The first couple weeks with a newborn are a lot like a hibernation phase for brand-new parents—except that you’ll be getting next to no sleep. Prep for your days away from the world by squirreling away easy meals and plenty of snacks because, hey, a mama’s gotta eat.
Your icebox is a gold mine for chilling reheat-and-eat meals, but you’re not utilizing its power to the fullest if you simply pack the shelves with casseroles. To make the most of your freezer, begin by cleaning it out and taking inventory of what you already have … chicken thighs, blocks of spinach, black-eyed peas, a forgotten pork loin, all of it. Make room by using what you can before baby’s arrival or incorporating those ingredients into your freezer meals.
Start simple, and prep one-pot (or pan) meals, which include soups, lasagnas, casseroles, enchiladas and slow-cooker dishes. Stick to family favorites that you’ve made before. There’s no sense in stockpiling foods you and your partner won’t want to eat.
Once you’ve knocked out the one-and-done dishes, consider prepping some extra dinners that need only minimal assembly before serving. The first few days at home, you’ll likely reach for fare you can pop in the oven and walk away from, but you’ll eventually grow weary of those foil trays. Try freezing small helpings of shredded barbecue chicken that you can throw on a bun or salad, or a bag of marinated skirt steak and veggies to whip into a tasty stir-fry with rice.
Lastly, don’t forget to plan for breakfasts and lunches, too. Freeze loaves of bread for toast with nut butter, or divvy up frozen berries and bananas into zip-top bags that you can blend into smoothies. Looking for something more substantial to start your day? Make single servings of oatmeal topped with nuts and dried fruit. (Tip: Portion them out in a muffin tin, and freeze them before popping them into a sealed container. All you have to do is zap one in the microwave for a minute and enjoy.)
For your midday meal, stick to things you can eat one-handed. You’ll be busy navigating life as a new mama, fielding visitors and rocking your wiggly wee one to sleep again and again. If you can eat it without a knife and fork, it’s practically guaranteed to be a winner. Homemade frozen burritos, wraps, calzones and any Hot Pocket-like meal you can dream up (try roasted sweet potato, black beans and lots of veggies) will keep you from going hungry on busy afternoons.
The freezer isn’t the only place you should be storing incredible edibles. Your pantry is another key locale to stock up on mealtime essentials for the postpartum period.
Fresh produce might seem like the better option when you compare a juicy red tomato to its canned counterpart, but that’s not necessarily the case. Most canned produce is picked and almost immediately processed, which means foods have been preserved at peak freshness.
“From the moment they’re picked, fruits and vegetables lose nutritional value over time,” says Shannan Monson, RDN, mom of two and founder of Nutrition Simply in Augusta, Georgia. “It’s a common misconception that fresh produce at the grocery store is more nutritious than frozen or canned.”
Canned foods are an excellent source of nutrients like fiber (your digestive system will need all the help it can get after pushing out baby), potassium, protein, calcium and vitamin A. But it’s still a good idea to check labels to steer clear of any unnecessary additives—the fewer ingredients, the better. And always reach for low-sodium varieties when you have the option.
You’ll want to fill your cabinets with more than canned produce, though. Other prime pantry picks that readily transform into a meal include beans, nut butters, canned tuna, and good-for-you grains like quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and rice.
If you’ve got breakfast, lunch and dinner covered—great! But you’re not done yet. It’s also important to stash an arsenal of healthy snacks to battle the between-meal munchies. Whether they’re homemade or store-bought, look for options that are filling and will give you a much-needed boost of energy. Your best nutritional bets include fruit and oat bars, nuts, dried fruits, granola, and muesli.
There’s no magical number of meals you should have saved by the time your first contraction strikes. Do what you can (those final weeks of pregnancy are busy!), and don’t worry about the rest. Once you’ve swapped your apron for a delivery gown, you won’t be thinking about the gumbo you didn’t get to—instead you’ll be grateful for all that you did do and the time it’ll free up for cuddling your tiny bean.