How to Manage Weight Loss Being a Parent and Working Full Time
One of my friends asked me recently for some tips on how to manage weight loss being a parent of young children. I didn’t want to give her a cop out answer so I told her I would think about it and give her an answer later. This one’s for you Liz. 🙂
This article isn’t going to be heavily focused on exercise because when you start your weight loss journey, the most important thing is changing your diet. Focusing on both changing your diet and exercising is difficult so if you’re going to focus on one, changing your diet is much more effective. That being said, the best thing you can do is to have support from family and friends and have a strategy on how you’re going to get to your goal. Here are the things that work best for me.
One caveat is that I’m writing this with the assumption that you are in charge of the grocery shopping or can heavily influence it and cooking most or many of the meals.
You could skip almost everything below if you wanted to use a food delivery service but you pay a premium for them to come up with a menu and deliver the groceries to you. You’re still going to have to cook the ingredients. Whenever I’m curious to see what their offerings are, I’ll take a look but I usually only find a few options that I would eat. And this is from meal delivery services that tout healthy and low-carb options. Additionally, there just aren’t enough vegetables in their portions for me. However, it might be something you consider using for short periods if work life is insane or your partner is on a business trip and you’re on double duty with the kids.
If you’re looking to do this the healthiest way possible and cook yourself, read on.
One of the things that I hear people say a lot is that they don’t have time to cook healthy meals or they can’t get to the grocery store and when they do, they come home with extra treats they shouldn’t buy.
Create a menu for the week
This is gold people! I come up with a weekly menu and schedule planned outings to account for days that I don’t cook. There will always be spontaneous events that come up but for the most part (unless you are a social butterfly), you shouldn’t have problems staying on the schedule or adjusting it to make it work. In fact, my food schedule is the number one thing that keeps me on track with staying healthy.
In the beginning, it will be difficult to come up with ideas to fill a whole weeks worth of meals but once you’ve done it for a while, you’ll have an arsenal of past schedules and you can whip those out and create a schedule relatively easily. And there isn’t going to be the long discussion with your partner about what you’re going to have for dinner. You also won’t have to spend 20 minutes googling recipes based on what you have in the fridge so believe me, it’ll save you time in the long run.
Having a schedule will also help prevent the following example from happening on a daily basis. This one rings especially true because my husband says Japanese food almost every single time.
If you have a family of picky eaters you’ll want to brainstorm some menu ideas that are healthy but will keep your family happy. See below on Garnering Family Support.
Schedule the more perishable items like fish or meat dishes for earlier in the week if you don’t plan on freezing them. It saves time to not have to defrost and cook partially frozen meat so scheduling for earlier in the week is easier. If you do a veggie night, try to schedule that for later in the week. Also, if you do meal prep on Sunday and chop lettuce (i.e. Romaine lettuce) to use in salads, you’ll want to eat that within 3 days of chopping it so save your mixed baby greens for later in the week since they tend to last a little longer. Schedule a leftover night for later in the week after you’ve already cooked the meat or more perishable item such as a Tuesday, Wednesday dinner. For example, Instant Pot chicken drumsticks with a side of vegetables is one of my go-to meals for a Tuesday/Wednesday night.
- Here are some options for planners or notepads:
- This one from Anthropologie has a shopping list as well and three meals for the day.
- This one from Target is a bound journal with a column for snacks as well. This is great to keep past ideas when you’re not sure what to make.
- This one from Amazon is nice because it’s lightweight and you can keep it in your purse if you want.
- Use a white board in the kitchen that has the food schedule so you can easily make changes. (I prefer this method over printouts/planners however in the beginning, its nice to save the planners to look at past menus.) I use a plain white board but this one from Amazon is nice because you won’t have to write out the day of the week.
- Schedule a leftover day: Make extra! Great for Tue/Wed or Wed/Thur. Fridays people tend to go out.
