The New Mom on the Block: Finding – and Fighting for – Balance
By: Christie Koester, Growing Places Indy Operations Manager
This month, my first child turns one. Before I had my son, I prided myself on my ability to get things done, to multi-task, to meet deadlines, to focus on a project and carry it through to completion. These days? I’m pretty sure that, with all of the distractions and interjections that are par for the course when you have a small child, everything I do requires at least five separate steps to get it done. Most days, I’m lucky to manage a shower (and some days, the act of taking a shower also requires at least five steps).
As a new mom, no one fully prepared me for the reality of being so busy caring for another human life and all that entails that the most basic things, like scrubbing your toilet more than once a month or cooking a nice meal or plucking your eyebrows, would fall to the wayside.
It’s no wonder, then, that balancing care of an infant with self-care, particularly as far as eating well is concerned, has been a challenge. My son eats an amazing variety of fresh, whole foods (and, thankfully, he loves his food). On any given day, his menu might include sweet potatoes, steel cut oatmeal, spinach and peas, lentils, yogurt and chicken and black bean soup, topped off with a “dessert” of pureed pumpkin, bananas and cinnamon. For fun, my husband and I make up fancy sounding names for what he’s eating, like, “Today, Little One dined on a late harvest medley with a roasted root fusion.” (That would be spinach and lentils with pureed beets and sweet potatoes. Fancy, right?).
Meanwhile, what’s mama eating? Well, let’s not go there. Let’s just say, many days my son eats better than I do. It’s a constant battle.
Whether you have children or not, I think many people can relate to the urge take care of other things, responsibilities and people first. When work starts piling up, money stresses take over, relationship issues arise or other problems loom, taking care of yourself often falls to the wayside. For me, putting the effort into eating a healthy diet full of whole, fresh, local foods is often the first thing to go when I’m feeling out of balance.
So what can you do about it? After months of trial and (lots of) error, I’ve boiled my own self-care food routine down to three main points.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND COOK AHEAD
Cook things in bulk that are easy to freeze and easy to consume (sometimes with the use of just one hand, if you’re a new mom, too). You get extra points if the baby or others in your household will also eat it!
A few ideas for things to cook ahead or have on hand:
- Huevos Rancheros, Christie-Style – Having five chickens as backyard residents, we eat a lot of eggs in this house. We also regularly cook up big vats of dried black beans, which are also a cheap source of protein, then freeze them for later. For this particular dish, fry up a couple of eggs, and heat your black beans in a pot with lots of cumin and a dash of lime juice and red pepper. Smear your black beans across a couple of tortillas, top with fried eggs, and then add your favorite toppings (we love hot pickled or fresh peppers, fresh tomatoes, a little Greek yogurt, hot sauce, salt and pepper).
- No Soup for You! Just Kidding: Chili or Any Other Favorite Soup – What could be more comforting than a bowl of hot soup after a long day at the office or entertaining a teething baby? With any soup recipe, you can up the nutrient quotient by adding extra fresh veggies. Whenever we make chili, for instance, we add sliced carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, spinach… Anything we have on hand! As a bonus, Little One has never met a soup he doesn’t like. Picking up those black beans sure is great for a baby’s hand-eye coordination, too.
- “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Roasted Root Vegetables – This is perhaps one of the simplest, tastiest dishes in our constant winter rotation. Mince some fresh garlic, cut whatever roasted root vegetables you have on hand into bite-sized cubes and toss in a baking dish with some olive oil and as many herbs as you can get your hands on (think rosemary, thyme, oregano and lots of pepper, or get creative with your own favorite spices). Bake at 375 degrees until tender, stirring every 15-20 minutes. Onion, sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and beets are all delicious in this recipe. Eat them on their own, or for an extra tasty dinner, make a pizza with roasted root veggies as your main topping. So good!
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH WAY TOO MANY HEALTHY SNACKS
- Have on hand healthful, grab and go snacks. A lot of them. At all times. Can you tell this is the area in which I fail the most?
- For us, this would include apples, nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, carrots or other raw veggies, hummus and cheese, but whatever whole, fresh foods tickle your fancy is what you should fill your kitchen with. You get extra points if your snacks were produced locally and are in season! Drop by the Indy Winter Farmers Market at the Platform at City Market downtown through April to get all your healthful snacking needs covered.
- White Bean Hummus – I’ve discovered that as long as there are hummus and fresh veggies in our fridge, life is okay. When you have a baby who won’t nap and looming work deadlines and your stomach is trying to eat itself with hunger, hummus can really save the day. The standard hummus recipe calls for chickpeas, but for a different taste, substitute white beans instead.
BE NICE TO YOURSELF
- When things are really hectic? Cut yourself some slack, and recognize that tomorrow is a new day. In that same vein, though, keep your pantry stocked with easy-to-make comfort foods that actually nourish. A grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, for instance, is good for what ails you at the end of a particularly long day, and it won’t make your body feel like it just binged on frozen pizza or Chinese food takeout. Because you didn’t!
When my son was a month old, I distinctly remember having no concept of how I would ever be able to do anything other than care for him again – knit, take the dog for a walk, care for our chickens, plant our garden, not to mention actually cook a real meal. Luckily, as he has grown more and more amazing and less dependent on me, we have begun to figure out how to get things done together. That isn’t to say that I’ve suddenly found balance in life; far, far from it. But by recognizing the things that are important to us – and finding balance between life stresses, other responsibilities and caring for yourself is certainly something that should be important to us all – we equip ourselves to better prioritize the things that really matter, like our own health and happiness.
I can’t wait for the day when my son and I can cook together, pick out what plants to grow in our garden and harvest vegetables all summer long. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to remember that, by finding and fighting for balance, I not only build my own health and happiness, but I also lead by example, helping my son to have a positive relationship with food. And what could be more important than that?
Christie Koester is the Operations Manager for Growing Places Indy. She completed the Summer Apprenticeship Program in 2013, while pregnant with her son, Willem. In addition to stocking up on great fresh, local foods for snacks at the Indy Winter Farmers Market, Growing Places Indy staff recommend stopping in for a juice or smoothie at the Natural Born Juicers on Mass Ave, and the newly opened R2Go at College and 11th, when looking for a quick, filling, nutritious snack or quick meal ingredients from local sources.