When you’re pregnant, especially if it’s your first child, it’s common to focus most of your attention on your self care, nutrition, and birth planning. What doesn’t necessarily get enough attention is planning for postpartum recovery. I was certainly guilty of this with my first child.
In centuries past and in traditional cultures, this probably wasn’t a big deal because your family/village took care of you after having a baby. It was customary for others, especially older women (moms, grandmothers, aunts, etc.) to help “mother the mother” for a period of time, often 40 days or longer. They took on everyday tasks, like cleaning and cooking, to allow you to rest, recover, and bond with your baby.
Without this support network or even the societal acknowledgement that growing, birthing, and then caring for a newborn is a FULL TIME 24/7 JOB, many of us are left to “go it alone” and navigate postpartum recovery blind. (This is highlighted especially by the absurd lack of universal paid maternity leave in the United States, but I digress…)
The Truth About Nutrition for Postpartum Recovery
A lot of women assume that nutrition during pregnancy is what matters most; once baby is born, you’re off the hook and nutrition no longer needs to be a priority.
You might be surprised to learn that nutrient needs in the early postpartum phase—and especially while breastfeeding—are higher than while you were pregnant.
Technically, you’re still growing a baby; your baby is just outside of the womb. That means nourishing yourself should remain a huge priority.
Plus, depending on the circumstances of your labor and delivery, it may feel like you’ve run a marathon (or two). Or you may have had a C-section, which is major abdominal surgery—or maybe both a marathon and major abdominal surgery (as may be the case if you had an emergency C-section).
Regardless, you absolutely need to replenish your energy and take in additional nutrients to account for blood loss and wound healing (particularly if you’ve had a perineal tear or a surgical birth).
Even in an uncomplicated delivery, your body undergoes significant changes as your uterus shrinks down to its pre-pregnancy size, the internal wound left by the placenta heals, your connective tissues adapt, your breasts begin producing milk (whether or not you choose to breastfeed), your skin regains elasticity, your hormones adjust, and so much more.
Suffice to say: nutrition plays a big role in postpartum recovery.
What Traditional Cultures Can Teach Us About Postpartum Recovery Nutrition
Across the board, traditional cultures put a heavy emphasis on postpartum nutrition.
Though there are clear regional differences in cuisine, one thing is clear: animal products are a mainstay. From rich bone broths to organ meats, from seafood to eggs, our ancestors understood that the nutrients found in these foods were extremely important for healing and milk production in new moms.
The second commonality is that “warming” foods are encouraged. Yes, this includes steamy broths, herbal teas, and porridges, but it also includes recipes with warming spices, like cinnamon and ginger.
For example, in China, pig trotter’s soup or chicken soup (prepared with the whole chicken, including bones and skin) was made for new mothers. According to one report: “Meat is served every day, usually rotating between chicken, pork, pig liver and kidney.” Eggs were also highly encouraged, as they are believed to enhance milk production and boost brain development of her infant.
In Korea, the first meal was a seaweed soup made in a base of beef bone broth.
In Mexico, brothy chicken soup with onions, garlic, and cilantro is a common postpartum recovery meal.
Dozens of other examples of traditional postpartum recovery foods are detailed in Ch 12 of Real Food for Pregnancy, the section of the book devoted entirely to postpartum nutrition & considerations for the 4th trimester.
When you start to examine these traditional recovery foods from their micronutrient content, you can see why they would be helpful for healing, nutrient repletion, and for enriching breast milk.
Nutritional Rationale Behind Traditional Postpartum Recovery Meals
In many ways, the foods emphasized in traditional cultures make perfect sense. When you’re recovering from pregnancy and birth, there are tremendous shifts going on internally.