- Make even more for lunch. (If it’s a great freezer meal, you can save it for lunch later in the week)
- Schedule an easy cooking day for your busiest day (often Monday in my house)
- Schedule a low-carb meal 2 days out of the week to get started and slowly convert your family to start getting on board more. (Start a low-carb Monday’s trend like Meatless Mondays).
- Reuse past menu schedules. (This will save you the hassle of coming up with a menu once you’ve done this a few times)
- Keep seasonal fruits and vegetables in mind when creating your schedule. They will be cheaper but also better for you. They will also be more readily available.
- If you are tech savvy and prefer apps, try a menu planner app. There are many apps to help with healthy meal ideas such as Keto, Paleo, etc.
The added bonus of creating a schedule is that there is so much less waste and you save money! Win-win!
Create a Shopping List
I know this sounds obvious but I’m going to reiterate that a shopping list is very important. It’ll save you time because you won’t have to go back again mid week and it is key to helping you stay on track. 70% of grocery shoppers take a list to the grocery store for a reason. Do this even if you’re online shopping because there are always minimums and if you only need one or two things, you won’t make the minimum amount for free or cheaper delivery.
Once you have your menu for the week, creating a shopping list is a cinch. If you’re trying new recipes for the first time, write any ingredients that you need or print out the recipe(s) and bring it to the grocery store with your normal grocery shopping list.
- White boards! I have one on the inside of my pantry door to add ingredients as soon as I run out so list making is easier and there’s less chance of forgetting something. I’ll snap a photo on my phone before I go to the grocery store.
- Lists help you stay focused and help you cruise past the processed foods and bakery aisles.
- Try a grocery store list app. If you remember something when you’re out and about, you can write it down on your phone.
Instacart & Costco
One of my son’s friend’s mom told me how she uses Instacart for her grocery shopping. What is Instacart? Drumroll please…It allows you to get your Costco groceries without having a membership AND they deliver to your house. How awesome is that? They also deliver for other grocery stores such as Safeway, Sprouts, Lucky and more. I’ve been complaining to my husband about how much of a zoo Costco is on Fridays and the weekends and how I hate having to go to multiple grocery stores every week. I don’t mind going to one grocery store but two grocery stores always puts me on edge somehow.
I do my weekly shopping at Trader Joes, which unfortunately doesn’t have a delivery service and is a little out of the way so making one grocery run is already a lot of work. Instacart is a time saver and can take care of all of your grocery needs if you shop at their grocery stores. Mind you, prices are about 20% higher (at least for Costco) than if you go to the store. Delivery prices are based on your total. The more you spend, the less for delivery. They also offer Express, which is membership based and has an annual fee of $99 (That works out to $8.25 a month) but delivery is free with a minimum purchase of $35 dollars per store. That’s definitely not hard to do if you’re feeding a family.
Costco has also been a key part of getting healthy and shedding pounds. The little bags of veggies at most grocery stores just aren’t gonna cut it if you’re on a low-carb diet. It felt weird eating so many vegetables at first but now I feel like the vegetable servings at restaurants are child sized servings. I can’t seem to get enough. In my previous high carb life, I would have shunned those giant bags of produce from Costco thinking there’s no way we will finish that bag. That’s not true now and the savings are a steal. Some of my favorites are:
- Spring lettuce 1 lbs mix $3.99
- Romaine lettuce (6 hearts) $3.99
- Broccoli 3 lbs $6.00
- 24 Organic pasture eggs $7.49
- Power greens (chard, spinach and kale mix) 1.5 lbs $4.49
* Prices are for in-store purchases and may vary at location.
If you can’t get all of your grocery shopping done at one store and don’t have enough time to make it to multiple grocery stores, give Instacart a try.
