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Want to eat healthier? Nourish yourself at off-peak times.

by Sarah Powers on March 17, 2014

We’ve started dedicating Monday mornings to a single tip or simple idea to get your week off to a better start. This week it’s my turn! -Sarah

plan a better week
I’ve noticed something about my eating habits over the last year or so: on weekdays when I’m home with the kids, I eat my healthiest meals at the oddest times. I’ll make poached eggs and toast late in the morning when it’s not really breakfast time and not quite lunch, or I’ll fix a really healthy bowl of oatmeal and fruit at 2:30 in the afternoon. I don’t even think twice about reheating dinner leftovers at 9:00am if I’m hungry and it sounds good.

And it makes sense, given my at-home rhythm and reality. Traditional mealtimes are all kinds of crazytown with three kids five and under. In the morning it’s a mad rush to get everybody breakfasted and lunches made for school. At lunch time I’ve got a baby throwing blueberries at the dog and a very picky three-year-old requesting 42 different variations on a sandwich he will never eat anyway. And while we do sit down together for dinner most nights, it’s the typical pass-the-baby relay race to inhale whatever I’ve managed to get on the table, plus milk refills and vegetable negotiations and all the rest. It’s not that I don’t eat at all at mealtimes, but it’s often rushed and mindless and often comprised of somebody else’s crusts or leftovers.

So out of necessity, I guess, I’ve taken to nourishing myself in between meals, at “off-peak” times of day. It didn’t start out as an intentional way to eat healthier, but now that it’s on my radar I make an effort to eat more of the “good stuff” – high-nutrient, high-energy foods with an emphasis on produce and lean protein – when I have a little space to breathe during the day. Even if it makes for seemingly odd food choices at totally random times of day.

salad
If you’ve noticed that your eating habits have fallen victim to the pace of at-home motherhood, why not give this a try this week? Here are a few thoughts on how to eat more intentionally in between meals:

  • Define “healthier” for yourself. I eat a lot of toast and cereal when I’m rushed, so for me it’s about bringing in more produce and protein to balance it out. But maybe for you it’s about drinking more water, or taking your vitamins, or increasing your fiber intake. Whatever you’d like to get more of, think about doing it at quieter times of day, even if it seems weird. After all, who says you can’t have a salad at 10am?
  • Rethink “snack time.” We’ve been sort of trained to think of our main meals at 8am, noon, and 6pm – give or take – and anything in between is “snack time.” The problem is, traditional snack food isn’t always nutritionally what we need. There’s no reason why an epic salad can’t be your morning “snack” or scrambled eggs with beans and cheese can’t be your afternoon pick-me-up; if “snack time” is when you have the time to prepare healthier foods for yourself, why not?
  • Get out ahead of hunger. I often start the day with a couple pieces of toast – enough to hold off hunger, but not enough to get me through to lunch. If I wait until the kids’ lunchtime to eat, I’m starving and cranky and not likely to make good food choices. But if I have something substantial mid-morning, say 10 o’clock or so, I don’t have to worry about lunch for myself when I’m feeding the kids, and then I’m ready for another “meal” when the baby is napping in the early afternoon. In a way, I’m staggering my main meals with theirs – maybe not ideal for the long run, but it works for me, for now.
  • Aim for balance in the bigger picture. When you read advice about feeding kids who are picky eaters, experts often say that a “balanced” diet happens over the course of a week or two – not a day or a single meal. Why wouldn’t it work the same for us? It sometimes takes me a day or two of not-so-great eating to realize “Whoa. I think I need to get some leafy greens in me.”  I then use these off-peak mealtimes to make up for what I might be lacking.

While I spend my days mothering and working part-time at home, I think the same idea could be adapted for moms – and dads – working outside the home, too. It’s more about paying attention to the times of day when you’re able to eat more mindfully, and then making sure your nutrition goals are being met during those times.

What are your nutrition goals these days? Can you find a way to nourish yourself in between meals this week? I’d love to hear from you!

Want more Monday morning inspiration? You can read all Plan a Better Week posts here.

Photo: Suzette Pauwels, via Flickr Creative Commons

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheryl March 17, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Thank you for posting this! I think I have been eating like this without even realizing it. I have 3 kids under 3, and this makes perfect sense to me for our lifestyle. Maybe now that I am more aware of it I can make some healthier choices.

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Sarah Powers March 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Thanks, Cheryl! That’s how it started for me, too, and now I’m much more conscious about it. Three under three – oh my!

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Meagan Francis March 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Love this, Sarah. I almost always eat my early day meals at odd times – 10 or so for breakfast, lunch at 2:30. Helps me really focus on my own meals when I eat rather than just hurrying through it so I can feed the kids.

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