Single parent families all have their own individual struggles, but nearly across the board we’re short on time, attention, energy, money, and yet still are passionate to provide wholesome food for our children! In many families, understandably, the need for wholesome food gets pushed aside for more seemingly urgent tasks.
I’ve found through trial and error that when we slip into eating less healthy everything falls apart- we all feel sick, I have less energy, the kids appear to have shorter attention spans, we all sleep worse, and we’re sick more often. So healthy food, at least 80% of time time, is a priority for me.
I’m a single parent, and have been for 2 years now. I haven’t been very open about it because there’s a stigma attached to being divorced, especially when you come from a religious background as I did and I know a lot of you do. But I am a single mom, and I’m more comfortable talking about it, so now I’m ready to share the things that have worked for me as far as still providing my small family nourishing foods!
1. Use the 80/20 Principal
Unless you are doing a specific therapeutic diet like GAPS or have food allergies, the 80/20 principal makes eating healthy much more attainable. The 80/20 principal is just doing what you think you should be doing 80% of the time, and not worrying about the other 20%.
When we were on GAPS we still used this principal- but just in the form of GAPS cheats for the 20%. Now that we’re not on GAPS I make it a point to serve nourishing meals a home, but I don’t worry much about what we eat when we’re out. I also get take-and-bake pizza if the dishes are piling up, we’re in the middle of some sort of crisis, or we have an abnormally packed schedule. Our 80/20 is most likely closer to a 90/10, but it works for me.
I also use 80/20 to make my life realistic. Realistically I’d like to recycle everything, use reusable grocery bags every time, purchase second hand more often, walk rather than drive, grow a garden and preserve the harvest, and find local sources for most of our food, and limit screen time to just a couple hours a week. In reality I can only do so much- my 80% is to spend time with my children, feed them nourishing food most of the time, and locally source most animal products to purchase in bulk, and toss obvious recyclables into the big blue recycle bin. My 20% includes often forgetting my reusable grocery bags, shopping at Trader Joes often where I can buy fresh produce, nuts, and organic most-likely-not-really free range chicken, AND dish soap and shampoo all in one trip, throwing away trash rather than worrying about reusing it, and gardening as a hobby with the kids without any pressure to actually produce much, and doing one or two days media free but also using The Magic School Bus as a bribe way more often than I think is ideal.
The more minimal I am in my life, the easier preparing healthy meals is for me. In the kitchen, you’ll see that most of my recipes use less than 10 ingredients and only 1-2 pieces of kitchen equipment. That’s less to get out, put away, wash, remember, measure, and mix!
I also keep a fairly minimal kitchen as far as pots, pans, bowls, plates, etc go. We have a saucepan, stockpot, stainless steel skillet, and cast iron skillet. That’s it for what I have that can go on the stovetop- but when you think about it, I only have 4 burners on my stove, how could I possibly use more than that at one time?
I minimalize in all areas of my life, not just the kitchen. As long as my children are happy with it I’m going to continue purchasing staples of their clothing in coordinating sets. By that I mean I purchase similar or the same item in different colors for the kids; They have the same rain coats, fleece jackets, fleece vests, sweat shirts, jeans, socks, similar swimsuits and similar snow suits when we need them, similar shoes and PJs too. They have different shirts and underwear (boy/girl) but that’s about it.
This may seem like overkill, but it simplifies the daily (or multiple times a day!) task of dressing because they understand what I mean when I say to go get your raincoats on because it’s windy, I don’t have to think through what each child owns and should put on, this simplifies shopping because I know how many of what article of clothing each child needs so I don’t have to go out and buy more as the weather changes and don’t make impulse purchases, and since they often (but not always) are wearing similar items of clothing it’s simple to see if we’re leaving things behind, things pass down from girl to boy, and if you choose blaze orange in their coats, the children are easy to spot :)
For toys, household items, books, and other things that accumulate in any home I ruthlessly declutter and give away everything we’re not using currently. Anything that has to be picked up and put away should be used often- I don’t want to be moving around stuff that we don’t need to own. I also try to stay out of stores like Target, where impulse purchases are made.