Delivery Service from Grocery Stores
Safeway, Walmart and other big grocery stores also offer their own delivery service. Safeway has a few options: Delivery, Pick up and go, and Rush delivery. The delivery service has a delivery fee as well as a service fee. The delivery fee is based on a 1, 2 or 4 hour delivery window and prices range between $3.95 – $9.95. Pick up has a service fee of $4.95. Rush service is dependent on your area but can be fulfilled by Instacart. (All of these prices may vary at your local Safeway and your proximity to it).
Walmart has limited delivery and pickup services so you should check to see if they deliver in your area. They are however, working on expanding their delivery options so keep a look out for changes in their services. They are also expanding their grocery and organic selections so they are a good option if they offer delivery in your area.
Target has a grocery delivery service that rivals Instacart and other delivery services. You can order your diapers and broccoli and have it all delivered the same day. They offer a plan called Shipt which is a similar plan as Costco’s Express plan. It’s $99/year and free delivery on orders over $35. They also offer a monthly subscription of $14/month. Prices are dependent on prices at your select stores so there isn’t a markup that you have to pay as you do with Costco. Take advantage of their 4 week promotional offer if you want to give it a try.
Lastly, Amazon offers Amazon Fresh which also has a similar subscription based plan of $14.99/month and delivery is free on orders over $35 before tax. If your order is under $35 there is a delivery fee of $9.99. You must be an Amazon Prime member and Amazon Fresh is only available in select cities and some states.
The race to capture customers seems to be fierce. Pricing has changed a couple of times in the last year and may continue to drop. For the most up-to-date information, check the links above.
If you have a preferred big chain grocery store that you like to shop at, see whether or not they deliver. If they don’t consider switching to another grocery store that does if that will make the difference between you getting groceries and not.
Getting your family on board and having support from those close to you will help you tremendously as you make changes. These changes will affect your whole family if you are the grocery shopper and cook of the house.
Talk to your partner first about making big changes to meals. Let them know that you’re going to start making healthy changes to the way you eat and it will affect the whole family. Ask them for their support in making these changes easier. It would be important to talk to them about what their limits are and what types of things they can and can’t handle. It’s important that they feel like they aren’t being forced into it. This would be a good time to discuss how much they are willing to participate i.e. 3 dinners a week. Maybe they will eat what you’re eating but also want to tack on a slice of bread or rice. It’s good to hash this all out.
If your kids are younger and don’t have much of a choice in the matter except that they are picky eaters, you’ll want to slowly start incorporating changes to their diet. I don’t mean cutting out carbs completely from their diet but to start converting some of their favorite dishes to healthier versions. If they are verbal, talk to them about what their favorite dishes are (maybe you already know this) and take note of those so you can convert those to healthier versions that you can eat as well. It’s so much easier if you don’t have to make two meals every night to satisfy everyone.
If your kids are older and can understand what your goals are, talk to them and ask for their support as well. Approach talking your kids as you did with your partner and ask them what they can and can’t handle.
Convert Your Favorite Recipes
Make a list of your favorite go-to meals, whether that’s spaghetti with meatballs or pizza etc. Make a list of about 14 dishes (about two weeks worth of dinners, although this won’t account for leftover night that you should plan). There’s always a way to convert them to low-carb versions that are really good as well. It’s not going to be exactly the same but as you covert to a healthier version, the healthier versions start to taste really good and even better in some cases. It’s all about getting used to your new lifestyle.
After you have a list of your 14 items to convert, head over to Pinterest and create an account if you don’t have one. Pinterest is a fabulous way to find great low-carb or sugar-free recipes and you can save them into boards that will allow you to find them easily again. You may find recipes that aren’t on your list that look really good as well. Pin them! It’s a way to catalog your favorite things. Googling is great but it’s not as easy to save and organize your finds. Start out simple and create a Dinner Board and start searching for the items on your list and see if there are good low-carb or healthier versions. i.e. Spaghetti and meatballs with zoodles (zucchini noodles) instead of the traditional version). You can also start a lunch board and start by converting your lunches first if that’s easier.
