I would say that one of the hardest things after having a baby is not feeding the baby - it's feeding yourself! At least, if you want to do it the healthy way, with home-cooked meals, fresh ingredients and variety.
Sure, you can stock your freezer full of pizza rolls and TV dinners - there's no shame in that and you WILL be able to breastfeed - healthy diet or not. But as a dietitian, lactation counselor and postpartum fitness specialist, I'm excited to see more and more people turning towards a healthier lifestyle and better diet - especially while breastfeeding!
But let's face it: the postpartum period is hard. These tiny, helpless, attention-seeking cutie pies demand 100% of our time, attention and energy. The day is filled with diapers, messes, feeding, rocking, screaming and all the while, you're dealing with leaky boobs, postpartum bleeding, a lack of sleep, mood swings and nipple pain.
5 Benefits of Having a Meal Plan while Breastfeeding or Postpartum
1. Meal Plans Save Money
If you think a meal plan costs money, think again. A meal plan SAVES money. Let's say it keeps your family of 4 from eating out one restaurant meal per week ($60) and one take out/delivery meal per week ($40). That's a savings of $100 per week, or $5200 per year!
This isn't even taking into account the fact that you'll most likely be saving on groceries, too, because a meal plan will most often lead to less food waste.
2. Meal Plans Save Time
If you have a meal plan, you already know what to make for dinner tonight. You probably also have breakfast ready for tomorrow. And lunch. Dinner is also already meal prepped for tomorrow night. That means no cooking tomorrow, and no mess in the kitchen. Say whatttt???
Contrary to what you might think, if you have a meal plan, you don't actually have to cook more, you can cook less! That is, of course, if you have a meal plan that focuses on quick and easy meals, incorporates some meal prepping, crockpot meals and so on. (None of them fancy 3-course dinner meals - ain't nobody got time for that.)
You also won't have to waste time and energy dragging your kids along on yet another grocery store trip because you just looked up a recipe on pinterest and realized you didn't have all the ingredients on hand. In fact, with a meal plan, you might even be able to order your groceries online and never have to see another corona-infested grocery store from the inside!
3. Meal Plans can Help You Lose Weight (Without Compromising Your Milk Supply):
Most of us want to lose weight while breastfeeding, but not all of us are successful. Why is that, if breastfeeding is supposed to burn 500 to 600 calories a day? I actually wrote about the "5 Reasons you may not be losing weight while breastfeeding" previously. After reading the article, you'll understand why the pounds may not just simply melt away.
Your body needs enough calories to sustain its own metabolism and produce breast milk, but not too many so you can safely shed some pounds. Your body also needs critical nutrients (iodine and selenium, for example) to maintain a healthy thyroid and cell function so that your metabolism doesn't 'slow down' and your hormones stay balanced.
Sounds complicated? It's not, if you have the right meal plan. The right plan will not only provide you with all of the nutrients you need for yourself and baby, but also keep you from over- or undereating (which is something that's very common for breastfeeding moms!).
4. Meal Plans Benefit Your Kids, too
I think this is a given that your kids (and partner) will benefit from the healthy meals in your meal plan as well. But let's talk about this a little bit further, because I don't want you to misunderstand what a meal plan is supposed to do:
The meal plan should never, ever, force your children to eat certain foods, or certain amounts of it. If you read my blog post "The DO's and DON'Ts of Raising Healthy Eaters", it's important to give your child autonomy within certain limits (the principle of shared responsibility).
That means, if you serve spaghetti with tomato sauce, parmesan cheese and a salad for dinner, your child should be allowed to choose to eat only the spaghetti noodles and parmesan cheese. (It doesn't mean you should run in the kitchen and fix them chicken nuggets instead!)
My son actually ate only the spaghetti noodles topped with parmesan cheese for the longest time. He did not care for the spaghetti sauce, or the salad, I didn't stress over it or force him to eat it. I made sure the spaghetti noodles were whole wheat and the parmesan was freshly grated. I kept offering the sauce and the salad, but I let him decide. He's 5 now and eats the sauce. He even eats the lettuce (without dressing).
