Nov. 22. 2019
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Learn these 10 habits for healthy moms because taking care of yourself is important too.

Maintaining good health as a mom is essential, after all, we can’t take care of anyone else if we aren’t in good shape ourselves! Being a healthy mom has two parts, minding your own health and looking out for the health of your family as well.

Parents wear many hats — we are the keeper of schedules, the master of bedtime ceremonies, the planner of meals and activities and the head nurse when there’s an injury. But we can’t do any of these jobs well if we’re overwhelmed, exhausted and undernourished.

Make each day a little healthier with these simple strategies for self and family care.

10 Habits For Healthy Moms

1. Take Care Of Yourself

Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish, it’s self-loving and vital to do before you can take care of anyone else. This philosophy applies to physical, emotional, and mental health. For many moms, the early morning hours of the day before anyone wakes up is the only alone time available.

That first hour of the day is the healthy mom’s “power hour” to set intentions for the day such as the 2Q Daily Practice (click to get it for free) from McKel’s Method. These first moments are so important for staying centered throughout the day and maintaining some control over your time and activities. If you wake up to social media, email inboxes and news headlines you’re thrown into a reactive mode so keep the screens off for this first hour to stay in the driver’s seat and direct the course of the day.

Meditating first thing in the morning is a powerful practice that can help you think clearer and problem solve better for the remainder of the day (1). People who meditate are also less reactive and more rational (2), an important skill for all people but let’s be honest, especially crucial for parents (particularly those with toddlers!).

The first hour of the day is also a great time to exercise. Working out in the morning naturally creates fewer barriers to consistency, often the only thing getting in the way of you and the workout is the snooze button. Morning workouts may also boost productivity and executive function, the type of brain function responsible for activities like remembering phone numbers (3).

2. Make Lists and Journal

When you become a parent your to-do list literally explodes. This is the natural result of being responsible for additional people with needs just like your own. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious about all the things that need to get done can take a toll on both mental and physical health. Keeping an organized list is a great way to get everything out of your head and onto paper.

To avoid crowding your list, write agenda items on your calendar and things that need to be purchased on a running store list. Your daily to-do list should be short and sweet, prioritize the top 3-5 things that need to get done. For everything else, keep a running weekly list to pull those daily priorities.

3. Plan As Much As You Can

The key to using a calendar is to be flexible when scheduling downtime and tasks write things down (or enter if using a digital calendar). For a calendar to work and keep appointments and activities organized it has to be consistently used, otherwise it is a distraction and one more thing to carry around.

Loosely scheduled activities, projects, work time, exercise, etc., will create a place holder for when the thing that needs to get done, is going to get done. Without making time on your calendar, the goal of getting the thing done is really just hope without putting solid action behind it.

It might seem silly to schedule things like healthy family meals or workouts but this also helps to ensure time is made for those important events and priorities. Make sure to honor the mental commitment you’ve made to scheduled events and defend the time you’ve set aside for them.

4. Eat A Meal Together

Planning a week of healthy family meals in advance gives you time to get organized, create thoughtful, nourishing meals and limit wasted time and money spent on takeout or trying to figure out what to eat last minute.

Research also shows that eating together as a family has a number of health benefits including lower rates of obesity, better academic performance, greater self-esteem and resilience, less emotional stress and a greater sense of well-being (4).

5. Automate When Possible

Creating efficiencies can be a great way to carve out more time in your day for spending time with your family or working in some time on self-care. Consider what can be automated: can you automate and streamline grocery shopping, house cleaning, financial planning, schedule organization, etc.?

Any repeated activity that you do more than 4 times a week should and can be automated. There are so many apps and services available that will literally make life run like clockwork. This may require an investment of some time upfront to determine what really works for you and makes life easier but it will be worth it. Time is one of the most valuable assets we have in taking care of our minds and bodies. Automate whatever is reasonable to gain more time throughout the day.

6. Prioritize Sleep

Did you know that getting enough sleep helps the body repair DNA damage (5)? While sleep deprivation impairs cognitive functioning and behavior (6).

You inevitably have tasks that need attention when the kids go to bed and of course, you want some time to unwind yourself but, sleep should be a priority too. Set an alarm (yes, an alarm!) about an hour before you’d like to go to bed to make sure there is enough time to wind down before you hit the sheets.

Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids! Routine tells the brain what’s coming. With sleep, specific routines like powering down electronic devices and dimming the lights can actually enhance melatonin production (7), our body’s sleep hormone. Therefore if you’d like to improve the quality of your sleep and the ease of getting to sleep, a nighttime routine is essential. Basic night time routine ingredients include:

  • Avoiding screens and artificial light 1-2 hours before bed (more if possible)
  • Enjoying a relaxing activity like a bath, walk outside or reading
  • Clearing your mind by making a list of the things you want to address tomorrow
  • Meditating or deep breathing to reduce circulating stress hormones that can interfere with sleep (8)
  • Changing into cool and comfortable bedtime clothes
  • Preparing your room for sleep, turning off lights and adjusting the temperature as needed

If you need a little more support to get you bedtime ready, essential oils or tea are a great way to up your game. Try to diffuse calming essential oils like lavender, ylang-ylang or rose while enjoying a cup of chamomile or sleepy time tea.