Print out all the recipes that look good. Start out with one or two of the recipes that look the best and ease into making changes like this. It’ll take some time for your body to start getting used to changes and for you to get used to buying new ingredients and or equipment to make these meals.
Kitchen Equipment Investment
As you embark on a new diet or weight loss journey, it’s important to have the tools that you need to make it as easy as possible.
- Blender: Blenders are essential for making smoothies, blended soups, sauces etc. Magic bullets are also great for when you want to make single serving smoothies. My Ninja blender has a Magic bullet type attachment that I use all the time.
- Food processor: A food processor will save you so much time. It’s like having your own little sous chef in the kitchen. If you have a toddler (picky vegetable eater), I like to take some of the veggies I’m eating and drop it in my mini prep food processor and mix it into my son’s rice or hide it under the cheese of a cheesy grain-free pizza. Yes, I’ve done that successfully.
- Microwave: Most people have a microwave but if you don’t then definitely get one. It’ll save you time and energy washing an extra pot or pan. It also speeds up the process for defrosting. It’s an essential kitchen tool. If this list wasn’t alphabetical it would be number 1.
- Instant Pot: Yes, I’ve jumped on the Instant Pot band wagon and haven’t gone back. I literally had my grandmother’s pressure cooker and it wasn’t the safest thing to use in the kitchen but I long resisted getting an Instant Pot because I didn’t think I needed one. Upgrading, however, is like upgrading from a flip phone to a smart phone. It’s life changing! There is a bit of a learning curve on using one but once you’re hooked, you’ll never go back!
- Salad Spinner: I have a salad almost every day. I would be lost without a salad spinner and would be eating many soggy and watery salads. Yuck! I love it so much that, I have a small one and a large one but I mostly use the large one and meal prep a few days worth of salads at a time. Your salad will taste sooo much better dried because the salad dressing will adhere much better to it.
- Spiralizer: You can make oodles and oodles of noodles with this handy dandy tool. 😉 Some great vegetables for making noodles are zucchini, sweet potato, jicama, daikon and beets to name a few. Most spiralizers come with different attachments and you can make different size noodle thicknesses and ribbons. You can also use it as a chopper for cabbage to make a slaw or add chopped veggies for your salad.
- Vegetable Peeler: I have two different types: the flat edge and a serrated edge. You can buy them in a set. The serrated edge one is great for making julienne carrots or other hard vegetables. I use my flat edge peeler almost daily as well. They’re just so handy.
If you don’t have any of these items, it might get a little expensive getting them all. If I had to pick my top three: 1) Salad spinner 2) Instant Pot 3) Food Processor (the mini one). I know I said a microwave would be number one but since most people have one, I nixed it.
Converting recipes is an awesome way to get started on changing the way you eat but grain-free bread or grain-free pasta recipes require ingredients that you may not have stocked in your pantry or fridge. For example, I added cassava flour, almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch and a whole host of new flours to my pantry to replace good ol’ AP flour. You might want to start with a few that are staples in the low-carb community like almond flour, coconut flour and cassava flour. You can get most of these on Amazon or even at your local health food store. I get my almond flour at Costco and coconut flour and cassava flour on Amazon or my local health food store. See my article on Baking Grain-Free Bread for more information on different flours.
If you get a chance, stop by your local health food store and check out their selection and prices. It’s great because small grocery stores like that usually have great service and workers seem to know everything about everything. If they have a large bin selection, it’s a great way for you to try out a little bit of a new ingredient. It’s also a fun way to explore all the new options that you never knew you had. Sometimes people dwell on all the things they can’t eat anymore but there are so many new things you will eat now that you’re cutting out the bad stuff.
Meal Prep, Freezer Prep
Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep. Adopting this lifestyle means you’re going to be spending more time cooking. I think it was Michael Pollan (Author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma) who said Americans don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as they used to. A lot of that is being shifted to corporations who want to cook for us. I don’t remember the exact quote but it was something along those lines. There will be some adjustment to get used to spending more time in the kitchen so the best thing you can do is to meal prep. It’ll save you time during the week if you make meal prep day on Saturday, Sunday or after you do your grocery shopping.
