In the weeks and months after you have your baby, your mind should be on two things: your new little guy and your own health and well-being. (We're not just talking to moms. That goes for dads, too.)
That said, cooking is probably low on your list of priorities. But when the quiches and casseroles your friends brought over run out, you're going to have to turn the stove back on.
We consulted A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health and put together some suggestions to help you plan healthy meals ahead of time to make life easier for you.
If you're not familiar with preparing vegetables and whole grains, invest in a few vegetarian or whole-foods cookbooks.
Cooking whole grains in a rice cooker is as easy as adding one part grain to two parts liquid (water or broth) and turning it on. The cooker will turn itself off when the rice is cooked.
Add flavor with a dash of tamari (soy sauce) and a small pat of organic butter or ghee. Save the leftover grains to make soup, or add it after the soup is cooked.
Meat and Fish
Add small amounts of meat or fish to vegetarian fare for flavorful, well-rounded meals. Recommended types of meat include free-range beef, lamb and poultry, or game meats such as venison or buffalo.
Think of meats as side dishes and veggies and grains as your main course. If you eat according to our guidelines, your protein intake will be balanced and adequate, and you won't need to make any special adjustments to ensure that you're getting enough protein.
If you're a pescatarian, fish two to three times a week and omega-3 eggs on other days will satisfy your protein requirements.
Many nursing mothers crave meat more than they did before they were pregnant. By all means, follow this craving, but stay away from fast-food burgers and fried meats.
Always eat a substantial amount of vegetables with meat to help keep the acid/alkaline ratio balanced in your body.
Soups and Salads
Don't feel you need to adhere to recipes exactly – just use them to get a feel for which herbs and spices go best with which whole foods and for basic cooking guidelines.
Soups and salads are the quickest and easiest way to get good nutrition without spending a lot of time at food preparation. You can make soups or stews in a slow cooker, so you have a hot meal without putting in much time in the kitchen.
Soups with well-cooked fish, meat, poultry, legumes, whole grains and vegetables are easy to digest and contain the nutrients you and your baby need. Just fill a pot with prepared broth and add chopped vegetables, meat, beans and a grain, and simmer until the grain is cooked.
If you plan to have a soup or stew once a day, a salad once a day and a protein-and-grain meal once a day, you've covered all of your bases!
Let's look at an example of how all this might come together in a day's meals.
A good breakfast could consist of one or two hard-boiled DHA eggs with sprouted grain toast, or three-grain cereal composed of one part quinoa, one part millet and one part amaranth, cooked in your rice cooker. Before eating the cereal, you can stir in pure maple syrup or honey and rice milk, or add fresh fruit or a dollop of plain yogurt.
You can eat any leftover grains with veggies and chicken for lunch or dinner.
Don't rule out having soup for breakfast. A steaming bowl of vegetable-beef, chicken, or fish soup with a warm chunk of whole-grain bread topped with butter or melted cheese is much more satisfying and nutritious than a bowl of sweetened cereal!
Smoothies make a great hot-weather breakfast or snack. Grind 1 tablespoon of raw flaxseeds in a blender or coffee grinder. Add the flaxseed meal to 2 cups of apple, pear, or papaya juice, or to two cups of rice milk; then add one banana and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries or strawberries. Blend until smooth.
Try other fruits or juices, too. You can add spirulina powder for extra B vitamins and antioxidant vitamins. You can also add some protein powder for extra amino acids.
When you need a snack to keep your energy up, choose a healthy, nutrient-rich one like
- Organic applesauce
- A smoothie (see the previous section on breakfast)
- Fresh fruit or vegetables with protein; for example, a sliced apple spread with almond butter, or celery sticks spread with cashew butter, or carrot sticks dipped in tahini dressing
- A slice of whole-grain bread with nut butter, organic cheese, tuna or sardines
Lunch and Dinner
Salads make excellent and easy meals or components of meals. Simply mix and match anything you already have in your refrigerator. Start with torn pieces of lettuce or spring greens and add grated beets and/or carrots, bean sprouts, chilled steamed asparagus or broccoli, and a protein source like grilled fish or chicken.
Slices of avocado are a tasty addition, rich in healthy fats. Top with toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds if you like.
For a grain/vegetable/protein meal, try salmon with brown rice and chard or chicken with quinoa and green beans. You can also leave out the grain and have two vegetables; try turkey with garnet yams and sweet peas, or lamb with zucchini and new potatoes.
Another tasty option: black beans, chicken, or cod; avocado slices; and thinly sliced raw cabbage (if it agrees with your baby) with salsa, served with warm corn tortillas. Add grated cheese if you like.
Soups are always good choices. Cut up some onion, carrot and celery, and place them in your slow cooker. Add 1/2 cup lentils, 4 cups of mushroom or vegetable broth, a pound of lamb for stewing, and torn pieces of kale and/or chard. Add four diced tomatoes and a handful of diced red or green bell pepper, add water if necessary for consistency, and let the soup simmer for four hours. You can walk away from your slow cooker and go about your day while your soup cooks.
Season the soup with whatever herbs you like. (Most canned broths contain salt, so you shouldn't need to add more.)
Alternatively, try four cans or two boxes of organic chicken broth and add various chopped vegetables like onion, celery, carrot, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, green beans, peas, potato and spinach. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup barley and diced chicken thighs or breast and allow the mixture to simmer for four hours in a slow cooker.
Making a creamy soup is easy with prepared broth. Bake a butternut squash and put the baked flesh into a blender with 4 cups of broth and blend until smooth. You can sip this soup hot or cold.
Eating well doesn't have to be complicated, and keeping a consistent diet as your kids age won't be as hard as you think, either. Check out our tips for eating healthy when you're a parent on the go.