Healing tissues that have been stretched, torn or cut (to put it bluntly) require plenty of protein, especially the amino acids glycine and proline, which your body uses to make collagen. These are found in abundance in the connective tissues, bones, and skin of animal foods. Electrolytes and fluids are crucial to replace those lost during labor. All of these nutrients are found in bone broth and any slow-cooked stews, soups, and curries that incorporate animal foods (and are salted to taste; remember salt provides important electrolytes).
If you’ve lost a significant amount of blood, replenishing with red meat and organ meats would provide high amounts of easily absorbed iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin A. Foods such as eggs and seafood would provide additional protein along with iodine, B-vitamins, zinc, choline, DHA and a variety of other nutrients that help speed healing and also enrich breast milk.
Furthermore, energy needs go up during recovery from birth—nope, this is not a time to go on a “diet,” cut calories, or to try to restrict your food intake.
Attention given to easy-to-digest foods, like cooked vegetables, slow-cooked meat, and starchy porridges is both intentional and logical; your body can more readily extract calories from cooked foods compared to raw foods.
Lastly, traditionally-emphasized foods are often widely available in that area (hence why they vary region to region), provide necessary calories for recovery, and often fall into the category of comfort foods. On a nutritional and emotional level, these are exactly the foods your body wants and needs during this vulnerable time.
What Should You Eat to Optimize Postpartum Recovery?
For the most part, you can continue eating the way you did during pregnancy through the postpartum phase with just a few modifications. As mentioned above, you’ll need more calories, which means more food all around. Breastfeeding mothers, especially, find themselves ravenously hungry in the early weeks.
It’s estimated that exclusively breastfeeding mothers burn an additional 500 calories per day for the first 6 months postpartum. If you’re listening to your hunger cues (and have enough help to bring food to you when needed), you’ll be just fine; no need to count calories or anything.
I remember the morning after giving birth to my son, my husband brought me breakfast. It was a typical-sized breakfast that I was used to eating during pregnancy, but it was nowhere close to the amount of food my body needed. I was like a bottomless pit for weeks (I talk more about that in this interview). I remember saying to him something to the effect of, “For future reference, I’m gonna need triple the amount of food from now on.” It was shocking how hungry I was!
It’s actually quite easy to accidentally under-eat during this phase, especially if you don’t have someone preparing food for you (did I mention newborns are demanding of your time and attention?), so I can’t emphasize enough the importance of arranging help preparing meals, having pre-made freezer meals at the ready (the focus of this post!), and also stashing snacks around the house where you plan to feed your baby and rest.
Foods to Enhance Postpartum Recovery
The following are examples of foods you can incorporate into real food postpartum recovery meals and the nutritional rationale for eating them. Keep scrolling down for recipes that put these real food principles into practice.
- Soups, hearty stews, and curries made with bone broth. These warming comfort foods supply collagen-building amino acids (glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline—all key to supporting perineal and pelvic floor healing), electrolytes, and many micronutrients. This group of foods is the #1 most common tradition you see repeated in different cultures across the globe.
- High-iron, high-protein foods, such as slow-cooked meat (think pot roast or pulled pork) and organ meats, such as liver, kidney, and heart. Remember that you can hide liver in many recipes, as I do in chili, meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, and meatballs. See below for recipe ideas.
- High-fat foods, like pork, butter/ghee, fatty fish, nuts/seeds, etc. These help keep you full and can actually enrich your breast milk with slightly higher fat content. (It’s true and evidence-based; see this post.)
- Foods rich in omega-3 fats, such as seafood, eggs, and grass-fed beef. These foods also provide choline, needed in higher amounts while breastfeeding, key for baby’s continued brain development, and benefit your brain health as well.
- Iodine-rich foods, such as fish/seafood or seaweed-infused broths (this can be as simple as adding a piece of dried kombu to your batch of bone broth). Roasted nori “seaweed snacks” are a convenient high-iodine food.
- Soft-cooked vegetables (instead of raw veggies or salads), as these are easier on digestion.
