The whole time I was pregnant, in my mind I saw marked line between how my life was then, and how it would be post-baby. As excited as I was for our baby girl to arrive into our life, I was thoroughly convinced nothing would ever be the same. I’d make pancakes on a Saturday morning and think to myself that I’d never do that again once the baby was born. When I went to bed exhausted at 9pm, I thought about how I’d never again carelessly drift off to sleep. Every time we went to a restaurant, all I could think about was how I’d never eat out again. People told me I’d only eat freezer meals for the first 6 months, so I’d best stock up. I was pretty freaked out. I don’t like freezer meals.
Good news! I was seriously mistaken. Turns out, my life after having a baby is still my same life. Crazy, right? Yes, yes, of course there are changes. And yes, it is unquestionably a HUGE adjustment. But it’s no where near the dramatic change I had built it up to be in my head. Best news of all? We didn’t eat that many freezer meals! I even made waffles when W was one week old! I do, however, have seriously less time to cook, but I’ve figured out a way to still enjoy delicious and nutritious food. (Nutrition is important post-baby! Man, was I a hungry gal!)
Here are my how-to-eat-well-when-you-have-no-time tips:
1. FREEZE THINGS
Definitely make food ahead and freeze it! Just don’t make too much. And keep in mind how many meals you might need. I know lots of people, ourselves included, who moved not long after they had a baby, and you can’t take frozen food with you! Some of my favorite items to stock in the freezer (even if you don’t have a newborn!) are:
You know what they say: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Especially with a new baby. You’re up on and off all night, and exhausted, and if you’re not careful it’ll be noon before you realize you’re still in your PJs and you haven’t had any breakfast. This sad state of affairs can be prevented by a freezer full of breakfast items. I made Heidi Swanson’s amazing Orange and Oat Scones, which can be quickly microwaved/toasted and fill you up well. I also had my favorite cinnamon raisin bagels on hand. I’d also hoped to throw a batch of Dorie Greenspan’s muffins into the freezer before baby W came along, but I never got to it.
Pestos. Pasta sauce. Chimichurri. Freeze anything you can think of that will easily spice up vegetables or pasta or lentils or fish. As much as I enjoy my veggies, I’m a flavor junkie, so I need condiments! I love making cilantro pesto: purée cilantro, lime juice, a fresh jalapeño or serrano chili pepper, pepitas or sunflower seeds and olive oil. Divide into small jars and freeze.
I love freezing curry because unlike many dishes, the flavors don’t diminish in the freezer. Once defrosted, eat with rice or naan, and you have a nutritious and flavorful meal. One of my favorite curries is the Vietnamese yellow curry from Essentials of Slow Cooking, but I also recommend Smitten Kitchen’s curried lentils and sweet potatoes, as well as red lentil curry from Real Simple.
Beans + Veggies.
Even when I have plenty of time to cook, I always keep my freezer stocked with frozen peas and corn, as well as any array of beans. Just put beans (either cooked from dried, or from a can) in a freezer safe container, and add water to cover by at least one inch. Make sure to leave enough room at the top of the container for water to expand!
2. PREP WHEN YOU HAVE TIME
Since having W, I still “have time” to cook, but the time is distributed differently than it was before. I try to take advantage of free moments to prep food so it’s ready in my fridge. For example:
As convenient as those little baby carrots are, I hate paying more for them at the store. I also find the “real” carrots have more taste. So I buy a pound bag of carrots and peel and chop them into sticks all at once. I do this with celery too. That way I have snackable vegetables in my fridge whenever I’m craving something healthy. If they’re not there, I’m more likely to go for the chips…I also wash and store lettuce, spinach, cilantro etc. as soon as I’m home from the store, so it’s ready to go whenever I need it.
Find some make-ahead recipes you love.
It’s not rocket science, but making food ahead can be a godsend when you’re busy. When I have time, I like to make breakfast ahead so it’s easy to grab in the morning when I’m famished. I LOVE making a week’s worth of steel-cut oats in mason jars, and if I’m having company or just want a tasty breakfast, this make-ahead baked french toast is delightful. And so easy!
3. SPEND MORE MONEY AT THE STORE
This contradicts what I said above about carrots, but I think it’s totally worth it to spend a bit more money on foods that make your life easier. (I certainly buy the baby carrots from time to time! I’m just a cheapskate and say to myself at the store “I can peel those myself!”) In the weeks right after W was born, I stocked the fridge with lots of fruits and vegetables, hummus, individual yogurts, CLIF bars, cheese sticks and “healthy” chips/crackers. I also like to keep frozen raviolis and American Flatbread pizzas on hand; add greens and both make great dinners in a pinch.
4. PICK RECIPES THAT AREN’T OVERLY AMBITIOUS
This shift hasn’t been the easiest for me. I like to try new recipes, and I usually pick ones that are pretty involved. But in the past few months I’ve tried to focus on putting a healthy dinner on the table as the primary goal. Of course I want it to be tasty, but it doesn’t need to be fine dining. I went through my recipe archives for some quick and easy ideas. A book I got as a baby present has been a great resource too! I tend towards pasta with veggies, but my current go-to is: Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Cabbage Slaw.
The final piece of this “eating well with baby” puzzle is obvious: go out as much as possible! Great food! No dishes! But more on that in another post.