Rebecca Hawker is a nutritionist and wellness coach who supports busy mums in achieving their health and wellness goals including providing practical nutrition tips. She knows too well that navigating healthy food choices for yourself and the whole family isn’t always easy. Add to that managing work demands and the endless commitments outside of work, and it’s like giving your toddler free reign in the toy department at a busy shopping centre whilst you’re blindfolded…it can seem impossible to keep track.
In reality, if we simply break the task down into smaller, more manageable ‘bite-size’ pieces (pun intended!), then it can become a little less chaotic and more habitual.
In my house, cooking nutritious meals (well, cooking in general!) is not my husband’s strong suit. Toasting bread is about as good as it gets for him. Even boiling a pot of pasta must be carried out supervised, with strict instructions! Don’t get me wrong, he has many, many other talents and contributes enormously to other household duties, but not cooking! He missed out on the cooking gene. So, the planning, preparing and cooking of all meals falls squarely on me.
As a nutritionist, feeding my family healthy meals should come naturally…except that I also hold several thousand other roles, and I’m only human, so sometimes good food choices can slip to the bottom of the priority list.
Without someone with which to share this mental and physical load, I have to get strategic…and organised. Not just for the health of my family, but for my own health and wellbeing. If I’m not nourished and eating to fuel my body, then I cannot keep up with the demands of working parenthood (or parenthood alone…let’s be honest!).
Here, I’ll let you in on some of my very own strategies, hacks and simple meal tips that help me to keep myself and my family sufficiently nourished when life gets hectic.
We know this is something that super organised people do, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming: it is seriously a life saver! I don’t get too specific, though. If I feel trapped into having to prepare certain meals on certain days then I’m more likely to rebel against my own plan and go rogue.
I find sitting down each Sunday and listing at least five meals that will fit with my schedule in the week ahead to be good start to flexible meal planning. I map out on what days I will most likely cook them and put the list on the fridge, still allowing myself flexibility to swap things around (depending on how my days play out).
I shop specifically for these meals too, so once I have made my selection, I list out the ingredients for each meal and add those ingredients to my shopping list. I group them by supermarket aisle and list them in order…GENIUS!
A MUST for all working parents. Find a block of time in your week to prepare a bunch of meals in advance. If that seems too challenging, aim to pre-cut veggies and portion them out after each grocery shop. Trust me, future you will do a happy dance because the veggies have been pre-prepared, and we all know the most time consuming (ahem, annoying!) task of cooking dinner is the prep.
Remember these tips:
- Double the amount of ingredients to make extra for lunches.
- Freeze small portions of leftovers for ‘back up’ meals for the kids.
Nutrition tips for the time poor
We’re all time poor, whether we’re working or stay-at-home parents. My biggest tip to avoid reaching for takeaway is to take short cuts. Yes, you heard me right…short cuts! If I didn’t, my family would be eating chicken nuggets every night.
- PRE-CUT EVERYTHING! Or at least buy the pre-cut version. Even if it costs more, I still buy pre-cut vegetables if it will help me on particularly busy days.
- Process your vegetables. The food processor is your best friend. Makes it much quicker and easier to load up sauces, bolognaise, etc, with blended up veggies.
- Fill your recipe book with one-tray or one-pot meals. There are so many options and variations to whipping up a delicious and nutritious meal using just one tray.
- We have all had it drilled into us at some point that too much refined sugar is not good for us. It’s a sneaky additive that shows up in a lot of foods where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. I’m not the type of nutritionist who will tell you to quit sugar because, to me, #chocolateislife! But, I wouldn’t be doing my job very well if I didn’t at least school you on how to identify when enough is enough! In general, if we can all just make a conscious effort not to eat the entire block of Cadbury Top Deck, then that’s a step in the right direction, OK?
- Familiarise yourselves with the nutrition information panel on packaged foods. Generally, one teaspoon of sugar is equal to around four grams. A general guide I like to follow is, products with over four grams of sugar per serve is a bit high. If sugar appears as one of the first ingredients on the ingredient list, this is a red flag.
- Fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose, which is a bit different to the pure refined sugar known as sucrose. Too much fructose can make your tummy a bit unhappy, and too much of both of these can make your tummy and your blood sugar levels a little cranky too. This doesn’t mean we should avoid fruit, however. Fruit is our friend, and the added nutrients within it, including fibre, shouldn’t be ignored. So, don’t be afraid to load up on fruit during the day despite what you might see other wellness experts promote on social media.
- We want to make sure we are getting a variety of fruits into our diet, however snacking on fruit alone will not help to give you a sustained level of energy. This will lead to mood dips and sugar cravings.
- As busy mums, we want to consume foods with slow releasing energy, to sustain us and keep us level headed during the height of those tantrums at home and at work (lol!). Foods with a low glycaemic index (such as whole wheat and grains, brown rice and pasta) will give you a slower and sustained release of energy throughout the day. Don’t forget to balance these out with a range of fruits and vegetables, and LOADS of water.
- Quinoa is a staple in our house. It’s easy to cook with, versatile, and packed full of protein and fibre. A batch of cooked quinoa will last in an air tight container in the fridge for up to five days. Add quinoa to bulk up salads, mix in with vegetables or make patties. So many options and easy to re-heat.
- Fermented products are gut healing mega foods. Think sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, etc. Nutrition from the mindset of ‘gut healing’ will set your body up for optimal health. The gut is our ‘second brain’—therefore ensuring that we nourish the gut, ensures that all of the good nutrients get distributed properly to where they’re needed within the body.
- Bento boxes are a fabulous idea for school lunches, allowing your children control over what or how much they eat and providing variety. If you’re preparing these for your kids on a daily basis, why not make one for yourself too! It’s a great way to make sure you’re adding variety to your snacks and lunches. Even if it means buying two cute bento boxes with pretty cartoon designs on…I bet your colleagues will be totally jealous!
- If dinner time is hectic and you know that your full work schedule makes cooking dinner for the family a stressful task, keep it simple and make lunches your main meal. I work from home and know that I have more time to invest in preparing a substantial lunch, therefore taking the pressure off come dinner time. Instead, we keep dinner light with basic wraps, salads, pasta dishes and leftovers.
- I find mealtime success with kids more likely when they are involved in food choices. You might find the idea horrifying because when it comes to cooking you just want to get in, clean up and get out! Sometimes it’s just not possible with small kids, but if you have the flexibility to involve the kids and sit down to eat as a family, including dinners that are ‘build your own’, such as tacos, burritos, platters and wraps, are a great way to get a variety of foods into your kids, without it feeling like mission impossible. And remember, it can take 15-20 times for children to be introduced to a new food before they will even want to try it…consistency is key.
- To boost hydration, add a lemon slice or a tablespoon of ACV to your bottle of water. This aids digestion and helps to flush out toxins.
- Add berries to your breakfast to boost your antioxidant intake for the day.
In my next article on Circle In, I’ll be sharing some super flexible, go-to recipe ideas including:
- Build your own stir-fry – The ultimate, versatile, quick weekday meal.
- Vegetarian pasta ‘bolognaise’ – This delicious, hearty vegetarian meal will satisfy the whole family.
- Build your own wraps with shredded, slow-cooked chicken – Great for lunch or dinner, kids will love helping to prepare these tasty, healthy wraps.
- Choc energy slice (nut free) – Boost your kids’ energy levels during the day by packing this school friendly, nut free slice into their lunchbox.
As a busy mum of two very young boys, my best advice is to stay organised and have a loose meal plan for the week. Don’t put too much pressure on dinnertime if your work hours are crazy. Prioritise one meal each day that you feel is achievable and make that your most nourishing meal.
Make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of processed food and refined sugar that you consume. We’re not talking about a complete diet overhaul. Just take it slow, and make small but sustainable changes to you and your family’s diet.
Most of all, just know that healthy food preparation doesn’t have to be confusing. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and eat to fuel that need. Learning to eat intuitively rather than restricting your diet is more sustainable in the long run, and will have you feeling mentally and physically lighter.
Written by Rebecca Hawker. Bek is a nutritionist and wellness coach who supports busy mums in achieving their health and wellness goals. Through evidence-based nutritional advice and a gentle, heart-centred approach to coaching, Bek is passionate about helping mums learn to prioritise themselves again.