- Well-cooked grains/starches, such as oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, plantains, etc. (eaten alongside plenty of fat and protein to provide enough energy and stabilize your blood sugar).*
*Most people have no problem eating plenty of carbs, so I don’t focus my recipe suggestions on this category, although some of the recipes below incorporate these items. Just know you have permission to eat carbohydrates to satiety and your personal carbohydrate tolerance. Early postpartum is generally not the time to be restrictive; you simply want to ensure carbs are eaten along with other nutrient-dense foods. *For a more extensive discussion of carbohydrate needs for postpartum and my thoughts on low carb/ketogenic diets while breastfeeding, please see Ch 12 of Real Food for Pregnancy.
Make Ahead Real Food Postpartum Recovery Meals
This list (as well as the snack/treat ideas below) encompass 50+ recipe ideas. Pick and choose some favorites. Consider making a double batch of a recipe and freezing half (see notes below on freezer tips as well as ideas for scheduling/outsourcing postpartum meal prep). I’ve also mentioned some of the recipes from my e-cookbook in this list. My e-cookbook features 30 recipes that are NOT found in Real Food for Pregnancy, all of which are excellent choices for postpartum recovery.
- Shepherd’s Pie (from me) — This includes hidden liver, which is especially helpful for preventing postpartum anemia and replenishing nutrient stores.
- Bone Broth (from me) — You can use any type of bones. At minimum, fill the pot as full as you can with bones and cover with water (all other ingredients are bonus to help it taste good). Follow the instructions in the post or cook in the Instant Pot on high pressure for 90 minutes. Strain, cool, and freeze in mason jars. I try to have some almost every day for the first month after baby is born. If homemade broth is out of the question for you, or you’re lacking freezer space, consider purchasing pre-made from FOND bone broth. Their shelf stable broth is made from pasture-raised chicken or beef bones and is packaged in glass jars.
- Low Carb Korean Beef Bowls (from me) — Not only does this recipe pack in a bunch of nutritious ingredients, but it also incorporates ginger, which is used in many postpartum traditions thanks to its warming and soothing properties.
- Chicken & Vegetable Soup (from me) — Put your bone broth to good use in this comforting soup. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Mexican Shredded Beef (from me) — Minimal prep work for a big nutritional pay off. The recipe includes servings suggestions. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Liver Pate (from me) — When a recipe calls for ground liver (#hiddenliver), I almost always use pate. I often make a large batch of pate and freeze it in small containers (4-8 oz mason jars or even ice cube trays) specifically for this purpose. Then, the next time I go to make meatloaf, meatballs, chili, or shepherd’s pie, I can simply defrost a small amount and mix it right in. Incorporating liver into your postpartum meals is the #1 way to ensure you meet your needs for iron, zinc, B12, vitamin A, folate, choline, selenium, and so much more.
- Savory Chicken Liver Bites (from me) — This is NOT a make-ahead or freezer-friendly recipe, but it is a great one to outsource to helpful friends/family or a postpartum doula/chef to prepare for you. Nothing feels quite as nourishing as eating organ meats postpartum. You’ll know what I mean when you bite into these delicious chicken liver bites. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Grass-fed Beef Meatloaf (from me) — This incorporates hidden liver. I ate this several times in my first month of postpartum recovery after my son was born and believe it was a big reason I was able to avoid postpartum anemia. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Molé Meatloaf (from me) — This is a variation of the above meatloaf with a Mexican molé twist. The warming spices in this version are perfect for postpartum recovery. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Roasted Red Pepper & Kale Quiche — This versatile quiche recipe is dairy-free, but is delicious with the optional topping of sharp cheddar cheese. Swap in any preferred filling ingredients (4 variations are included with the recipe). Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Grass-fed Beef Meatballs (from me) — This also incorporates hidden liver. Perfect bite-sized meatballs can easily be eaten with one hand while you nurse/feed the baby. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Chili (from me) — Another place for hidden liver. This freezes extremely well. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (from me) — So easy to make and it freezes well. This is my go-to meal that I bring to new mamas and their families. It’s a crowd pleaser, but also provides ample collagen for tissue healing. I typically bring it with roasted sweet potato fries and tangy coleslaw.
