A couple years back, my hair dresser and I commiserated over our sleepless babies; I had one, she had two. I’ll always remember her saying to me, “motherhood is the ultimate sacrifice”. It’s true. All us moms know that. We sacrifice our sleep, our bodies, our free time, sometimes our careers.
But it seems like we keep upping the ante. How much of our lives can we hand over to these tiny beings? How much of ourselves can we give up? (Want a fun game to play? Ask a mom what she does for fun. Watch her stare at you blankly.)
We’re sacrificing so much of ourselves that it has become second nature to overlook one very basic need for survival: food.
How many times have you heard, or even said, the following: “I’m so busy that I don’t have time to eat”?
In the past week alone, I’ve heard it from a friend, a family member and a podcast host.
Guys, this is not okay. And the fact that it has become the new norm makes me want to speak out with some advice. While I’m not a parenting expert, I have become sort of a pro at making myself a priority (when you get sick with a serious illness and you have a 1 year old to raise, you have no choice but to treat your health and self with some importance). If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know this is something I talk about often.
And really, not having time or “forgetting” to eat, boils down to not making yourself a priority.
Moms, old and new, come to me with intense fatigue, burnout, weight issues, hormonal problems, infertility, low breastmilk supply. There are often many things at play, and when I work one on one with someone, we get into the nitty gritty. But I like to reach for the low hanging fruit when I can, and the answer to so many issues is to eat more and eat well.
I don’t want to oversimplify it; if eating is a struggle for you, it’s a struggle for you. So today my aim is to not only encourage a mindset shift, but also bring you some straight forward nutrition advice and practical food suggestions you can set in motion.
To be clear, this is not a How To Get Your Family To Eat Well post. Nope, today I’m specifically focusing on YOU, mama. But I will say that there appears to be a real trickle-down effect with the rest of the family when mom puts focus on herself, her health and her food. I’ve seen it time and again with women who run through my nutrition program. The oxygen mask analogy is overplayed, but it gets the point across: take care of YOU, or you’re of little use to others.
This is also not a life hacks blog where I tell you how to circumvent the acts of preparing and eating food. Instead, let’s try to alter the socially acceptable rhetoric of “you’re so busy, here’s a meal replacement bar/shake/powder since you have no time for real food” to “you’re important, your life matters as much as your children’s do. You deserve to eat.”
This is me telling you how to make feeding yourself a normal, automatic, guiltless act.
If you’re hungry, eat.
I start here because it sounds like the most obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to say these exact words in my line of work. I constantly see women trying to stave off hunger - be it for weight loss goals, food overwhelm, or simply because they’re maxed out. Pushing through hunger, or using coffee/caffeine/water/gum to short circuit your hunger signals, is a REALLY bad idea. What often happens is you end up reaching for fast snacks, overeating later at night once the kids are in bed, or just under eating in general (read this article to learn what happens if you don’t eat enough calories). Don’t fight the feeling. Eat the food.
Eat the food, clean the dishes, ditch the guilt.
I recently read an article written by a mom that told other moms to stop ignoring tasks because of the guilt of not “savoring the moments” with their children. She used washing the dishes as an example. While cleaning is not really my thing, I resonated with the message. This can - and should - be applied to eating.
When moms tell me that they don’t have time to eat, here’s what I want to say: Take a moment and eat the food. I promise, your kid will be fine without your undivided attention for 15 minutes. You’re not a bad mom for stealing a hot second to eat a (probably cold) meal. And you’ll be far more apt to savor the moments if you’re not starving to death.
If this is a real challenge, try eating together. Sharing food is cool, but make sure you still eat. I’ve shared my food with my kiddo since she could eat. She’s more apt to try different foods - and even eat more - when she’s doing it out of my bowl. I’m not historically a food sharer, so this is equal parts exciting (cool! she’s eating curry!) and annoying (lay off me, I’m starving!). If the kid starts going to town on what I’m eating, then I get up and make more for myself. Because mama’s gotta eat, too.
I’m trying to break the mold with my daughter. I don’t want her to have to wait until she’s in her thirties before she realizes she’s worthy of making herself a priority. I don't want it to take an illness to teach her. So I’m leading by example. While I put her needs first a lot of the time (because, you know…she’s 3), I put my needs first sometimes instead. Without any guilt. And she sees this. And I think that’s a good thing.
Make breakfast a non-negotiable.
Morning is a busy time of day for everyone, but especially for a parent trying to corral small humans. Days start early, caffeine goes down the gullet, things get hectic. Before you know it, you’ve been up for 5 hours and all you have in your belly is coffee and maybe a rogue bite of toast or cold, crusty scrambled egg.
This, my lady, is a blood sugar DISASTER. We all ride blood sugar waves throughout the day, but it should be more like a gentle drive on an undulating country road than a Six Flags roller coaster ride.
When blood sugar gets too low, you get hangry and shaky, and end up reaching for fast fuel - most usually nutrient-poor, refined carbohydrate-rich snacks (what I lovingly refer to as “carbage”). Think granola bars, bagels, muffins, crackers. This spikes your blood sugar, which then crashes again soon after, and you’re left in a vicious cycle of sugar, carb and caffeine cravings. This will make you feel tired, cranky, irritable and strung out (and us moms really don’t need any help in that department).