For more minimalist ideas, see my friend Rachel’s blog- Nourishing Minimalisim
3. Ask For Help
I warn people not to offer to help me unless they want me to actually take them up on it ~smile~. I ask for help with my yardwork (it’s hard to mow the lawn and listen for young children at the same time!), taking my car and picking it up from the shop to avoid having to transfer two carseats in and out of shuttles, childcare so I can exercise and grocery shop on my own, and for help moving.
People don’t realize how invaluable the help is even if they’re just sitting on my couch watching Netflix after the kids are asleep so I can run errands, go to the gym, or attend a class. Once they hear me gush about how helpful they’ve been for any task they help me with, people are always happy to help again.
We also are dabbling with different school settings- I’m a homeschooler at heart, but as a single parent I’m working on accepting help from the school system as well. I choose to look at it more as ‘educational childcare’ than the source of my children’s entire education ~grin~.
I also ask for lots of help from my children. My daughter is 6, but developmentally about 3 with some scattered skills that are higher. My son is a typically developing 4 year old. I work chores and help into our daily routine. My son fills the click here for berkey water filters target=”_blank”>water filter, my daughter puts away all the folded laundry (mine too!), they both move the laundry from the hamper to washer to dryer, unload groceries, and take care of the dog.
Not only does this help them to learn work ethic, but it keeps them occupied and feeling included as I get things done alongside them. I can either spend my time correcting behavior and coming up with activities all day for them to do and then do all the chores at night when they go to sleep, or I can include them in what I’m doing and we all can have more time to do fun things like go to the beach, park, soccer, visit friends, etc. Of course they also get plenty of ‘free’ time to play on their own, but in general if I need to occupy them while I get something done I show them how they can help rather than distracting them with a toy or TV.
4. Unconventional whole food meals are better than ‘normal’ junky meals
Scrambled eggs for dinner? Oh yeah, I did that even when I was in a two parent household. Jerky and fruit is a legitimate lunch, smoothies are acceptable for any meal as is soup, peanutbutter stirred into applesauce is lunch in a pinch (and the kids love it), and popsicles made from kefir are a way to double up as a fun treat and probiotic boost at the same time. Popcorn (not GAPS legal) and string cheese with a family friendly movie is a favorite after a tiring or stressful day here.
Often by the end of the day I’m exhausted, so we usually have our main meal at lunch or breakfast. For our main meals I’ll cook with the
kids, or they play on their own while I cook and we do a full balanced ‘normal’ meal of a protein, fat, carb, and probiotic (or I’ll send it with them to daycare/school) For dinner we eat something simple like yogurt, tuna salad, green salad from a bag, or leftovers from lunch.
For single parents, we’ve often been up and going full force for 12 hours by the time dinner comes around, and we still have a few hours of work ahead of us still to get the kids ready for bed, in bed, and then work on the bills, clean out the car, or do other activities that are hard to do with the kids underfoot. The appeal of frozen pre-made dinners, frozen pizza (which we eat too, occasionally), or hitting the drive through is understandable. By not feeling like we have to stick to the mold of having a ‘real’ dinner, it’s easier for me to avoid the junkie convenience foods. Since I made a substantial lunch or breakfast, I don’t feel any guilt over this.
If you’re a single parent and want to use my meal plans, you may find that you just end up using them for breakfast and lunch, and then dinner once a week or so. That’s ok! I don’t cook like that either, I just wanted to provide recipes for those who are making full meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in case they wanted them.
5. Take time for yourself to recharge
I know this is cliche, but this makes or breaks my mood and ability to provide healthy food and a healthy mood for my children. Unlike two parent households, it’s one parent giving giving giving all the time, and we miss the interaction with other adults even if we don’t notice it at first. A trip to the gym or taking a class is my favorite way to get some adult time where I’m not nonstop answering questions and being responsible. Another great option is to have a friend over after the kids go to bed for some adult conversation.
Single parenting is rewarding and our children are always worth our best, I hope this helps some of you to feed your family in a less stressful more nourishing way.
Because there are so many variables in single parent households, I hope we can all continue this down in the comment section. I have full custody of my children, so I don’t have any experience with shared custody arrangements and didn’t touch on that at all. Also, I didn’t touch on the money aspect of it much since there already is quite a bit out on the internet on eating real food on a budget.