- Carnitas (from me) — Same benefits as the slow cooker pulled pork, just different spices. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy
- Wild Alaskan Salmon Cakes (from me) — Get your boost of DHA, choline, and iodine right here. Salmon cakes are easy to eat with one hand, which is clutch in the early days with a newborn.
- Split Pea Soup (from me) — This can be made in the Instant Pot or slow cooker. My method includes some very specific instructions to help make the peas more digestible (aka it won’t make you fart!). This is an excellent one to batch cook and freeze. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Spinach and Bone Broth (from me) — Quick to prepare and surprisingly full of flavor. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Carrot Ginger Squash Soup (from me) — A hearty soup made with bone broth and plenty of warming ginger.
- Chicken Tortilla Soup (from me) — This recipe can be made in an Instant Pot (or any electric pressure cooker) or on the stovetop. Hearty, filling, and full of flavor! Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Tomato Soup with Bone Broth (recipe hack from me) — This is perhaps the easiest homemade tomato soup. Batch prep this or hand over the recipe to a family/friend to make for you. Serve with a homemade grilled cheese on sourdough or add some chicken to extra protein. Very simply recipe/recipe hack is in my e-cookbook.
- Thai Chili Beef Heart Skewers (from me) — This requires a fair amount of prep work (slicing up the heart, marinating, grilling) not to mention being brave, because eating heart isn’t exactly normalized in Western culture. It’s incredibly delicious though and full of iron, B12, choline, coQ10, and so many more energy-boosting nutrients.
- Lasagne with Zucchini Noodles (from me) — This is another labor intensive recipe, but if you can muster the energy in the third trimester to make it, know that it freezes well. Or outsource it to a family member that likes to cook.
- Indian Spiced Stuffed Bell Peppers (from me) — Yet another place for hidden liver!
- Coconut Chicken Curry (from me) — Chicken, cooked vegetables, warming spices, bone broth, coconut milk… This recipe ticks all the postpartum recovery boxes. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Sweet Potato Turkey Sausage Egg Bake (from The Real Food RDs) — This is a fantastic make-ahead breakfast.
- Pre-Marinated Meat (from The Real Food RDs) — You can marinate, then freeze the raw meat, so a family member/friend can defrost and cook for you on the spot.
- Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins (from The Real Food RDs) — Any kind of egg muffin is a perfect breakfast option while nursing. Yes, you can freeze these. There are plenty of ingredient combinations out there, like spinach/bacon, tomato/mushroom, sausage/kale, etc. Go wild!
- Apple & Thyme Chicken Breakfast Sausage Patties (from me) — These make a convenient protein option for breakfast or snacks. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Savory Sweet Potato Bacon Waffles (from The Real Food RDs) — These grain-free waffles sound much harder to make than they actually are!
- Sausage Hashbrown Egg Bake (from The Real Food RDs) — Another filling and nutrient-dense breakfast option. You could bake them in muffin tins if you’d like.
- Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup (from The Real Food RDs) — This recipe can be made in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. Be sure to use bone broth where it calls for chicken broth to really boost the collagen content of the recipe.
- Beef Stew with Root Vegetables (from The Real Food RDs) — This recipe can be made in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. Stews freeze well and this is no exception.
- Whole Chicken in the Instant Pot (from The Real Food RDs) — After removing the meat for use in whatever recipe you’d like, put the bones and “icky bits” back into the Instant Pot to make a batch of bone broth. It’s a two-for-one!
- Instant Pot Lamb Curry (from The Real Food RDs) — Curry is full of warming spices, which is believed to help encourage milk production and soothe the digestive system.