Breakfast is often how I stake my claim on my day. It’s like saying TODAY, I MATTER, TOO.
Even if you think you don’t have time, take a few minutes to throw together something simple. This will start your day (and your blood sugar) off on the right foot. Smoothies are an obvious choice here because they require very little time to prepare and are easy to drink while doing other things. But if you’re drinking a smoothie as a meal, it has got to contain appropriate calories and macronutrients (protein and fat are two things to focus on for your first meal of the day). My favorite concoction includes full fat canned coconut milk, avocado, frozen berries and collagen peptides for a gut-happy protein source. I also eat 1-2 hard boiled eggs on the side for a whole-food source of protein. Chewing food (versus just drinking a smoothie) improves digestion and can enhance satiety.
Don’t hit the easy button.
When you’re skipping meals due to time constraints, you often end up grabbing whatever is quick and convenient once the hunger pangs kick in. Robb Wolf just wrote a whole book on how processed convenience foods disrupt the neuroregulation of appetite. This means eating them makes you crave more and eat more in the long run. On top of that, they offer little to no nutrition. If you’re having trouble getting food in - for whatever reason - you want to be sure the food that you ARE eating is good quality and nutrient dense. There’s really no place for this carbage; it’s not doing you any favors.
Although easy, even “healthy” snack options aren’t your best bet. While they are better than eating nothing, they are still far from ideal. Have snacks on hand for when you’re in a pinch, but don’t rely on them as meal replacements. Some bars/snacks I like includeRx bars, Epic jerky and bars (I like to eat these with a salad if I don’t have any other protein options on hand), Epic trail mix, bunk-free granola, Larabars, Exobars.
Energy bars are not biohacks; eat them only IN ADDITION to meals. Most bars on the market - even the good ones - contain anywhere from 100 to 300 calories. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH CALORIES FOR A MEAL. Shoot for 3 real meals a day, perhaps punctuated by a snack or two.
Be like Obama.
Throughout his presidency, Obama wore similar outfits every single day. The theory being that since he had a lot on his plate, he wanted to use his brain power for things other than picking out clothes. I’m suggesting you do the same with your food.
One of the most challenging parts of creating a meal is deciding what to make. Things get much easier when you take the decision making process out of the equation. You may not be manning an entire country, but you are Commander in Chief of your own household, and there are lots of compromises and choices to be made. Don’t let decision fatigue keep you from making - and eating - a meal.
I know I’ll get some pushback on this from some of you. “Eating the same thing everyday is boring” some will say. I totally agree. But I don’t have an issue getting food in. So, if you do, keep it simple…at least until eating 3 meals a day becomes routine.
Variety is important for overall nutrition status, so you can make basic swaps each week.
This is arguably the most important piece, and not just because Scar said it. If you’re not prepared, you’ll easily slide back to old habits in moments of fatigue or indecision.
I go into far more detail about preparation and batch cooking in my upcoming nutrition program (including dinnertime), so if you’re in need of some extra guidance, check that out!
But for today, let’s talk about how to keep your breakfast and lunch planning basic AF.
If you’re sticking with the smoothie idea, be sure to have all ingredients on hand. Honestly, these are the non-negotiable foods that I ALWAYS have in my house - I can whip up so many meals and snacks with these ingredients alone. You can easily turn this into fried eggs, sautéed greens, chopped avocado and banana slices for another breakfast - or even lunch - option.
fridge: eggs and greens
counter: bananas and avocados
I’m going to recommend a salad because it requires no cooking. And if you spend a few minutes on Sunday getting your ducks in a row, it requires zero prep time during the week.
Step 1: Make a huge salad on Sunday afternoon. Like really huge, because you’re going to eat this all week. Mix different lettuces (romaine, arugula, kale, spinach, watercress), or use a huge plastic tub of premixed greens. Add in other hearty veggies that hold up well. My favorites are carrots and shredded broccoli stalk (Trader Joe’s has a premixed version of this to make things even less time consuming). Want to get fancy? Toss in chopped apples (they hold up better than some other fruit) and nuts/seeds.
Step 2: Now you’re gonna need some protein. Last night’s leftovers work well, but if you’re not in the habit of cooking extra, then have a plan B on hand. You know I’m a huge fan of canned sardines - it doesn’t get much easier or healthier than that. But if that’s not something you’re into, consider making a big batch of some other protein, like Crispy Salmon Cakes, Salmon Salad or Chicken Salad. Beans are arguably more of a carbohydrate source than a protein source, but they work for a nutrient dense, satiating salad topper. Trader Joe’s has packaged pre-cooked lentils in their produce section. Eden Organic is a good brand of organic, BPA-free canned beans.
Step 3: On Sunday, when you’re prepping your salad, you could also roast a large pan of chopped root veggies (beets, parsnips, carrots, hard winter squash, etc.). These guys are carb rich and will fuel you throughout the afternoon. Think of them as energy veggies. Keep them in the fridge and add to your salad each day. If that feels like too much work, simply throw 5-6 sweet potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour. Throw one on your salad each day.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to construct a bodacious salad, check out this blog I wrote a few years back.
Or better yet, sign up for my next round of Fueled+Fit for 21 days worth of ideas and information that will help you put your food and health first. Many a mama have gone through the program with great success.