Three little words that parents dread: “What’s for dinner?” At the best of times this question can send grown adults into a state of confusion and panic, and for a new family it may seem too much to comprehend to come up with a plan for postpartum meals. Throw the winter holiday season into the mix, and you have a recipe that calls for crawling into a cave and hiding till summer. But, you’d have to find food to bring with you anyway, so you might as well just figure this out now.
Planning for the early days
The first postpartum months are likely to find you in survival mode, just hoping to keep yourself and your family nourished for another day. You may think fondly back a few weeks ago to lunches out with friends or coworkers, as you scrape together a plate of crackers and deli turkey and wish for a food fairy to appear in your kitchen. Believe it or not, you are just a handful of ingredients and a few pots and spoons away from some delicious, filling, and festive dishes!
When planning meals for these early postpartum months, keep in mind the dietary needs that you have most likely discussed with your care provider. Most new parents need protein, fiber, and iron, along with plenty of liquids for hydration. If you are tempted to begin a new diet to address baby weight gain, please be upfront with your provider about your plans to ensure that you are being safe and getting everything you need for proper nutrition and recovery. Allow yourself to rest from the demands of trying to bounce back in your “4th trimester”, and plan to ease into health over at least 12 weeks. Newborns mean your time and your hands will be in demand, so your goal should be meals that are quick, simple, and packed with nutrition.
Your first step is to release yourself from expectations and obligations, and to embrace shortcuts and outside help. This can be especially difficult if you love to spend time creating in your kitchen and if holiday meals spark joy for you. If this resonates, try to ask for and carve out some time to spend a few hours immersed in the cooking process while others care for your newborn. Remember, though, that your responsibilities for feeding others in these first months with an infant begin and end within the walls of your home. This is not the year for a five-course meal for 16 relatives.
Don’t shy away from outside help
There is no shame in using frozen pie crust instead of homemade, and a pre-made mirepoix from the grocery store is much easier than buying, cleaning, and chopping those vegetables on your own. Online ordering and home delivery can be your BFFs; consider them to be essentials rather than luxuries during this special time. A grocery delivery subscription can be a great registry item for those well-meaning but long-distance relatives!
When searching for meal options, one great possibility is dump recipes that consist mostly of opening cans and heating the dish in one pot, like a stockpot or slow cooker. Brisket is crazy-easy and delicious in a slow cooker; you can find directions and recipes for quick homemade BBQ sauce online, or just use your favorite bottled sauce. With a package of refrigerated tortellini, a few cans of vegetable or chicken broth, and some shredded carrots, you have soup. How about a low-fuss turkey dinner in a slow cooker? You can do it with this recipe from Taste of Home. Make a simple, festive potato dish fit for any celebration by swirling mashed potatoes together with mashed sweet potatoes in a casserole baker, and topping with paprika and parsley and warming through in an oven.
Considering opting out of the temptation for ‘fast food’ that can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated during this especially vulnerable time of healing. Many local favorites such as Graul’s or Eddie’s of Roland Park offer wonderfully nutritious pre-made meal options that can feed you and your whole crowd of holiday cohorts!
Lastly, let’s not forget dessert!
Desserts are an essential part of the holidays for many of us, and can be done simply at home if it’s meaningful to you to make your own rather than pick something up at your favorite bakery. Again, a frozen pie crust or its relative, frozen puff pastry, can be a lifesaver when paired with your choice of canned or fresh seasonal fruit. Top pies and tarts with a few cranberries or pomegranate arils or a shake of cinnamon sugar for a pop of festive color and flavor.
If this isn’t your first rodeo with a new baby at home and you have older children, try to set aside a weekend afternoon for a baking session with them. They will remember and love the time with you, and there will not be so many sprinkles on the floor that they’ll be impossible to clean later. If you can grab a little time, mix up some sugar cookie dough, then divide it and color some of it with the holiday colors you like so your young ones can shape, pat, and twist candy cane cookies or wreaths. If you don’t have time to mix your own, you can find delicious sugar cookie dough in refrigerated tubes at grocery stores.
Depending on the needs of your baby and yourself, you may need an extra hand or two even with the most straightforward meal plan. Enlisting the help of a friend, relative, or doula may give you a few treasured hours to accomplish more than you might feel is possible on your own. Doulas of Baltimore can provide an experienced set of hands to assist with light meal prep and kitchen help, or will occupy your wee ones while you escape to the kitchen for a few blissful hours. Whether preparing dinner is a source of comfort or a source of anxiety, with a little practice and the right ingredients you may find that you’re capable of some pretty great meals. Happy and delicious holidays to you and your family!