- Potato Leek Soup (from Nourished Kitchen) — Incredibly comforting and incredibly nutrient dense. Like almost all of Jenny’s soup recipes, this relies on bone broth as a base.
- Kale and Potato Soup w/ Chorizo and Smoked Paprika (from Nourished Kitchen) — Simple, comforting, and full of flavor.
- Tom Kha Gai (from Hot Thai Kitchen) — This traditional Thai soup featuring coconut milk, bone broth, and chicken is one of my personal favorites. If you don’t have a good Thai restaurant nearby, make this and savor it postpartum!
- Salmon Baked with Cream and Herbs (from Nourished Kitchen) — Ok, technically this isn’t a make ahead meal, because fish is best prepared fresh, but I wanted to add another seafood recipe to the mix. This should be easy enough for anyone in your house to prepare for you.
- Instant Pot Pomegranate Molasses Short Ribs (from Essential Omnivore) — Sounds a bit gourmet, but a very simple and flavorful recipe that can be made ahead and frozen or made with minimal effort by a family member/friend.
- Crock Pot Chicken Thighs (from Essential Omnivore) — A versatile recipe that can be made in the Instant Pot (20 min high pressure) or the slow cooker. Repurpose leftovers into tacos, lettuce wraps, soup, stew, or a casserole.
- Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Tongue (from Essential Omnivore) — Tongue is intimidating, but it’s delicious and incredibly nutrient dense. This would freeze well for use in tacos or other dishes.
- Pesto Chicken Thighs (from Essential Omnivore) — Stupidly simple and so flavorful. Chicken thighs have more connective tissue than the breast meat, which means more collagen for your healing. Remember to eat the skin as well!
- Chicken Liver & Onions (from Essential Omnivore) — I’d prepare this fresh rather than make ahead, but if you’re going to try liver straight up, opt for chicken liver, which has a milder flavor and tender texture compared to beef liver.
- Chicken Enchilada Soup (from Keto Diet App) — Be sure to use bone broth where it calls for chicken broth to really boost the collagen content of the recipe.
- Thai Seafood Chowder (from All Day I Dream About Food) — As above, use bone broth where it calls for chicken broth.
- Butternut Squash Soup (from Nourished Caveman) — A super simple recipe featuring bone broth. If your tummy is feeling really sensitive in the early postpartum days, this would be perfect.
Real Food Postpartum Treats/Snacks
Most of the snacks I rely on in early postpartum are not things I specifically prepare ahead of time, with the exception of tart cherry gummies (gotta get those tissue-healing amino acids in!).
I’m a big fan of easy options, like hard boiled eggs, packaged bars (like KIND or Lara bars), nuts/seeds, cheese, salami, jerky, meat sticks, organic corn chips with guacamole, sliced apple with nut butter, Greek yogurt with berries, seaweed snacks with avocado slices (see here), good dark chocolate, etc. Any of the snack options outlined in Ch 5 of Real Food for Pregnancy would be great.
I find that visitors often bring along plenty of “treats” so there’s no need for me to prepare for this. My focus is primarily on getting big, filling, nutrient-dense meals in! That said, if you’re inclined to make some treats or snacks, here are some healthy and filling options.
- Tart Cherry Gummies (from me) — You can use this same recipe with whatever juice you have on hand (except pineapple, which prevents gelatin from hardening).
- Mango Gummies (from me) — These are another excellent way to get extra gelatin into your diet to speed postpartum healing, especially if you have any tears/surgical wounds. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Strawberry & Cream Jellies (Keto Diet App) — Yet another gummy recipe to check out.
- Tart Cherry Ginger Cashew Energy Bites (from me) — I know the name is a mouthful, but the flavor combination is to die for! These are a good one-handed postpartum snack. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Maple Pots de Creme (from me) — This is an excellent source of choline and incredibly filling. I do not think this recipe would freeze well, so you can either make it close to your due date and keep in the fridge for a few days or have a friend/family member make it for you after baby arrives.