A meal plan will help you plan out kid-friendly meals, and give your children some predictability! It will also model good eating habits to them for the future!
5. Meal Plans set you up for Good Eating Habits
Don't think you'll have to strictly meal plan for the rest of your life to reap the benefits mentioned above. A meal plan is also there to teach you long-term healthy eating habits.
After a few months of meal planning, you'll start to know your favorite recipes from scratch. You'll have a favorite breakfast or two, which you'll want to make most weekdays. You'll get the hang of an appropriate portion size for yourself and your family and you'll find some meal prep items you'll love and want to make over and over again.
Meal planning and cooking will become easier and quicker, week by week!
Meal Plans for Breastfeeding Moms - The Checklist
I think you see by now, meal plans are truly the best way to get your diet on track after giving birth and while breastfeeding. That's because the #1 reason (in my experience) most people don't cook at home is because they aren't prepared.
Has this happened to you? Dinner time rolls around, you and/or your kiddos are haaangry, you look on pinterest for some "quick and healthy dinner recipes" - only to find out you don't have the ingredients for any of the things that look good. So, PB&J's it is (because we all know there's no time to go grocery shopping at this point)! (Disclaimer: This has happened to me. I'm not always the dinner fairy myself.)
Having a plan changes all of these things. Not just any plan. One that is specifically tailored to your needs, as a breastfeeding mom and one that checks all of the boxes:
The meal plan checklist above describes the criteria I, in my professional opinion as a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor, believe a meal plan should fulfil.
Red Flags for Meal Plans
There are many meal plans out there, and many people (some with good intentions and some without) looking to sell meal plans which are NOT suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding moms. Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a 'nutritionist' or 'nutrition expert' these days, so it's hard to distinguish who actually has the necessary training and schooling to determine what is safe and what is not when it comes to your and your family's nutrition (not saying only Dietitians know good nutrition, but the credentials are there to protect you!).
(I call myself a "Nutritionist" because it's a more familiar term; however, I am actually also a Registered Dietitian, which means I received my university degrees in the field of nutrition/nutritional science, have obtained clinical experience, passed a board exam and maintain my credentials by completing continuing education and staying out of trouble. For more information on my credentials, see here)
If you are looking to purchase or download a meal plan from the internet, the following are what I would consider red flags (do not follow such a meal plan).
In essence, don't follow any meal plan or diet with any of these red flags above, while pregnant, breastfeeding or at any point in your life, really.
Where can I find a good meal plan for breastfeeding moms?
At the risk of sounding salesy, I actually didn't find a good meal plan for breastfeeding moms when I was still breastfeeding and looking for one for myself. There are certainly a bunch of meal plans out there, but none of them specifically tailored to breastfeeding moms needs, safe and practical.
So, I decided to create my own line of meal plans for breastfeeding moms. As a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Counselor and mom who breastfed her children until they were 3 and 4 years old, I felt like I had the background and experience necessary to tackle this task.
1. The Milk Maker Plan
The first of it's kind - The Milk Maker Plan is a meal plan specifically for breastfeeding moms! It incorporates the most powerful lactation superfoods, such as oats, ginger, salmon and warming soups and stews, all in one easy-to-follow and delicious plan! Most of all, the meals are easy to prepare, with many of them being "One Pan", "Crockpot" or "Meal Prep" recipes. Click on the picture for more info!
2. The Dairy and Soy Free Plan
The Dairy and Soy Free Plan is a meal plan specifically for breastfeeding moms who are on a dairy and soy free diet, whether it be due to a food allergy/food sensitivity or personal preference! All recipes are super nutritious and lactation friendly with lactation superfoods such as oats, ginger, salmon and eggs. The meals are easy to prepare and feature many recipes which you can batch cook or prep ahead of time! They are tested and delicious!
Click on the picture for more info!