I feel like there is a perpetual war going on within me. The players are the checkbook, my and my family’s digestive systems, my knowledge of healthy eating, and my energy levels. And I feel like there are always more losers than winners.
My ideal is to have my family on a grain-free, allergen-free, all-organic, non-GMO, “real food” diet.
But, when your grocery budget for the month is less than $500…
…you and your son have severe food allergies…to different foods…
…and most nights you are too tired to cook…
As I said. Haha.
I’ve spent the last year trying to find a balance of it all. For months, every time I checked out at the store I felt sick and near tears (a few times, I actually cried). There was always too much “unhealthy” food in the cart and the bill always rang up higher than I felt we could spend. Every time.
What’s a mom to do?
Well, I’ve taken myself off of a strict grain-free diet and added rice and corn back in (still staying wheat and gluten free), much to the chagrin of my intestines. (My bank account is happier though.)
We’ve applied for WIC and now I have pretty much an unending supply of probably GMO-laden Cheerios, Kix, and I-don’t-even-wanna-know-what-poison-is-in-it bread for my son to eat for breakfast and snacks.
And I’ve given myself grace about cooking a traditional dinner of meat, vegetable, and side every night because aint-nobody-got-energy-fo-dat. A good dinner now happens 2-3 times a week.
And all of these decisions give me guilt and anxiety on any given day of the week.
So, when someone last year landed on this site by searching “feeling guilty because I’m too tired to cook” I commiserated with her and determined to write this post.
I want other tired moms to know that there are options, ya know? That there’s grace for that and more. And that the sum of our mothering is not in how many healthy meals we are able to cook.
What I’m about to share I hope will encourage you and give you ideas. Some of these ideas are good for the body and bad for the budget. Some of them are the opposite. Most of them fall somewhere in between. All of them are easy on a tired mom.
1. Macaroni and Cheese AND Peas.
When my husband and I were dating and he told me he loved macaroni and cheese…with peas mixed in… I thought he was cra-crazy. Eww. Eww. Gross. Just no. But, who am I to tell a man he can’t eat vegetables, especially when I get brownie points for cooking his favorite food?
Now, this might be a tough sell on your husband or kids, and I can’t really help you there. I’m pretty sure Ezra’s first bowl of mac n cheese had peas in it so he’s never known any different. But if they like it, then it’s a win win.
Just microwave the frozen peas for a minute or two and then add them into the cheesy pasta at the end.
(If you don’t like peas, make sure to dish out your own stuff first – but then make sure the rest of the family gets the peas because they need their veggies. Not that I would ever do that…)
(Bonus points if your husband was a bachelor for a while before marrying you because then he’s already an expert at can making it.)
Health(ier) tip: I usually buy Annie’s Mac n Cheese (Costco has a pack of 12 boxes for like $12 I think), or lately their gluten-free option (not available at Costco though) because I’m trying to limit gluten in the boys and it also lets me eat what they are eating instead of having to cook myself something else. Trader Joes also has a store-brand that’s not horrible. This is not nearly as cheap as Kraft, but I figure if I’m going to spend my money on processed food, I’ll try to choose the healthier option.
2. Hot dogs.
*dodges rotten tomatoes from all of the real food people*
I have just let go of being the kind of mom who doesn’t let her kids eat hotdogs. But I do buy Oscar Mayer Selects Turkey Franks. Because it has fewer artificial preservatives yet still doesn’t break my budget…too much.
Sometimes we mix these in with the macaroni and cheese and peas. (For the boys that is.) More eww factor for your day.
3. Sneak veggies into stuff.
My signature sneak is to put spinach into my home-made spaghetti sauce. I make a big batch probably once a month and then freeze it. One of these days I’ll actually get around to blogging my recipe for it, but, in the mean time, there’s-Pinterest-for-that.
4. Tacos please.
There are two meats that Ezra always eats. Bacon and taco meat. Add canned black beans (check the ingredients for junk) (I get mine on WIC) to taco meat to make it go farther. Ezra only eats the meats and beans, with the cheese on the side. Russ and I eat taco salads. But we call it tacos anyway.
(Yes, I realize that this actually does constitute “cooking” – but if you make a big enough batch it will last for a few days of lunches and dinners.)
5. Snack plates.
I rock these. (Just sayin.) Ezra has these for lunch every day, and sometimes for dinner.
A protein: deli meat, string cheese, yogurt
For deli meat, I buy Hormel Natural Choice – nitrate free, gluten free, readily available at every store that sells groceries, and relatively affordable.
For yogurt, my favorite brands are YoBaby by Stonyfield Farms (because they are a full-fat yogurt), and Chobani Greek because of their natural ingredients and high protein. (Costco has a good price on a Chobani Greek 12 pack.) Trader Joes also has a strawberry probiotic yogurt that I really like.
A grain or starch: a piece of bread, crackers or pretzels, and occasionally potato chips or tortilla chips
Here are my (and Ezra’s) favorite picks: NutThins, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Simply Tostitos (they use sunflower oil instead of canola), Kashi crackers, Crunchmaster Cheesy Crisps (certified non-GMO), Lays Classic Potato Chips (most other regular chips such as Doritos and Cheetos have MSG), and our new favorite Snyders Gluten Free Pretzels!
A fruit: preferably fresh, but unless you have time and energy to go to the store every. day. (which I don’t) you will probably quickly run out of fresh fruit.
We buy fruit leather (our Food Lion has an affordable natural/organic brand that we love!), pear peach and mandarin oranges in 100% juice (you have to look HARD to find them but they are there!) And Ezra loves raisins and dried cranberries.
As you can see, there are a lot of processed foods here. And for a long time I had a hard time with that.
But now, I’m realizing that it’s those processed foods thrown on a plate at lunch time or after church on Sunday afternoons help me be a better mother in other areas. Because when I’m too tired to cook but I push through, I end up with an overwhelming mess to clean up in the kitchen, body pain, and frustration and anger that eventually ends up getting taken out on my husband and kid. And nobody wants that.
I hope this post has been encouraging and practical, and that it inspires you to make healthy choices for your family while simultaneously letting go of perfection and giving yourself a lot of grace as a tired mom.