- Spiced Banana-Nut Muffins (from me) — You’d never know these muffins are gluten-free (coconut flour is the only “flour”) and low in sugar. These have a lovely blend of warming spices, like cinnamon and ginger, which are traditionally encouraged for postpartum mothers in many cultures. Batch cook and freeze these and don’t forget to top with a generous layer of butter when you eat ’em. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Macaroons (from me) — If you’re gonna have cookies, you may as well have the benefit of nourishing and filling coconut fat + fiber on your side. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Grain-free Granola (from me) — Make a batch ahead of time and keep it in airtight containers wherever you plan to feed your baby. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Cardamom Cashew Butter (from me) — Just eat this straight off the spoon.
- Spinach Dip (from me) — A sneaky and delicious way to get more greens into your diet! Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Canned Smoked Oysters atop a cracker (plantain chips are delicious) and optional smear of cream cheese. Learn why shellfish are AMAZING for you during and after pregnancy in this article.
- Roasted Nori (aka seaweed snacks) — No recipe; you can eat these right out of the package. They’re a great way to meet your increased iodine requirements while nursing. I like to make wraps around avocado slices, as pictured here.
- Nutty “Granola” Bars — Tasty, high-fiber, and yet another place to hide extra collagen, these bars are a must for postpartum. Recipe in Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Crunchy Coconut Cacao Clusters (from me) — A perfect one-handed snack slash dessert. It sneaks in a little collagen for extra protein! Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- 3 Ingredient Nutty Butter Bites (from The Real Food RDs) — These would make a great nursing snack.
- No-Bake Apricot Almond Coconut Energy Bars (from The Real Food RDs) — Another yummy option for a homemade bar.
- Wild Salmon Salad with Capers (from me) — This is a great option to get in extra protein, iodine, DHA, and other key nutrients. Eat it straight up, on a sandwich, with tortilla chips, or atop a salad. This is not a make ahead recipe, but is quick to throw together. Leftovers will keep a few days in the refrigerator. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
- Lemon Fat Bombs (from Keto Diet App) — These rely on coconut butter and coconut oil to make for a filling snack when you want a treat. Feel free to sub in honey for the sweetener if you’d like.
- No-bake N’Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Healthful Pursuit) — These “cookies” are mainly hulled hemp seeds that are mixed with coconut oil and a few other ingredients. Feel free to swap in honey or maple syrup as the sweetener.
- Sunshine Cookies (from Healthful Pursuit) — Just 5 ingredients make these soft, chewy cookies.
- Chai Granola Bars (from Healthful Pursuit) — These grain-free, high-fiber granola bars incorporate warming chai spices and are sweetened with dates and a mashed banana. These would be a great option for keeping your bowel movements regular early on.
- Chai Custard (from Nourished Kitchen) — This is not only a delicious dessert, but all of the ingredients in this recipe—even the unrefined sugar called jaggery—are traditionally encouraged in Ayurveda for new mothers.
- Dark Chocolate Cashew Tart — We all deserve a treat, especially after a long day of tending to baby’s needs. The trick is doing so without causing a massive blood sugar spike and crash. This decadent, yet simple dessert, is incredibly satisfying with plenty of occurring fats from cashews, chocolate, and coconut. Recipe in my e-cookbook.
How to Freeze Postpartum Recovery Meals
Whenever possible, I try to opt for non-toxic food storage. That means minimizing the use of plastic and aluminum (or at least reducing the degree to which those substances come in direct contact with my food). Granted, this is not always realistic, so see my notes below where I make exceptions.
Soups, stews, and slow cooked meat:
You have a few options here.