If you’re making marinated meat, plan on making double or triple the recipe and freeze what you’re not going to use that week. You will thank yourself in the future because you’ll be able to pull it out of the freezer and have it ready to go on a busy night. If you’re chopping salad, don’t do yourself a disservice and only make enough for one meal. Washing lettuce is so tedious, I’m always wondering how I can get out of making one by increasing the amount of other vegetables I make in the meal. But for the times that I do make salad, which is still often, I have my giant salad spinner to wash 2 heads of romaine lettuce at a time.
If you have hearty vegetables you’re going to use later that week, wash them, dry them and chop them ahead of time and store them in Tupperware. (I’m trying to move away from using ziplock bags).
Go through your food schedule for the week and see what can be prepped ahead of time to make your week a little easier.
Quit Sugar or Do a Sugar Detox
Doing a sugar detox will probably put you into a cranky downward spiral so schedule starting this when you know you’ll be able to handle it. It’ll take about a month before your microbiome adjusts and the bad gut bacteria stop communicating to your brain to eat that ice cream. Your microbiome is super sci-fi. I can totally hear the Twilight Zone music when I think about it. If you feel like someone is telling you to eat that sugary treat, it’s probably your microbiome at work.
The good news is after you adjust to being sugar-free, you’ll feel so much better and the pounds will naturally fall off. You’ll also have less sugar cravings and feel less hungry.
While it’s difficult to get off sugar, it doesn’t take extra time or money to do it. Give yourself a challenge and start with a few days if going cold turkey is difficult. Gradually increase the number of days you can go without eating sugar, especially refined sugar. My stomach issues are pretty much a non-issue when I’m off sugar and go grain-free. I never knew how terrible sugar was until I finally went off it.
If you’re thinking of loading up on sugary fruits to compensate, think again. Although it’s natural sugar, it’s still sugar. Some fruits like mango and grapes are loaded in sugar. If you need a sweet fix, eat in season berries or other fruits lower in sugar and limit how much you eat. You can also use natural sweeteners such as erythritol. My favorite brands are Monkfruit Sweetener and Swerve. You can get them at Whole Foods, Amazon or health food stores.
Hydrate (Use an App)
It hardly takes a lot of time to drink water but it is easily one of the things I forget to do that helps with weight loss and staying healthy. I just can’t seem to remember to drink enough water so I started using a water app that reminds you to drink water which is catered especially for you. I use the Plant Nanny app which is available for iPhone and Android. It’s fun and keeps me motivated to drink enough water. There are other apps out there but consider trying an app if you find it hard to reach your water goals.
10 Minute Lunch Time Exercises (schedule them)
I wholeheartedly believe that focusing on your diet is more important than exercise for weight loss but if you want to workout in addition to changing your diet but you’re finding it hard to find the time, try doing it right before lunch on a weekday and keep it to 10 minutes. I mentioned this in my Healthy Monday article as a way to kick start a healthy week. You can get a nice workout with just weights and a small space. You can also use your body weight in the beginning if adding weights is difficult.
If weekday lunch time isn’t a good time for you, try to work in 10 minutes any other time of the day that works better for your schedule. It’s just 10 minutes but will heavily influence how you will eat for the day.
If you made it to the end, you’re a rock star! I listed a lot of things that you can do to change the way you eat but I would strongly suggest easing into this lifestyle. After all, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You don’t want to go all in and feel like it’s impossible and quit. Make adjustments as you go along and see what works for you. Perhaps changing breakfast or lunch is easier to start. Build your arsenal of healthy go-to meals that your family will love and things will start to get easier. If you fall off the wagon, get back on it on Monday.
If any of these tips worked for you or you have other tips, please share them in the comments below.