As I write this, I imagine many mothers or fathers sitting at home like I was, in the pre-dawn hours with their L.O. either feeding or crying, that think: is my life ever going to be the same as it was? How was it that I used to do so much for myself? Painted my nails, worked in the yard, brushed my hair – not to mention cook fresh meals each night for my spouse and I. It seems a rite of passage to parenthood- as the number of children you have risen, the number of things you do to take care of yourself falls. But I’m here to tell you with a little planning and possibly a prayer, it does not have to be this way.

In this article I will focus on things that will help you remember what it was like to dine in luxury (or possibly just eat a meal that is not take-out), so that you can take the best possible care of your self-health, and ultimately the health of your family.

The first and most important thing to come to terms with is that you have to be selfish. If you’re thinking, “how can that be? My child comes before myself”, remember the opposite is actually true: when you feel better, you parent more attentively and holistically, which in turn creates a positive outcome for your kids. So let go of the idea that having children means you are never first again.

The second is to stay focused on efficiency, acknowledging the demands on your time means you are likely not going to be Martha Stewart in the kitchen (and that’s okay!).

The third, and no less important, is to expect the worst and plan for the best (key word here being plan). A little advanced preparation and planning really allows you to take the idea of eating healthier and turns it into a reality.

So I’ll take my own advice here and be efficient. Here are my top 10 tips and tricks to self-care food hacks, which are really game changers:

  1. Do not set the standard that your children eat differently than you do. And if you’ve already made this a habit, know it’s not too late to change! Serve one familiar and liked food at each meal, then add more variety
  2. If you are reading this while you are still pregnant, spend a few weekends batch prepping freezer meals for after baby arrives
  3. Spend a little extra for convenience. Maybe in Amazon Fresh or Smith Brothers deliveries, maybe in meal delivery kits such as Hello Fresh, Sun Basket or Blue Apron.
  4. Either buy produce pre-chopped, or spend 30 minutes chopping it all when you first get back from the store.
  5. Buy some veggies for fast snacking (think baby carrots, celery sticks, mini bell peppers, cucumber slices)
  6. Stock up on shelf-stable snacks (such as dried edamame, protein bars, unsweetened freeze dried fruit, pre-portioned bags of nuts or seeds, etc.)
  7. When planning meals think: protein (meat, fish, tofu, low-fat cheese), fiber-filled carbs (cooked grains, beans, winter squash, fruit) and veggies (leafy greens, broccoli or cauliflower, etc.)
  8. Pack your own diaper bag: okay, not really a diaper bag for yourself, but spend the same amount of time you do on getting the kiddos ready to leave as you do yourself: include water, emergency snacks, that sort of thing
  9. Involve your children in your physical activity. Kiddos love walks, in or out of the stroller, they love pretending to lift weights near you, and they love chasing you around the yard (if you have one). All this counts towards your goal of moving more as a unit
  10. Involve them in meal planning and prep. At a very young age, bring them to the store and buy a stool to prep food with you in the kitchen. When older, have them own planning one meal for the week and eventually cooking it. When they have more participation in the food experience, they are much more likely to want to ‘eat what they sow’ so to speak

Some of the things that you can do for self-health self-care are as fast as the time it took you to read this blog (okay, at least close). Let go of the guilt that comes naturally when you decide to start taking better care of yourself as a mom or dad, remembering that in fact your best self is reflective in your parenting style. Focus on one or two of the tips above at a time and gradually build on them for a lifetime of better health.

Contributed by Erika DeRooy, RD, CD