Option #1 is mason jars. This is my top pick because mason jars are non toxic, budget friendly, and reusable—you just need to be sure the mason jars are “freezer safe” and follow some precautions when filling, freezing, and defrosting to avoid breakage (*see note below on freezer safe mason jars). When filling freezer safe jars, leave ½-inch head space to allow for the expansion of food during freezing. The obvious downside of mason jars is they are breakable and you have to wait for the contents to defrost before reheating (submerging a frozen Mason jar in a container of hot water is a bad idea; I’ve learned from experience!). This means thinking ahead the day before you want to eat something and letting it defrost in the refrigerator, which is easier said than done with a newborn to take care of.
Option #2 is reusable silicone bags (like these). My issue here is that they are quite pricey and not that big, so if you’re doing substantial meal prep, they become pretty impractical.
Option #3 is plastic containers. I know, I know. There will be some plastic chemicals that leach into the food. You can minimize this by waiting until your food has entirely cooled to room temperature or refrigerator temperature before filling. The convenient thing about plastic is that you can defrost it quickly in a bowl of warm water with no risk of breakage. Plus, I’d argue that the alternative of purchasing pre-cooked frozen meals from the grocery store or take-out from a restaurant often means a) it also comes packaged in plastic and b) I have less control over the ingredients.
This is where you can play the “good-better-best” card and make whatever choice(s) that fit your budget and lifestyle.
Casseroles (freezing whole):
If you’re feeding a crowd (meaning planning for your postpartum meals to also feed your family/friends, it might make sense to prepare entire casseroles and freeze them whole (like the lasagne or egg bakes linked above). The conundrum is that doing so ties up the use of your baking pans, which I’m guessing you still need to use for day to day cooking. The alternative is disposable aluminum baking sheets, but these will leach aluminum into your food—yuck! So here are your options:
1) Cook your casserole in your usual baking sheets, BUT line them with parchment paper before filling. Once it has baked, let it cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Then, you can lift the entire casserole out of the pan and wrap in an additional sheet of parchment paper (top and bottom) followed by aluminum foil and freeze. When you reheat, simply remove the extra parchment and aluminum, place in the original pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees or until heated through.
2) Cook your casserole in a disposable aluminum pan, BUT line the pan with a double or triple layer of parchment paper first, so you prevent the aluminum from directly contacting the food. This is especially important if the casserole has acidic ingredients, like lemon or tomatoes. (This probably sounds excessive, but I’ve tried using only one layer of parchment paper and found that the juices seeped through the parchment in some areas and literally dissolved a hole in the aluminum pan. That means a) a mess and b) you’re eating aluminum.) Once your casserole is fully cooked, simply cover with a sheet of parchment paper followed by a sheet of aluminum foil and freeze the entire tray. Reheat as above.
Casseroles (freezing in individual portions):
If you are planning to meal prep only for yourself and let everyone else fend for themselves (more power to you, by the way!), you might consider freezing individual portions. After baking your casserole, let it cool and slice into portions. If you have a large enough collection of freezer-safe glass containers, go for it. Otherwise, you can either store in plastic containers lined with parchment paper (this is to minimize the amount of food that comes in contact with plastic directly) or wrap each piece in a double layer of parchment paper followed by aluminum foil.
Egg muffins/baked items:
If you think you’ll eat these within a month or so of freezing, you can simply store them in a large container with a lid. If you think they’ll be stored for longer, you can consider wrapping each one in parchment paper followed by aluminum foil or plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.
Sausage patties or salmon cakes:
After cooking, place the patties in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer. When frozen, transfer to a zip lock bag, reusable silicone bag, or another freezer-safe container for up to 1 month. I like to put a piece of parchment paper between each patty to prevent them from sticking together. To cook from frozen, you can 1) reheat on the stove top in a small pan with a few drops of water over medium heat for 5-8 minutes with a lid on the pan, 2) reheat on an oven-safe dish in the oven/toaster oven (375 degrees for ~15 minutes), or 3) microwave for 1-2 minutes or until heated through.