Once you’ve got your routine down its time for the hardest part — getting into bed! Give yourself a hard deadline to get into bed to make sure your brain and body get some well-deserved rest.

7. Schedule A Date Night

Being a healthy mom means giving your mind a break from the day to day inner workings of the household. Schedule a date night with your partner, a friend, your family and do something that brings you joy, laughter, and happiness. Research shows that laughter decreases stress and increases feelings of being happy and satisfied. Laughter even has a beneficial impact on things like heart rate, oxygen consumption and muscle relaxation (9).

If you’re short on time, you might consider planning a date night that checks more than just the ‘get out of the house’ box. An active date night is a good choice if you have trouble fitting in exercise. Try something new or keep it simple, whatever your preference there are plenty of great activity options for a night out:

  • Kayaking
  • Taking a walk
  • Paddleboarding
  • Yoga
  • Bike riding

If you have trouble prioritizing self-care, an hour or two of pampering might be a better fit. Remember to plan in advance as most good spas and salons require a week or more of advance notice. Consider what would be most enjoyable for you and your partner.

Whatever you do for date night, getting out of the house can sometimes lead to mom guilt. This is totally normal. Try your best to enjoy the time away and think of it like recharging your battery. How well does your phone work if it’s not charged? It doesn’t work at all, right? Exactly! You’ll be better able to handle the challenges of the next day if you allow yourself some time away, even just for an hour.

8. Incorporate Activity Each Day

It may not be possible to get in a long sweat session every day. Although short bursts of activity may not be as satisfying as a long run or a spin class, science shows that they can be as effective for building muscle and cardiovascular fitness (10).

Short bursts of intense exercise also impact health on a cellular level, increasing the number of mitochondria (11). Mitochondria are the little metabolic engines within each cell that govern essential functions like metabolism.

Aim for a few short bursts of activity throughout the day (any amount of time is good, even 1-2 minutes!) and incorporate regular non-intense movement throughout the day to accumulate around 7000 or more steps (12).

Healthy families need exercise too! If alone time is not possible, work some exercise into family time with a hike, a trip to the trampoline park or literally anything that gets you up and moving.

9. Use Leftovers

This healthy mom hack is good for your body, the planet, and the budget. If you have little ones running around you inevitably have cut up fruits and vegetables that go un-eaten.

Not quite enough to save for the next snack but also too much to waste. Keep a few containers in the freezer to store these perfectly good morsels. I have one for soups, one for smoothies and one for chili and they each accumulate leftovers throughout the week. When its time to make a smoothie or a pot of soup, the container comes in handy to lend ingredients to the mix.

Short on recipe ideas? Here are a few to get you started:

When in doubt you can always search for recipes using the ingredients you have stashed in your freezer containers or add them as an addition to the recipe ingredients. You’d be surprised, increasing the variety of fruit in smoothies or vegetables in soups often enhances the recipe rather than ruining it.

10. Pack Snacks For Stable Blood Sugars

Healthy families are fueled by good nutrient-rich foods. But this doesn’t happen on its own. If you rely on what’s available at fast-food restaurants and sporting events you and your family will be eating a lot of sugar, refined flours and vegetable oils — all inflammatory foods that are low in nutrients.

Being a healthy mom means you come prepared. In fact, I’m pretty sure moms take an oath to pack snacks before they leave the delivery room with their newborn! Packing snacks keeps you in control of what you and your family are eating on the go and prevents getting hangry. Some healthy, portable snacks include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butter packets with apples or celery
  • Baby carrots and single-serve hummus or guacamole
  • Energy balls
  • Bars made from nuts, seeds, whole grains and dried fruit (like these simple chewy bars)
  • Energy mix

Don’t forget about the beverages! Make sure everyone has a reusable water bottle to bring with them for activities, running errands and appointments. A water bottle with a built-in filter is a good idea if you’re unsure of the quality of water you’ll come in contact with along your family adventures.

Tired of water? Try infused water, unsweetened sparkling seltzer, iced herbal tea or water with a splash of 100% fruit juice. Better yet, make sure your water is filtered.

Healthy Mom, Healthy Family

Taking care of yourself is the only way you can take care of your family. These simple hacks can help move you and your family move toward good health, one habit at a time.

Let’s Hear It

What are your tried and true healthy mom or healthy family hacks? And what are you going to try and tackle first on this list? #nutritionstripped

Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, LDN