Last spring I embarked on an ambitious project: filling my freezer with two months of meals to feed my husband and myself after our first baby was born. I cleared out my freezer; came up with a list of vegetable-centric, freezer-friendly recipes; gathered the necessary supplies; and sketched out a cooking plan. Along the way, I gathered lots of helpful advice from our readers.
Nine months later — I swear the timing wasn't intentional — I'm here to update you on how it went and share what I learned along the way.
1. DO make more filling, one-handed snacks than you think you'll need.
I was warned about the gnawing hunger that accompanies the first weeks of breastfeeding, but I was still unprepared for the experience of waking up at 3 a.m. needing a full meal's worth of calories in my belly immediately. Or trying to rush out the door to a doctor's appointment knowing I'd be gnawing off my arm in an hour if I didn't pack a snack. Luckily, I had several frozen batches of filling snacks that were easy to thaw in the microwave and eat one-handed while I nursed. Several dozen snacks lasted me through the first frantic month, but I found myself having to ration a bit.
If I had to do it over, I would have made enough for three snacks a day for the first month, or about seven to eight dozen snacks. Sounds like a lot, but believe me — they go quickly.
2. DO make it easier for friends and family to help feed you.
Although I tried to make most of my frozen dinners heavy on the vegetables, I still found myself craving crunchy, fresh foods, especially since my son was born just before the heat of summer descended. One of the best things I froze wasn't made by me; it was a slow-cooked pork shoulder that my mom cooked, shredded, and froze in batches for us soon after the baby was born. Served over a big bowl of greens, dressed quickly with vinegar and olive oil and a couple sliced tomatoes, it was a filling yet fresh-tasting dinner that was easy to pull together when we had friends and family offer to pick up groceries for us (we just asked for a bag of mixed greens and some tomatoes or cucumbers).
It made me realize I should have thought more about freezer-friendly meal components that could turn a big salad or other fresh ingredients into a satisfying meal — things like beans, cooked meats, and salmon cakes. While planning, I was looking at my menus as self-contained dinners, forgetting that there would be people in our circle eager to help keep us well-fed. (Yes, we were very lucky.)
3. DON'T forget about breakfast and lunch!
In some ways, breakfast and lunch are harder to manage with a new baby, because most people who offer meal help are only thinking about dinner, so you're left on your own the rest of the day. My breakfasts usually revolve around toast and nut butter, or yogurt and fruit, but some mornings it was tough to even get those no-cook items ready. If you prefer oatmeal or eggs in the morning, you might think about devoting some freezer space to frozen single-serve oatmeal or crustless mini quiches.
I ate a ton of these Spiced Lentil, Sweet Potato & Kale Whole Wheat Pockets for lunches (and a couple last-minute dinners). Other types of calzones, freezer burritos, or wraps would have also been welcome during those long, busy afternoons.
4. DON'T make a lot of meals that can't be eaten one-handed and/or while standing up.
Here's something fun that happened (and by "fun," I mean incredibly stressful and somewhat traumatic): five weeks after our son was born, my husband got his dream job, which required him to move across the country immediately and permanently. I was lucky enough to have an outpouring of help from friends and family to get me through the next six weeks, when the baby and I could join him, but many nights found me carrying a fussy, wiggly baby around the house while eating dinner one bite at a time with my fingers, because that was the easiest way to not spill everywhere. Unfortunately, many of the meals in my freezer didn't work on nights like this.
I would have been better off prepping a few more dinners that looked like toddler food — things like baked boneless chicken and big chunks of roasted sweet potato — and fewer recipes that involved lentils, hot soup, or small grains like rice.
5. DON'T stress about not cooking as much as you'd planned before baby arrives.
I was busier and much more tired than I had anticipated during the last two months of my pregnancy, and I didn't make as many meals as I had hoped to during the planning stages. Even when my mom came into town to help a couple weeks before the due date, we ended up spending our time on cleaning and organizing projects rather than cooking. By the time the baby arrived, my freezer was stocked with:
My Pre-Baby Freezer Inventory
- 5 dozen nursing snacks (you can find the breakdown and recipes here)
- 3 batches Spiced Lentil, Sweet Potato & Kale Whole Wheat Pockets (18 pockets)
- Southeast Asian Salmon & Rice Cakes (5 cakes)
- Mixed Bean Masala & Fragrant Yellow Rice (6 servings)
- 2 batches Braised Coconut Spinach & Chickpeas with Lemon (8 servings)
- Easy Turkey Chili with Kale (8 servings)
- Roasted Tomato, Squash & Coconut Milk Soup (2 quarts)
- Black Bean Enchiladas (4 servings)
- Cauliflower & Chicken Sausage Casserole (4 servings)
Once the baby was born, I stopped feeling guilty and just felt grateful for every single meal I had frozen when I was pregnant, especially when the unexpected happened and I had to fend for myself for a month and a half. I wasn't cursing myself for all I hadn't done, I was thanking myself for everything I had done.
If you are considering a project like this, but are feeling negative about how much you'll actually accomplish, my advice is: just do what you can and try to feel okay about not doing it all. If nothing else, it's good training for motherhood, right?
Have you attempted a project like this? Any other tips to share?