* For information on freezer-safe mason jars, see this post from Ball mason jars. When purchasing, note that the label should explicitly state “freezer safe.” They’re generally the jars that have straight sides (no “shoulder” or taper near the top). At the time of writing, this includes the regular mouth mason jars: 4, 8, and 12 oz and wide mouth mason jars: 16 and 24 oz. I personally love the 24 oz jars for bone broth/soup (they’re marketed as “pint & half jars”). These are the perfect height for my freezer drawers.
Scheduling or Outsourcing Postpartum Meal Prep
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you (think you) need to do before baby arrives. I set an intention to start prepping real food postpartum recovery meals at approximately 20 weeks into my pregnancy. I’m notoriously horrible at meal planning (see this post for more), but decided it would be doable to try to get at least ONE meal in the fridge each week, which would mean ~20 meals by the time I welcomed baby. So I put a calendar on my fridge to remind me to do just that. I didn’t write down what I would make, just that I would make something. This has worked pretty well for my anti-meal-planning personality. Primarily, I just make a double batch of a recipe or store all the leftovers from a meal straight to the freezer.
That said, I realized as the weeks rolled on that many of the recipes I was prepping really weren’t that complicated and maybe all of the responsibility for postpartum recovery meals didn’t need to fall on me and only me (if our Western culture just embraced global postpartum traditions, this wouldn’t even be something I had to think about… sigh).
So, in addition to stocking the freezer with postpartum recovery meals, I’ve gone through my cookbooks and bookmarked recipes for my husband and family to make for me after baby arrives. That way when they ask me what I want to eat, I can just say “choose something from the recipe list” or “read me a few from the list and I’ll pick one,” thus saving me from having to use my precious, sleep deprived, half-brain power on food choices or explaining recipe instructions. Delegation can take a surprising amount of energy; this simplifies it immensely.
If you don’t have family/friends to help, a postpartum doula, personal chef, or meal delivery service might be another option. Of course, all of these things come with a price tag, so this may or may not be feasible (or available in your area). It’s simply another way to try to “recreate the village.”
Given all of the above, consider your options for postpartum meal prep. You can mix and match from the list below
Options for Scheduling/Outsourcing Postpartum Meals:
- Stock the freezer with premade meals
- Have friends/family arrange a meal train, where people sign up to bring you a meal on a specific day (Free services like Meal Train or Take Them a Meal are good options; I have no affiliation with these services)
- Bookmark favorite recipes for friends/family to make for you (use this post and your favorite recipe websites/cookbooks). In addition to sending them this post, lots of people use my e-cookbook!
- Hire a postpartum doula or personal chef to cook for you
- Consider a meal delivery service (or even consider having groceries delivered, if this service is available in your area)
- If you have good restaurants in your area, consider marking the take out menus with your favorite choices so it’s easy for others to order/pick up food for you
- If homemade bone broth isn’t an easy lift for you, many women love using FOND bone broth. It’s pasture-raised chicken or beef, clean ingredients, and packaged in glass jars (shelf stable), so it doesn’t take up freezer space.
What will you make for your real food postpartum recovery meals?
Now that you’ve heard my ideas for recovery meals and stocking the freezer for postpartum, I’d love to hear yours.
Tell me what real food postpartum recovery meals you plan to make in the comments below.
Until next week,
PS – If you really want to dig into the details of postpartum recovery and nutrient repletion (in even greater detail than what’s covered in Ch 12 of Real Food for Pregnancy; this post contains many excerpts from that chapter), check out my practitioner webinar on the topic: Postpartum Recovery & Nutrient Repletion.
It’s a full 90 minutes (plus Q&A, so you’ll need to block out ~2 hours for this one). The recording is available on-demand at the Women’s Health Nutrition Academy.
It explains in extensive detail “the why” behind all of the recommended foods in this post as well as considerations based on the circumstances of your birth, postpartum anemia, supplements, return to exercise/movement, postpartum mental health, lab testing, postpartum thyroiditis, weight loss and body image, pregnancy spacing, and much more.