If parenting has you so busy, sitting down to a healthy meal is a rare luxury, you’re not alone: In a 2018 survey of 2,000 parents, 91 percent reported making unhealthy meal choices for themselves because they’re preoccupied with taking care of their families. The survey, which was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jenny Craig, also revealed that many parents frequently grab a bite or two of their children’s snacks just to get something in their stomachs, indulge in late-night snacking and frequently skip meals altogether. And many participants indicated that they eat more than 150 meals a year on the move.
Moms in particular seem to be putting their health on the back burner: More than 62 percent of moms said they prioritize their health the least in the household—even behind their pets.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even in the most hectic of households, there are ways to prioritize your own health while you ensure the best for your family.
Check out these seven strategies for busy moms who want to get healthy:
- Strategically Pack Snacks
If you're a mom, you wear a lot of hats—chef, chauffeur, therapist, homework helper, bedtime storyteller, boo boo kisser… the list goes on. You're balancing a lot (not all heroines wear capes, right?). And when you're busy meeting everyone else’s needs, it’s easy to forget that you also have some basic needs of your own—like food.
Save yourself the temptation of hitting the drive-through for some fries on the fly by keeping a few smart snacks on you at all times. Nuts make a great grab-and-go option since they contain fiber, healthy fats and protein, all of which will help keep you feeling full longer. Plus they don't require refrigeration so you can toss a bag of your favorites in your purse, diaper bag, car or desk drawer so you always have a healthy and filling snack on hand.
Protein bars can also be a great option since they’re portable and many are packed with nutrition to power you through your busy day. Just keep in mind that not all bars are created equal: Some contain excess sugar, unrecognizable ingredients and more protein than your body knows what to do with. Bars like the Zing plant-based protein bars are a great choice since they are made with real food like nuts and whole grains, and they contain just enough protein to keep you feeling satisfied and well-fueled. Stock up on your favorite flavors, then stash a few in all the places you could be when hunger hits.
Bananas, apples and pre-popped popcorn make great grab-and-go snacks, as do berries, hardboiled eggs and low fat cheese sticks if you plan to eat them soon after grabbing.
- Break Out the Slow Cooker
We wish life would slow down but until then... slow cookers. Slow cookers are pretty much made for busy moms. They’re easy—just toss a bunch of chopped veggies and beans in with some broth and tomato paste, set it and forget it—and they’ll give you enough leftovers to last at least another meal.
Take a few minutes every Sunday night to map out one or two healthy slow cooker meals for the week, and make a list of the ingredients you'll need to grab so you have everything ready when it’s time. Save yourself some trouble and if your chosen recipe includes veggies (which it should!) opt for the pre-cut variety.
- Cook Big Batches
This one might not work for the extra busy crowd, but for those who can snag a few minutes during the week to cook a few quick things, making a big batch of versatile foods like hardboiled eggs and quinoa or brown rice is a great way to ensure you have some healthy staples that can be used in multiple meals all week. Hardboiled eggs are a great protein-packed snack on their own, and can also be added to salads or used in egg salad sandwiches through the week. Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice make for great side dishes or can be paired with beans, spaghetti sauce and some cheese for a delicious and nutrient-dense main meal. They also make a great base for stir-fries and salads. Healthy hint: While you're waiting for the water to boil, chop up a bunch of veggies and pack them in individual servings so you can grab them on the way out the door each day that week. Or, blend up some smoothies then freeze them in ice cube trays. When the time comes to enjoy them, simply plop your premade smoothie back in the blender with some liquid and voila: A healthy morning meal you can take on the go.
- Stock Up on Meal Kits
Every mom knows that if a meal requires too many steps to make, it's not happening. Save yourself time in the kitchen by stocking up on salad and stir-fry kits. Lots of brands sell them and they come with all the ingredients you need to make a quick and healthy meal. All you have to dump them in a bowl—or saucepan, in the case of the stir fry kits. Since some of the salad kits come with calorie-packed creamy dressings, we like to omit those and add our own vinegar-based versions (think balsamic vinaigrette), and if we happen to have had time to batch cook a bunch of hardboiled eggs or tofu, we'll add those for a punch of protein, but that’s not necessary if you’re really pressed for time.
Also make sure to stock up on frozen veggies that can be steamed right in the bag. They're quick, convenient, and a great way to ensure you're still eating those veggies even when you're pressed for time.
- Bring a Bottle
Drinking enough water is essential to health: Water helps delivers nutrients and oxygen to your cells, flushes bacteria from your bladder, helps with digestion and prevents constipation, normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes your heartbeat, protects your organs and tissues, provides cushion for your joints, regulates your body temperature and helps maintain electrolyte balance in your body .
But when you're busy worrying about everyone else's water intake (and meals, and homework, and schedules and overall well-being…), it can be easy to forget to drink up. Treat yourself to a nice reusable water bottle you can take on the go. Every night before bed, fill it with water and pop it in the fridge so it’s waiting for you to grab on your way out the door first thing in the morning.
If you find you're still forgetting to drink up through the day, set calendar reminders on your phone for once every hour, or try our favorite hydration hack: Put eight rubber bands or hairbands on your wrist each morning and remove one every time you drink a cup of water. Strive to have no bands left by the end of the day.
There's no doubt about it: Parenting is a team sport—especially if you have more than one child.
And if you aren't deliberate in your planning, entire days can go by without you and your partner knocking a single to-do off your lists. That’s why it's critical that you you work with your partner to schedule dedicated “me time” for each of you on a regular basis. Take a few minutes before the start of each week to review your schedules and find blocks of time for each of you. Let your significant other take the kids from 8 to 9 on Saturday morning so you can get a quick sweat session in at the gym, take a relaxing solo stroll around the neighborhood while you listen to your favorite podcast, meet a friend for brunch or yoga, run some long overdue errands or, dare we say, take a nap. Then, offer to take the kids from 4 to 5 pm so. your partner can do the same.
Scheduling some self-care time is crucial to your emotional health. And if you have the energy to use that time to get moving, it’s great for your physical health as well.
Set a Curfew
Whether you're up all night feeding an infant, or you stay up late waiting for your teen to get home, chances are good you're not getting enough sleep. And that's really bad: Research suggests that insufficient sleep is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke, obesity, depression and impaired immunity.
Just like you've set a bedtime for your kids, set one for yourself. Calculate what time you'd have to hit the sack in order to get seven to eight hours of sleep, and make that your bedtime.
And if you tend to end your day endlessly scrolling through social media feeds or binge-watching your latest show obsession, set a technology curfew, too—TV off and phone down by 10 pm, for example. Research suggests that using technology too close to your desired bedtime can interfere with your sleep.