The saying, “work smarter, not harder” holds true to parenthood. Honestly, I think parenting is the hardest job there is. When I started out on my own health changes, I was working, raising 1 year old and 4-year-old boys. On top of that, I was the primary caregiver to my elderly parents, who needed my attention nearly daily. I was pulled in so many directions! (You feel me?) I had to get “smarter” on how I could stay on track and ensure I fueled my body to keep going each day… with more strength, joy and peace. I also had to be able to be prepared to be nimble, efficient and strategic so it wouldn’t veer off course.
- Smoothies and Mason Jars: Like you, I always felt crunched for time and “on-the-go” every day. I needed to eat healthy foods, but sometimes I had to eat while doing a daycare drop off or between meetings. One of the easiest ways to “eat a salad” was to make smoothies (or 6 of them at time), and have them ready in the fridge to take on the run! Most of my smoothies would incorporate a leafy green vegetable, any other veggies I had on hand, milk alternative (or water – but I like it creamy in texture) and frozen fruit. My Vitamix became my best investment (I’d maximize the blender’s size!) and I’d keep the smoothies in mason jars. They are easily stored in the fridge for 3 days or put in freezer (loosen the lid a little so it doesn’t break) for 3-4 weeks (tip: let it sit on counter for a couple hours to thaw and shake the jar – with lid on – before drinking). With the fiber, healthy fat and nutrients, they allowed me an easy way to get my veggie and fruit servings, but also curb cravings and feel satisfied. You can try a couple of my Green Smoothie recipe or Super Simple Smoothie, but know that recipes can easily be adjusted based on what you have and your preferences. Let your taste buds guide you! Have fun with the ingredients!
- Cook Once, Eat 2-3 Times: This one really only works if you and your family are ok with eating leftovers. This is a MAJOR time saver at my house! I like to cook, but don’t want to do it every day or even have time to do so. Plus, I don’t want to rely on fast food or restaurants either. That hurts the budget and we know that it’s not as healthy as homecooked meals. This concept is pretty simple… double or trip your recipes when you cook. For instance, I will make a gluten free lasagna or chopped salad (keep the dressing off until eaten), and I will make 2-3x more than the recipe calls for. You can eat the hot meal on Sunday night and the remainder can be for lunch during the week. (Lasagna is so yummy… even reheated. As my boys get older, it doesn’t last all week. 4x?) When you put the leftovers in the fridge, you could put some servings in small glass (not good to microwave plastic – FYI) storage containers to make packing lunch that much easier. If you have kids in sports or have to work late some nights, this is a major timesaver. Note: This also holds true for homemade snacks you make too.
- Use one cooked dish in multiple meals: So, say you’re making taco bowls one night and you are using your rice cooker to make some cilantro lime rice for the bowls. What if you doubled the rice quantity and only used half of it for tonight’s dinner? What would you do with the rest? A LOT! You could use the rice (warmed) on a salad for lunch, in a chicken wrap, taco salad, with morning eggs, nachos, or another bowl that used remaining greens, chopped veggies and salad dressing of choice. You could even make a coconut milk rice pudding for dessert. The possibilities are endless! The nice thing with some portions of the meals we cook is that they store well and are very versatile. I take advantage of that whenever possible!
- Make meals that can be adjusted based on taste. I cringe when I see busy moms making multiple meals for all the eaters in her home. It’s so time consuming, but also doesn’t leave much time for mom to enjoy her dinner with the family… OR allow a kid (or adult picky eater) to try a new way of eating their meal. Consider this… is there a meal you can make where you can have a primary dish but have the toppings or other ingredients that can be added by the eater themself? For example, one of my favorites is a taco salad. I make the meat, prep the big salad bowl with all the ingredients I know the family will want, then use small dishes for the additional toppings I know some won’t want (i.e. tomatoes). Then, I let the eater choose what they want and make their own bowl. It creates more autonomy for those family members, but also less resistance to eating dinner. You will hear me say this again (as it works), but if you have a kid who is super picky, my best tip to get them “bought in” is to get them involved in the kitchen. Could they help you purchase the ingredients? Pick out the ingredients? Chop the veggies? Maybe assist in cooking any of the warm ingredients? Just wait… watch the magic happen! Once they feel like they have a part in making the meal, they feel proud and have more desire to eat what THEY made. It’s amazing! Plus, it’s a teaching moment that lasts a lifetime!
- Allow kids to choose… with boundaries: This may sound scary to you, but it has always worked. Yes, it takes a little effort, but the rewards are worth it! Plus, it will save you time in the long run, as it will help your kids learn how to plan and prepare snacks and meals for themselves, all while giving them some supervised freedom. Do you default to packed snacks that may be convenient, but far from healthy? Do your kids sometimes eat some of their snack and try to throw out the rest? Do they bug you non-stop for snacks? What if you let the kids choose and make their own snacks instead? For instance, before you even allow them to do anything, make it a big deal by sitting them down and telling them what they will be allowed to do. Watch the look on their faces. They will feel empowered and excited! Tell them they will have free reign of the produce department (for instance – the boundary), they can pick 3-4 things they think they’d want to have for snacks. Don’t try to sway them on their choices, if you can. The more freedom they have, the more they will surprise you. Plus, it will be a fund time with their mom or dad so their visits to the store will become more enjoyable for them too. They are focused and involved so behavior tends to be better too. If you can get kids to work as a team, then they have another learning moment. Note: Before I have even taken my boys to the store, I had them look at pictures or recipes (for older ages) online to see what appealed to them. This got them even more excited! Game on!
- Prepare for an easier (less hectic) morning: My life has changed a little than a couple years ago (thank you Covid and resignation) where I was hustling to get ready for the office, pack lunches, get kids to school, feed and potty the dog, etc. Yet, my mornings are still similar and FULL of things to do! (Sound familiar?) Just because my work environment changed for me, it’s still the same for the family. I have learned that if I start may day off hectic, the rest of the day may follow. I can’t do that do myself (or may family, friends, coworkers, etc.) What I do now is plan the night before to prepare for the next morning. Here’s what I do… I make sure I stay focused by putting on a timer for at least 15 minutes. Sometimes I will turn on some music to keep it fun (or calm), and start prepping for the morning. I pick out clothes for the next day, prep lunches, get kitchen tidied up, get boys to pack their backpacks, lay out water bottles and travel mugs and more. The less little stuff left for the next morning allows me to be more present (and less crazy) first thing in the morning. (Before I started doing this, I can remember some mornings when I was a royal (beep!). Guess what else it does? It has allowed me to slow down in the morning, give hugs to my kids, take a moment to eat breakfast with them, sit outside with the dog for 5 minutes to get fresh air and hear the birds and even affords me a 15-minute meditation or yoga session before heading out the door. I basically swap the 15 minutes from the night before to use in the next morning in a much more effective way. Plus, it helps the whole family feel less rushed and chaotic.
“If momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy.”
Does this resonate with you? Do any of these things spark ideas or could fit in your life? Try one of these for a week to see if it could be a new habit to keep your life calmer and more efficient, while keeping your sanity in check too.