I’ve been thinking a lot about how nutrition fits into self-care postpartum. Certainly, at least in theory, during the postpartum period new moms and birthing parents absolutely do need to focus on self-care, and yet, in practice, it’s so easy for that to not be a priority. You just had a baby! Your world is rocked! You’re not only caring for a brand new little human, but many folks are also going back to work very quickly, don’t have a support system around them, and may not be getting tons of sleep or be eating at all hours. What can you recommend for new parents who want to focus on nutrition but also need to keep it simple?
What we call a gentle “rule of three’s” can really let people off the hook in terms of “Am I balancing my plate? Am I meeting my nutritional needs?” It means aiming for three meals a day. It seems so simple, but it can be so hard when your world is rocked. It’s not like, “Are you meeting your macronutrient distribution properly?” Let that go. Just make sure there’s a protein, a carb, and a fat at each meal. And don’t necessarily really have any vigilance over the ratio of those things.
And, ideally, you get at least two of those groups at snacks, if not three. So, for example, I love Persian cucumbers because you don’t have to peel them. So if you’re gonna grab some Persian cucumbers, can you dip them in some hummus, just to get some protein and fat in there?
So, for macronutrients, just gently thinking about three meals a day. Many of which can be premade, preordered, delivered – whatever works!
It’s also important for individuals to develop healthy behaviors for their own quality of life. If an individual is breastfeeding and their behaviors are therefore impacting another being, it becomes even more important to make sure that you’re getting the nutrients you need to keep your energy up.
And so there are gentle ways to do this – what we refer to in the intuitive eating world as “gentle nutrition.” It’s essentially really similar to a standard Mediterranean style diet, where you eat plenty of whole grains, lean protein – that can be beans, nuts, poultry, seafood, and if it agrees with your beliefs, incorporating other meats with a frequency that is supportive for health – plenty of vegetables of every color that are appealing to you, fruit. And water, which is crucial!
It can be so hard when you suddenly have someone you need to care for all the time, to get that adequate nutrition, but this sort of an approach to eating should give you those nutrients you need.
I love the simplicity of these concepts – both the rule of three’s and the gentle nutrition approach to eating – and I wonder about other practical ways of approaching meals and eating that can be incorporated into those early postpartum days, when even just eating three meals can feel so challenging. You mentioned having food delivered. Obviously these days there are a lot of meal delivery kit subscription services and entirely premade meals that people can order. Arranging for a meal train – when friends and family organize meal deliveries to your home – is also an option. I know my husband and I were lucky enough to have family members occasionally bring us food after the birth of both of our children, and we also froze a ton of meals ourselves ahead of time – a lot of veggie soups, casseroles, pasta bakes with protein, that sort of thing. But once we got through that stockpile of frozen food, we were sometimes faced with the choice of, well, should I use what very little free time I have to shower, or should I skip that and prepare a fresh meal? Are there any other habits or shortcuts that can be helpful for new parents to ensure that they’re eating well?
If you do have a social or family network, you can arrange for a meal train, which can be really helpful. If you don’t, we are very fortunate to live in a world where we can get almost anything delivered to our door. There are so many meal kit services that call for pretty easy assembly. And there are so many prepared meal delivery services too. When you think about the cost of the ingredients, I don’t know how some of these services are making money. So being able to get food delivered through a meal delivery service can be really helpful. I would encourage, especially in the first few weeks, if you’re not going to do a meal train or if you don’t have people that can help provide you with food, to just get at a minimum two meals a day through some kind of prepared food delivery service. And I’m not just talking about Postmates or another grocery delivery service! Actually, I mean, like, get six meals dropped off at your doorstep on Monday, and then get some more dropped off later that week.
And make sure that you have foods on hand that are easily accessible. For breakfast, maybe yogurt with granola. Have lots of fruit around. Maybe beans dips. Get a rotisserie chicken and do a quick chicken salad. Use canned wild salmon. Have frozen meals that are really easy to heat up and are made of ingredients that you like.
A lot of new parents can get into a frozen meal rut though, and that can be potentially remedied on a budget by making sure you get bags of baby greens and spices that you like – you can throw the baby greens and spices into the reheated frozen meal to freshen things up. Even Trader Joe’s now has precut vegetables that are not very expensive, so those can be easily thrown into a meal.
It can also be really helpful to think about assembly versus cooking. So finding things that you can use to literally assemble a meal, where stuff is essentially premade and you just assemble it. Again, a rotisserie chicken is so great. Frozen brown rice that’s been already cooked is also available at many grocery stores. One of my favorite meals is rotisserie chicken, brown rice, some baby greens, and then I just do a scoop of sauerkraut on there, and it’s just so easy and yummy.
A lot of these tips seem like they’re a great fit for people who are limited in time, as most new parents find themselves to be. But what about people for people who hear about a meal delivery service and feel that’s just too cost-prohibitive? Essentially, I wonder what would you recommend for people who feel not just limited by time, but also limited by cost?
Definitely cooking things in bulk and freezing them is a really helpful tool. Soups, stews, all of those things can freeze really well. If you’re buying certain grains in bulk – like rice, farro, or quinoa – just rinse them really well before using them, because it makes them more digestible. It’s also really important that you’re getting enough protein. So if buying a pre-made rotisserie chicken is out of the question, cooking a lot of chicken breasts or beans is great.
Know that you can probably safely freeze that sort of thing for at least a month, sometimes up to three months. Just make sure you put the date on there and make sure it’s packaged in a way that makes it easy to reheat. And never put hot food in a plastic container! Let it cool in a glass or stainless steel or ceramic container. Especially during the perinatal period, trying to reduce any kind of exposure of something heated in a plastic container is good for health.
And if you’re going to be eating simply – like grains, proteins, baby carrots – whatever your simple system becomes, make sure that you find condiments that you love that you’re using. That is so key. It can really make a huge difference in being able to have a pleasurable eating experience.
Depending on the person, using nutrient-dense foods like nut butters can be great too. For a while, the advice was to not have peanuts while pregnant, which we found out was actually maybe causing more health problems! And having inexpensive nutrient-dense protein sources – beans, nuts, canned salmon, yogurt, oats – is also absolutely fair game.
Even new parents with limited time and operating on a budget can get the nutrients they need and find pleasure in eating – and, really, everyone deserves that.