Motherhood,  Mothering Through Fatigue,  Recipes

Options for the mom who is too tired to cook…

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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.

options for the mom who is too tired to cook

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. 

options for the mom who is too tired to cook

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.

They include

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, 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.

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  • stultsmamaof4

    Love it! I, too, struggle with the balance between healthy eating, budget, and time spent in dinner prep. When we first started eating healthier, I felt so guilty if we had a meal of hotdogs or chicken nuggets. Now, I feel like I’m striking a good balance. I try to focus on what we are doing right and what small changes we can make to keep moving in the right direction. Work-in-progress. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’ve stayed away from deli meats b/c of nitrates. Thanks, I didn’t know Hormel was nitrate-free AND cost effective. We need both!! Thanks for your post!!

    • Aprille

      Yes! I just double checked the ingredients! They are a little more expensive than the other brands like Hillshire Farms, but not nearly the price of Applegate farms which Trader Joes sells. They even Hormel at Target for sometimes as low as $2.99 a package! But it should be in any major grocery store depending on your location.

  • Rachel Rogel

    Good ideas! We’ve really been having to keep it simple around here lately. We don’t need to avoid gluten, but I eat spelt rather than wheat, so “convenience” foods can be tricky and often end up being gluten free. We also do the mac and cheese, but we like it with salsa instead of peas. Jarred spaghetti sauce w/ whole grain pasta is a regular item here. Lots of times we just put a bag of frozen veggies with the sauce and put it in the microwave. Also, about once a week we do a frozen pizza and I do leftovers or a frozen dinner that’s safe for me. Lately, with colds getting us down I’ve been having boxed chicken broth and rice noodles pretty frequently. Sort of my version of chicken noodle soup. I also like the “Pacific” brand soups in a box. Lots are GF and the tomato, at least, is really tasty. It’s kind of expensive, though. We’ve also been doing rotisserie chicken and bag salad a lot – sometimes with deli salads.

  • Megan Walker (@MWfiresidechats)

    Love your tips! My mom used to make me Kraft mac n’ cheese with peas, and I loved it. I still consider it comfort food today. Is my husband impressed with it? No. But he’ll eat it just the same! I actually like Aunt Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese better, so I spring for it.

  • Diane

    Thank you! This article was encouraging, reassuring and inspiring! Which I needed. Really needed. I ended up here after a Google search and this was about the fifth page I clicked and the first I liked. So again, thank you. Also, I love adding veggies to mac’n’cheese…it’s the only way I like it. I’ve added spinach, tomatoes, finely diced onions, canned beans, peas… anything that I don’t have to add cook time for.

  • Diane

    As a busy mom, I have found my crockpot to be my best kitchen helper. Also, breakfast for dinner is a quick meal. I also prebrown and drain hamburger for the freezer which greatly reduces cooking time. Most of our dinner meals are under $10 for six people. It can be done on a budget with planning in a minimal amount of time and energy.

  • Nora Melesio

    I am also an allergy mom who has spent the last six years trying to juggle cooking, constant need to read labels, looking for the healthiest food possible, and keeping the budget on track. It is exhausting. At some point, I also had to put some limits on what I could do and not feel so guilty about some processed foods like finding the best lunch meat. I have recruited my husband and kids to try to help with food prep and cooking (especially now that my kids are a little older and can help in the kitchen). Thanks for sharing your frustrations because you are definitely not alone.

    • Aprille

      I think there comes a point where we have to realize that stressing about healthy food can cause just as much damage as eating the processed stuff. For a while, I almost cried every time I went shopping. Now I’m so glad to be free of the feel of CHEMICALS and just try to eat good, healthy food.

  • Dani

    I just want to say that you’re a great mom and person, and your food made with love is probably healthier on the soul than if you were cranky and making a gourmet meal.

    I work full time and go to school while getting minimal help from my husband and I feel like such a failure at times.

    Other ideas I use are sweet potatoes , breakfast for dinner like scrambled eggs , and sandwiches. I add tomato and avocado to them !

    • Aprille

      I wish I liked sweet potato and avocado. They are SOOOO good for you but no matter now many times I try, I still don’t like the taste! We do eat eggs for dinner though!

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