Healthy Eating for Busy Moms
Confession time: I have a love hate relationship with cooking. Don’t tell Ayla!
By: Madeline Webster
I have learned to love cooking over time. But for much of my life, cooking felt like such a waste of time. I wanted it to be easier, faster, and less important in my day. If you asked my college roommates about my cooking habits, you’d hear about a lot of frozen lean cuisines and quesadillas. Since that time, I’ve realized that by ignoring cooking, I’m depriving myself and my family of one of the most important aspects of health: what you put in your body matters. I’m coming around and still finding ways to simplify and make things easier on myself. Recently, it has become vital because I’m not just cooking for me or my husband (who are both fine with eating something quick and easy) but I’m also cooking for my daughter.
I’m by no means a nutritionist but I’m fairly certain she needs a variety of fruits and vegetables and protein and dairy and grains to grow up strong and healthy, there’s a pyramid somewhere that says this. On top of all of that, I’m also trying to eat healthier and move away from pre-packaged and preserved foods.
My daughter is growing into a toddler, and with that, she is deciding she likes and doesn’t like things that she used to eat without a problem. Current likes: broccoli, parmesan cheese, burgers, french fries, apples, grapes, pretty much all fruit, pretty much no vegetables, “bacon” which is what she calls any breakfast food, and anything made by Nana. Current dislikes: chicken, sweet potatoes, potatoes not in french fry form, eggs, spinach, lettuce, and cheese. A month ago chicken was on the like list and parmesan cheese was on the dislike list. She used to love spinach and egg quiche and now only eats it if I physically put it on a fork and hand it to her. Here is a lovely photo of her separating some lettuce from the rest of her place (insert eye roll):
All of these things lead to one stressed out, would-be chef. Luckily, I’ve found some things that work for me in order to make cooking for our little family more fun, healthier, and easier on me. The first thing I do is: plan ahead. Every mom I know is yelling at me right now, “But what ABOUT…” such and such unplanned thing. I get it, I really do. Things come up, plans go awry, it is part of life. For me, at least attempting to plan ahead eases my anxiety around trying to plan healthy meals. The best discovery for me is the Kroger ClickList. For a $5 fee, you can pick out all of your groceries online, pay, and go pick them up at the store.
It has revolutionized grocery shopping for me. Do I still have to go to the grocery store and physically get things from time to time? Of course. But I get the bulk of our groceries every week by shopping online. You can get them delivered too, but the fee is obviously higher and our Kroger is so close that it seems silly to pay it. I save money, time, and worry by picking out groceries online. It helps me stay on budget and I can look up recipes while I’m in my kitchen and only buy the things I need.
For recipes to make every week, I created a Google Doc and shared it with my husband. It lists the week out and the recipes that I will make and I repeat it every week. I don’t make the same things every night of the week, Monday’s dinner sometimes get changed to Tuesday’s dinner, and I change it up about once a month, but it takes so much pressure off of me. Plus I get better at making new things if I make them 4-5 times a month.
The second thing I’ve learned to do over time is cooking ahead, batch cook, prep, or plan recipes with similar ingredients. This doesn’t even necessarily have to get into the meal prepping territory which is very trendy on Instagram right now. I do little things, like chop all the broccoli I just bought on a Sunday when I have time rather than waiting to do all the prep work right before I cook. If I’m coming home from the office and I have to pick up the baby and let the dogs out and get dinner started, it helps to know that all I have to do is throw some chopped veggies in a pan and sauté some chicken to make a healthy meal.
This past Sunday, I made a big crock pot of chicken and veggie soup for my husband and me to take to work for lunch, and then I chopped onions, broccoli, carrots, and celery to use in meals throughout the week. Tonight when I’m making dinner, I’ll probably make more than one thing so we have more leftovers for tomorrow when I’ll be coming home late.
Third, and probably most important, I stopped feeling like if I was going to cook it better be a gourmet meal every night of the week and that Cora needed to eat every food group at every meal. Last night we had roasted parmesan broccoli, sweet potato fries, and burgers. It was delicious and took about 20 minutes to make everything because I had prepped most things earlier. We have that meal about once a week because honestly, it’s a vegetable that we all like and I don’t have to try very hard to get Cora to eat it. She shoves the broccoli in her mouth, then the burger, and then stares at me with a look that says “I know you’re trying to make my fries healthier and I refuse to participate”.
Ok, maybe I’m overthinking that a bit. But I’ve stopped worrying about her eating every food group at every meal. If she doesn’t like what I’ve made then I keep some Simple Truth chicken nuggets in the freezer and heat some up for her. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it gets the job done. She isn’t going to eat chicken nuggets every meal for the rest of her life. But it also isn’t worth my anxiety spiking through the roof to try to get her to eat a balanced meal all the time as a two-year-old.
We have time to instill good nutrition habits as she ages and understands more about eating well. She runs away from the cake at parties and grabs strawberries instead, so she’s going to be fine.
We also don’t do all of these things all the time and leave no room for error. For cooking, I generally try to stick to ClickList pick up on Friday, prep some food on Saturday, prep some more Sunday, cook throughout the week and use leftovers for snacks and lunches. If we go out of town or I have a busy week or we go out to eat, sometimes these plans get derailed but I try to get right back to it. It’s not rocket science but, for me, it has taken a long time to see cooking as anything other than a chore.
I can put on a podcast and get a few days worth of cooking done in a few hours so maybe I haven’t changed much, I’ve just learned to do it all at once and that putting something off doesn’t make it any less necessary. In order to get healthy meals and stick to a budget, you have to put the work in. I’ve gotten better with managing my time when it comes to cooking, and I’ll continue to evolve as a chef and maybe one day, I’ll be proud enough of a meal to post it on Instagram.
Madeline Webster is a fledgling freelance writer and holistic enthusiast. Her background is in health and wellness, art history, and all things coffee. She lives outside of Nashville, TN, with her curly haired mini-me, husband, and two dogs. Follow her on Insta @_bobcatbaby where she posts mainly photos of her two year old.