You don’t necessarily have to go on celebrity diet plans or weight loss clubs. Good eating habits are what’s essential to start losing the parenthood pounds.
Broken nights, long days, and the never ending juggling act that comes with combining work with a young family. It’s no surprise that some of us let ourselves go a bit in the early weeks, months and years of fatherhood.
But getting back into healthy habits isn’t difficult. We asked the experts for some top tips on eating well when time is strictly limited.
Breakfast like champions
If you want to win at the kind of multitasking parenthood demands, all our experts agreed that you need a good breakfast. And eating well first thing means not being so tempted by unhealthy snacks later.
NHS GP Dr Ross Perry, medical director of CosmedicsUK, says: “It’s very easy with a newborn to forget to look after yourself, and despite possibly being up during the night the easy option may seem to skip breakfast and grab a quick and possibly unhealthy snack. The immediate sugar hit might feel good at the time but energy levels will soon dip.”
Mike Pickets, founder of family-friendly dance party Raver Tots, agrees:
“Breakfast like a king. I know it’s not always easy when you’re trying to get everyone out of the door on time in the morning, but there’s truth in the old saying. Eating a decent morning meal will keep your blood sugar steady and stop you craving sweet stuff later.”
So what constitutes a good – and equally importantly, quick – breakfast. Dr Perry recommends a quick and easy green smoothie consisting of spinach, pineapple, mango and a banana which takes seconds to whizz up, “and will keep those energy levels up and hunger pangs at bay.”
Mike adds: “If you’re short on time, grab an energy bar made with oats, nuts and seeds – ideally homemade beforehand. There are some great shop bought ones out there but keep an eye on the sugar content.”
Jonny Taylor, deputy head of education at international personal training studio chain Ultimate Performance, agrees. Unhealthy snacking packs on pounds to an alarming extent.
“Cut out highly-processed snacks like chocolate bars and crisps and replace them with 1-2 pieces of fruit per day,” he says. “Fruits have an undeserved bad reputation. For example, watermelon, apple and blueberries are all surprisingly low calorie and can help satisfy sugar cravings.”
While you’re at it, make sure the kids are enjoying healthy snacks too.
Diet plans are about planning ahead
There’s more universal agreement on the need for busy dads to plan ahead. If you want to eat more healthily and lose some of the pounds piled on by parenthood, the days of grabbing whatever you fancy from the corner shop need to end.
The first thing to do is find out more about your current habits, says Jonny.
- “Record everything you eat and drink for seven days (including the serving size). Doing this will help stop mindless snacking and highlight where surplus calories may be sneaking into your diet.”
- You can go old-school and use pen and paper, or download a nutrition tracking application like MyFitnessPal.
- To cut down on this calorie creep, you need to plan meals, and make sure you always have something healthy, filling and tasty to eat, in and out of the house.
“Prep, prep, prep,” says Dr Perry. “It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing but having pre-prepared meals in the fridge takes away the stress and time of finding something to cook. Once again it’s easy to grab something ‘on the run’ which will make you feel sluggish and tired.”
That’s true for everyday, and it’s also true for family days out, says Mike. “The healthiest foods aren’t always easy to come by on days out at places like theme parks and zoos, so pack a healthy picnic instead. It’ll save you money too!”
Mike suggests packing things like:
- carrot sticks with hummus or peanut butter
- fresh fruit.
“Wholemeal sandwiches and wraps, homemade frittata and pasta salads packed with veg are good choices, too,” he adds.
For home cooked meals in summer, Dr Perry says you can’t get better and easier than roasting a chicken. Then have it cold over a couple of days with lots of green leafy salad, asparagus and crunchy broccoli.
“It’s packed full of protein and nutrients and it takes minimal effort,” he adds.
In winter, he suggests new dads invest in a slow cooker and (in contrast to most people who buy one) actually use it.
“If you’re a new dad in the winter a slow cooker is super easy and minimal effort. Just add some good quality meat and tons of veg and let the magic happen. Again a casserole or chilli will last a good couple of days.”
Jonny adds that, whatever the exact make-up of your meal, it should always include protein.
“Include a serving (20-50g) of protein with every meal. Gram for gram, protein sources like meat, fish and poultry are the most satiating (filling) foods, which can help with fat loss by making it easier to stick to a calorie-restricted diet. To find out how much protein a serving of food contains, check the nutrition label”
Don’t get ‘Hangry’
What you mustn’t do when trying to lose weight is skip meals because, as Mike explains, it will only make you Hangry (angry through hunger), which will undermine both your resolve and your quality family time.
“Just like your children are more liable to have a tantrum when they’ve gone too long without a meal or snack, us parents are quicker to stress out when we’re starving,” he adds. “Plus, we’re more likely to grab a quick fix or overeat when we do manage to get our hands on some food. So, have regular, healthy snacks when the kids do.”
Dr Perry advises dads to avoid overdoing either caffeine or alcohol, while making sure you stay hydrated. Dehydration saps energy, which then tempts us to reach for a quick fix sugar hit.
“I’d also avoid any kind of energy drinks. Other than water, the mixture of ingredients, rarely, if ever, contain anything natural,” says Dr Perry.
Just like your children are more liable to have a tantrum when they’ve gone too long without a meal or snack, us parents are quicker to stress out when we’re starving
Don’t dad fad diet
If you want to shed some parenthood pounds this summer, the secret isn’t to diet, it’s to eat more healthily. The ever-growing multibillion dollar diet industry is testament to the fact that, in general, diets don’t work. What does work is simple, sensible eating habits, from eating regularly and enjoying breakfast to planning ahead and showing your children a good example.
Start putting these tips into practice today and you’ll be rewarded with extra energy and gradual and sustainable weight loss. Speed it up a bit by fitting some extra exercise into your weekly routine.
For more great healthy eating tips that work, check out this Ultimate Performance book on nutrition.