Whether you’re a first time mom or a mom of multiples, we all know that having a newborn is hard work. The physical toll that birth, lack of sleep, and breastfeeding can take on your body puts you in a permanent state of exhaustion. Add to that the pressure of having a home to keep clean and a family to feed and life can quickly become overwhelming. 

If your partner or family are anything like mine you face the daily question, “What’s for dinner?” Insert an eye roll here. I’m not quite sure why, but as soon as I moved in with my now husband, it’s as if his ability to plan a meal has fully escaped him. As I prepared for the fourth trimester, I lived in fear of this question and moreso my attitude in response. While I would love nothing more than to prepare endless casseroles and crock pot meals, I simply don’t have the freezer space. To avoid this daily question, and allow my husband to help, I’ve created a simple, organized postpartum meal calendar and you can, too! 

How to Begin

It’s important to think about your goals and values in the fourth trimester. Will you be breastfeeding? What are your dietary restrictions? Will your partner or support system have time to cook or do they work evenings? How long do you realistically have to prepare a meal? All of these questions will help you determine what kind of meals to plan, as well as what ingredients to look out for. When you’ve set your goals, start searching for and collecting your recipes!

Goal #1: Eat food that fuels MY body

We all know that an immediate body “bounce-back” is not realistic nor is extreme weight loss healthy. Your body needs time to recover, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t fuel it with nutritious foods in the meantime. It’s important to determine what fuels your body and what hinders your body’s performance. Personally, I try to stay as dairy and gluten free as possible. I’m certainly not perfect, there are plenty of meals that call for ingredients that are difficult to substitute (plus I’m a sucker for a good charcuterie board). However, after months of working with a holistic nutritionist before getting pregnant, we determined that dairy and gluten throw my hormones out of whack, making it nearly impossible to lose weight no matter how much exercise and calorie counting I do. As I selected my meals, easy substitutions (or dairy/gluten free recipes) were a priority for me.  

Goal #2: Increase milk supply

If you’re planning on breastfeeding, it is especially important to ensure that you are fueling your body with the right foods to increase your milk supply (and staying hydrated!). However, as with anything related to pregnancy, parenting, etc., the information out there is overwhelming. My advice? Stick to valid sources and choose what works for your lifestyle (because not everything is going to nor should it!). For example, almonds are great to have in your diet while breastfeeding, but my husband is severely allergic. While he can certainly push my buttons, almonds probably are not the best ingredient to include in our dinner options for our monthly meal plans. My intention while picking our monthly meals is to include a variety of whole grains (substituted for gluten-free options), fruits, and vegetables.

How to Create your Calendar

First things first, what does this calendar even look like and how do you set it up? Personally, I’m a big Google docs girl. I started by simply inserting a table for the month of March (the month I’m due!). I then color-coded it because what’s the point if it’s not aesthetically pleasing? Then I spent what felt like hours collecting recipes that fit our meal plan. We certainly have our household staples, but who wants to have the same meal night after night? I then worked them into a calendar format. In black, are our weekly “go-to” meals that my husband can prepare without a recipe. In blue are our new recipes to try, linked and ready to go so my husband can pull them up on the iPad and get to work. Below are some steps for creating your calendar.

Step 1: Determine (as much as possible) your social calendar

I’m preparing for the first month postpartum, at least, to be a crazy one. There’s a new baby after all and everyone is going to want to come meet her. This may come as a shock, but I am not cooking for guests which means takeout. Fingers crossed they bring a meal and, if they don’t, the pizza place is about 10 minutes from our house. Obviously, guests are not picking their visit dates this far in advance, but I worked in some tentative dates that I’m comfortable with. Why would I do this? To save money! Each of my meal plan weeks comes with an attached grocery list so I don’t have to scroll through each recipe, but there’s nothing I hate more than throwing away unused groceries. I would much rather have those visitors not come and send my husband to the store than waste that money. 

Step 2: Strategically plan your meals

No one (unless you’re my husband) wants the same chicken 5 times a week. This is why meal prep (different from our handy-dandy calendar) never worked for me – IT’S BORING! It’s important that as you put meals on your calendar, you pay attention to how frequently you replicate the same meal. However, you or your spouse may want to prepare a little bit. Try incorporating 2-3 meals a week that use the same meat; maybe cook all of your chicken when you make chicken alfredo on Monday and use the rest in a casserole on Thursday. Also, not every recipe is the same. While the goal is simple meals, some are going to take more effort – space them out. Avoid putting your more difficult meals all in the same week. Finally, think budget! As someone without a paid maternity leave, we no longer have that extra income, so I certainly won’t be planning 7 meals a week that require eggs. 

Tips for Executing your Plan

Flexibility is key – in life, with a newborn, and with your meal calendar. Unless you have a scheduled C-section or induction, baby is going to come whenever they please; even those scheduled births are not set in stone! While I have meals planned for almost every date, that can very easily be thrown out of whack. Here are some tips to (hopefully) save you some stress. 

Stock up on essentials: Find the most common ingredients in your meals that won’t go bad – these are your staples!

Freeze what you can: If you have some extra room, freeze (or buy frozen) what you can before you go into the hospital to deliver. There’s nothing wrong with substituting frozen veggies for fresh ones close to your due date. 

Work smarter, not harder: Crunched for time? Buy what you can pre-made or make it ahead of time if you know it will be in multiple recipes that week. Think pre-cooked rotisserie chicken.

Use your resources: I am a huge fan of mobile pickup orders; they save me time and money! Look into your local grocery stores and place your grocery order online. Hey, you could start your weekly shopping right from the hospital – talk about a good distraction! 

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