I’ve just finished lunch. Today I had a could-have-been frittata/omelette with cubed potato, chopped bacon, slithers of cabbage, a touch of garlic, and two organic eggs. This was topped with a drizzle of salsa and a graceful blob of goats cheese. I added a beautiful glass of sparkling elderflower and strawberry.
Why am I telling you this? Because this is a massive success and huge deception. The above can also be described as chopped stuff I found in the fridge that needed using up, mixed up with other blobs of stuff for some interest. Even the drink was a mixture of leftover bottles Cub rejected at Ikea a couple of days ago. It is deceptive because anyone can talk up a plate of food on social media and make you feel crap in comparison. It is a success because it took me an hour and three pauses between toddler-chasing, laundry, feeding baby, and tidying to get it cooked, it was easy to eat, and was not just a collection of snack bites or remnants of Cub’s lunch plate.
This brought me to the conclusion that I should probably warn or advise about the reality of trying to eat as a new mum. The more of these you can say about any one meal the more points you get and the better you can feel. This is also true if you are being an angel and providing food for a new parent – manage to make a meal or two and you will be making life wonderfully simpler for someone you care about.
1. COMFORT FOOD
Let’s be honest, becoming a new parent is hard, really hard. After hours of nappies, burping, feeding, washing, and crying (you and the baby) what you really crave is comfort food – things that warm you up inside, with a hint of nostalgia, and great flavour. It doesn’t need to be pretty, but it needs to let you rest, and not be takeaway. In my house we only ever order out when we are exhausted, needing simple relief before falling asleep (ideally not in our food).
For me comfort came in a great soup, pie, brownies, and fruit crumble. For you it might be noodles, cake, pizza, or something your mother made. Give yourself a break, accept that for a while you don’t need to worry about your waistline, and enjoy the simple things in life.
No matter how that baby arrived for a good few weeks you will be in recovery. Your body needs protein to help repair, and if you can get some extra iron too, award yourself a bonus point. There’s a reason you might be craving a steak, nuts, or ice cream. Plus if you’re breast-feeding this is all the more important. Pregnancy may have drained you of your food sources, but that doesn’t exactly stop when you’re feeding an ever-growing ever-hungry human.
Throw some extra chickpeas into a portion of rice, a shepherd’s pie, or soup; shake some chopped nuts onto a salad or pudding; or just grab some nut spreads (even chocolatey ones) on some seeded bread. My favourite guilty pleasure was peanut butter and chocolate spread on toast… occasionally with an extra banana.
Fruit and veggies are always important but when your lower half is dealing with disturbing and painful movements, giving your digestive system a break is also important. You need to make sure that you’re not adding more discomfort to your body, and sadly that means not every meal should be fats and carbs, however good they look.
A super easy way might just be a great cereal with some added raw fruits, it doesn’t need to be complicated, and hiding extra veggies in your comfort foods may give you just the boost you need.
4. NOT TOO SPICY OR ACIDIC
You may really be craving your favourite Thai curry or chilli nachos but try to tame them a little. Not only will it give you a bit of gas at a time when you’re dealing with enough icky smells, but it could also impact the effect of any breastmilk you’re passing on. Acidic foods become acidic poops and increased nappy rash.
Just cool off a curry with a little extra yoghurt, use half the fajitas spice mix, and maybe avoid the high citrus puddings.
5. EASY TO HEAT/COOK
Whether you are cooking for a new parent or are one yourself, a big priority is speed. It’s hard to find time to eat and so it’s important to have a meal that’s easy to reach, easy to make, and/or easy to heat. You might have the tastiest foodie meal on your mind but if you’ve only got one-hand, 15 minutes, and a vague sense of sanity you’re not going to get anywhere.
One-pot meals, slow-cookers, or frozen glass dishes full of goodness are wonderful, and a trick might be as simple as storing a bulk cooked leftover hoard in a freezer for throwing into the oven. Anyone providing a variety of these to new parents will be loved forever.
6. EASY TO EAT/ONE-HANDED MEALS
However healthy, tasty and warming something is no good if you can’t actually eat it. Nursing a baby and eating at the same time is hard but do-able, if occasionally messy. It is also vital in the first couple of months because your baby may want feeding ALL THE TIME!
My dear husband once lovingly cooked me a steak, with some pre-made wedges and veg. It was delicious… but cold by the time I actually got round to having my hands free to cut it up. Next time round he cut it for me like a child but even so it’s probably best to go for the easy eats rather than debate juggling or feeling sad you’re eating alone AGAIN!
Update: this is also one to remember if eating out. It’s pretty crappy to order a fantastic meal, only to realise that as your child has awoken from a slumber, and is wanting her own breast-sourced meal, you are going to watch everyone eat and your food grow cold, and then eat fast and alone so as not to hold *everything* up. It’s really annoying and trying to avoid this scenario has occasionally meant contrastingly burning my mouth on my food in a hope of eating it before said child awakes. Indigestion and cave man speed eating isn’t a great look at a nice dinner either…
One trick I found in pregnancy was that colourful food was often a good sign of getting vitamins into my system. This is still useful as long as you don’t include artificial poisons like skittles in that description. Therefore, throw in peppers, sweetcorn, mix up some fruit, swap your regular jacket potato with a sweet potato, and you will be a rainbow of healthy unicorn sparkles… mostly, except still a new exhausted blurry-brained version.
If you are breastfeeding this is a time in your life where you shouldn’t worry about calories much, if at all. You will be using up 300-500 every day. Of course, tube feeds of Ben & Jerry’s and Nutella are probably pushing it but as you’re producing growth-inducing food for another person you are allowed to let go a bit.
Honestly, no-one is going to judge you for not throwing yourself back into the gym or having a little more to hug than pre-baby. If you are providing food, this also stands: if there’s a little extra cheese on a pasta bake, you’ve cooked a beautiful chicken fillet in swathes of herby butter, or you just thought a cake would be appreciated, great! Point #1 is of great importance and let’s be honest most comfort foods come with calories, they are apparently very tasty.
BONUS POINTS: TIME-PROOF
Finally, if you’ve got plenty of hot, vibrant, comforting, nutrient-filled, beautifully fattening and safely neutral food on a plate, the ultimate win is the time-proof option. No matter how quick to make and easy to eat, notoriously you will still end up leaving half of it on a plate for 30 minutes whilst you sort out the exploding nappy situation, the lego-induced injury, or any other emergency that strikes any of the 1000+ minutes you have each day. If, somehow, your food still looks and tastes appetising after waiting and cooling on the side, or isn’t going to be a rubbery mess if shoved in the microwave, you will feel so much less defeated and disappointed. This is a bonus mainly because of how tricky it is.
If you manage to create, cook, and eat a meal containing with 5 or more points, you should be awarded the greatest of prizes: a full uninterrupted nights sleep. I can’t promise you’ll get one but that’s what you deserve!