
Of the many surprises that came with parenthood, this, I knew, was NOT one that would happen to me (HAHA). Before kids, my day basically revolved around deciding when and what I’d eat next.
Fast-forward two months, and there I was un-showered, bone-tired, and knee-deep in diaper blowouts and two weeks’ worth of dirty laundry when I said to my husband at 7 p.m., “I forgot to eat today.”
A Nutritional Survival Guide for Sleep-Deprived Parents
When you bring home a newborn baby, your world gets turned upside down and the daily routines that you took for granted are no longer a given. Meals fall by the wayside as you learn to navigate your new life with this little miracle. It’s hard to eat healthy when you’re constantly worried about keeping a tiny human alive. And, if you’re a breastfeeding mama, eating is even further complicated by the fact that you are responsible for keeping two people nourished.
But eating during those first overwhelming weeks with a newborn doesn’t need to be complicated. As long as you keep it simple and remember a few nutrition tips for new parents, you’ll get through the fog of those early days and onto a new routine where (spoiler alert) your new challenge will no longer be that you forget to eat, but that you’re eating your child’s meal and your own.
4 Easy nutrition tips for new parents
- Stock up on healthy snacks. If I were a nutritionist, I would tell you not to skip meals. However, having survived the trenches of new parenthood, I will tell you that skipping meals happens. And when it does, snacks are your new best friend. Stock up on healthy snacks that you can eat quickly, or with one hand. Low-fat string cheese, carrots and hummus, nuts, whole-grain crackers with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt with fruit are all great snacks that require zero effort on your part. It’s okay if you can’t commit to three square meals a day, just make sure you are eating something regularly. This is especially important for breastfeeding mothers since the body requires energy to produce breast milk.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Many people underestimate the importance of drinking water because, well, it’s not very exciting. Drinking water seems easy enough yet few people (especially new parents) get the recommended eight to twelve glasses a day, which can lead to weakness and exhaustion. Water is a key factor in almost every bodily function, and it fills you up, which can help control your appetite. You’ve probably heard it before, but many times hunger is actually dehydration in disguise. If you get bored with regular water, try seltzer or add some fresh fruit to your water to add some flavor. If you’re nursing your little one, you’ll likely feel extra thirsty, so make sure to carry a water bottle with you at all times.
- Prioritize fiber. If you are eating on the go, or aren’t sure when you are going to eat next, you want to try and eat high-fiber foods. Fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans and legumes fill you up quickly so you are less tempted to snack on junk food. An added bonus? Fiber also boosts your metabolism.
- Make a (meal) plan. If you’re lucky, you may get well-wishers delivering home-cooked meals in those early days. This is one of those perks of new parenthood that you should gratefully accept for as long as it is offered. When those meals run out however, and you get sick of ordering on GrubHub or Seamless, you need a plan. If you have a meal plan, you are less likely to stress-eat an entire bag of chips for dinner because your baby is screaming non-stop for no apparent reason. Head off bad food choices ahead of time by putting the right foods within reach. Start by jotting down a few quick and easy meal ideas that can be prepared in under 20 minutes. When I was a new mom, one of my easiest go-to dinners was grilled salmon, sautéed kale, and couscous, which takes no more than 15 minutes to make.
Quick Picks: 6 Healthy and Easy Foods to Add to Your Grocery List
- Veggies and hummus. If you stock your fridge with pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and veggies, you’ll have something healthy to eat when you’re all out of the lasagna that your neighbor dropped off. Baby carrots, snap peas, and broccoli were some of my favorite veggies to snack on when I was too busy Googling “How to safely cut baby’s fingernails” to remember to eat a meal. And hummus is high in protein, fiber, and iron (and makes raw veggies a little more enticing).
- Nuts are a great on-the-go snack because they are full of protein and good fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are also high in fiber so they keep you full longer.
- Fresh fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, oranges, bananas, whichever fruit is your favorite, stock up and dig in. Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It’s also low in calories and may help reduce your risk of certain diseases like cancer and heart disease. Mix your favorite fruit into yogurt, smoothies, or just have it plain!
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal is one of those superfoods that never goes out of style. The list of health benefits of oats seems to go on and on. Plain rolled oats or steel cut oats are a great base to start with, and then you can add fruit, nuts, or other toppings to enhance the flavor. Even easier? Overnight oats, a quick breakfast go-to that let’s your fridge do all the work. If you’re preparing a night-time bottle for your baby, it takes about the same amount of time to prepare overnight oats. Make it a habit to prep both the bottle and the oats at the same time, and you’ll have a nutritious breakfast waiting for you in the morning.
- Eggs. Hard-boil some eggs for a quick, high-protein snack that you can keep in the fridge. Another easy dinner? Breakfast for dinner! Load up an omelet with veggies of your choice and you have a nutritious dinner in under ten minutes.
- Smoothies. Does it get any easier than a smoothie? If you’re not a big fan of greens, whipping up a quick smoothie is the easiest way to get your greens without much fuss. Blend some fruit, spinach, a bit of milk or plain yogurt, and some ice, and you’ll get a few servings of fruits and veggies in first thing in the morning. Plus, a smoothie is an easy breakfast to grab if you are headed out the door to the pediatrician’s office or for a walk with your little one.
Get More Tips from a Dietitian
If you’re an IBX member, you may be covered for six free annual visits with a registered dietitian who can help you come up with a diet that is realistic for your new sleep-deprived lifestyle. Check to see if your plan covers nutrition counseling. To find a participating registered dietitian, primary care provider, or another network provider, Independence Blue Cross members can search our Provider Finder Tool or call 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583) (TTY: 711).