Author Archives: Paige Greenfield

Miles & Motherhood: One Month

IMG_3286We officially have a one-month old! When I think about how much has changed from the day we brought Miles home until now, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been one month. But oh, what a month it has been!

I’ve heard that the first three months (“the fourth trimester”) are all about survival: Just doing what you need to do to make it through each day and night. Honestly? That thought makes me sad. So even before Miles was born, I knew I wanted it to be different for us. I knew I wanted to be present; to soak in the happy moments and embrace the challenging moments with as much love and patience as I could possibly summon. And you know what? We’re doing much more than surviving over here. I’d even venture to say that we’re thriving!

Miles has an incredibly sweet and calm demeanor. He’s still pretty sleepy, but has one or two very alert times each day–often in the morning and early evening. During those times, he’s perfectly content hanging out and quietly drinking in the world around him. I just sit back and watch him take it all in. I try to remind myself that there will be plenty of time for books, songs, toys, and more as the amount of time he spends awake during the day increases over the next few weeks and months.

I imagine it’s typical of most newborns, but I feel grateful that when he cries it’s always for a reason that I just need to figure out and fix. He’s either hungry, needs a diaper change, needs to be burped, or wants to be held. At first it was all trial and error, but I’m getting better at anticipating which one it is. Thankfully, once I’ve solved the issue he stops crying immediately. I’m not yet able to distinguish one type of cry from another, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. IMG_0149I also feel lucky that so far he loves being worn because I always hoped to do a lot of babywearing. My sister gave me a Solly Baby wrap for my shower and it’s one of my favorite baby items. I put Miles in it in the evening when he gets a little fussy and he almost always conks out. I’ve even eaten dinner with him in there. I love that sometimes all he needs in the world is me. What a feeling!!! I can’t wait to try out other carriers as he gets bigger and I know Robert is excited about wearing him, too. IMG_2942 Our sweet boy is growing like a weed! At first, all of his newborn clothes were giant on him. My sister sent us three preemie outfits, which were pretty much all he wore for the first 2.5 weeks. Then, all of a sudden, one day he couldn’t straighten his legs in them any longer and so it was onto his newborn clothes. Now, some of the arms and legs of his newborn onesies seem like they’re getting a little short. I thought I’d feel some sadness over the loss of his newbornness as he got bigger and bigger, but, for the most part, I feel happy about it. Sure, looking back at photos where his entire bum fit into the palm of my hand (he was four days old in the photo below) makes my heart ache a little. But his biggest job in life right now is to grow and my biggest job is to make that happen so it’s incredibly fulfilling to watch it happen before our very own eyes. We have his one month doctors appointment today and I can’t wait to find out how much he weighs at four weeks old. FullSizeRenderThriving though we may be, if I had to sum up our first month in one word it would be hard. The thing is, it’s been hard in ways I never imagined it would be. Before Miles came along, I assumed that the most challenging part about life with a newborn would be the lack of sleep. I hope I don’t jinx myself (I almost don’t want to type this…), but I’m actually getting a decent amount of sleep–about five to seven hours per night. It’s fragmented into two to three hour chunks at a time and is lighter than I’m used to (I’m totally that new mom who wakes up to make sure her baby is breathing), but I’ve been pretty functional on the amount of sleep I’ve been getting. I also try to get one nap each day, often in the late afternoon or early evening (more on that in a moment). We had every intention of putting Miles in his crib from day one, but he was so new and so tiny that I couldn’t do it. So he sleeps in a Pack ‘n Play Newborn Napper right by my bedside for now.

So what’s so hard about newbornhood? I think it’s the fact that it feels like I’m using every single brain cell every second of every day. I’m basically on all the time and in ways I never was before. Even while I’m folding laundry or writing this blog post while he naps, my mind is completely focused on Miles and anticipating his next need. At the end of the day I’m exhausted not because I didn’t get enough sleep, but because I’m mentally zapped. And it continues through the night and into the next day and so on. I imagine this will lessen over time (maybe?) as more of this stuff becomes second nature and doesn’t feel so new. However, I’m also aware that things change so much from one week to the next, so perhaps this state of being on is our new normal…or the essence of parenthood.

What else I’ve found to be hard are the evening hours. While I thankfully haven’t experienced PPD or anything close to it, I get a little blue during the evenings from about 5pm until bedtime. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Miles was born during Robert’s busiest time at work (he’s a CPA), so it’s often me and the baby all day and all night long. By the early evening I’m ready to have another set of hands so I can do some of the activities I used to do that make me feel like me. I miss cooking a lot, but it’s just too challenging to attempt right now (I tried. I failed. I cried.) Thank goodness for all of those freezer meals! Fortunately, some nights Robert has been able to come home in time for our pre-bed routine, which has been super helpful. Then he puts in a few more hours of work from home–poor guy.

Once I identified what was going on by about week 2, I found some things that help me get through those stretches. I’ll call my mom, run an errand with Miles, or take a nap with him on my chest (my new favorite thing in the entire world—it’s glorious!) I also know that it’ll get easier when Robert is around a lot more starting in May and we’ll find our new evening routine together as a family.IMG_3043 Whenever things get challenging, something that really helps ease my mind is saying to myself “this is normal.” So whether it’s a wide awake baby in the middle of the night, fussiness, or feeling lonely in the evening, knowing that it’s all totally normal and that countless women have walked this path before me is reassurance that I’m totally capable of getting through it.

In fact, that’s something that’s really surprised me during these early weeks: My ability to be a mom. Before Miles came along, I had very little experience with newborns or babies. In the past, whenever I would hold a baby or play with one or care for it in any way, I always felt super awkward. I had no clue what I was doing. But for some reason, with Miles, I feel totally capable. Even if I’m doing something I’ve never done before, which is pretty much everything, I feel a sense of calmness and confidence. I probably don’t do everything exactly right, but I try to approach each new situation with common sense, safety, and love. So far it’s working out extraordinarily well.

Ultimately, watching Miles grow and thrive, getting to know his little personality and witnessing it develop each day, and relishing in his newborn noises and snuggles make even the hardest parts of life with a newborn so, so worth it. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for anything in the world.

When I was pregnant, Robert and I often joked that I was excited about having a baby because it meant that I’d have an excuse to not leave the house for a while. As a total homebody I felt that I wouldn’t have a problem being at home all the time and was even looking forward to it. So I’ve been really shocked that I eagerly seek opportunities to get out of the house at least once a day. I don’t think it has anything to do with going stir crazy. I think it has more to do with finding an activity to break up the repetition of diaper changes, feeding, and napping that make up most days. Of course, connecting with others helps keep me sane, too : ) I think I also like the challenge of figuring out how to time and execute our little outings while Miles is asleep. I’m much braver than I ever imagined I would be! So whether it’s meeting up with other new moms, running an errand, getting a pedicure (yep, I did that at 2.5 weeks!), or going on a long walk, I try to have at least one outing per day.

I’ve also learned that if I don’t shower, brush my teeth, or get dressed early in the day then it likely won’t happen at all. So as soon as I’m done feeding Miles in the morning, I put him in the Rock N’ Play in the bathroom while I take a shower. Accomplishing these tasks increases the likelihood that we’ll make it out of the house at some point. And let’s be real—there’s no hair drying or makeup applying and I live in yoga pants just like I always have.

Finally, what’s also surprised me about the first month of motherhood is how quickly my body has healed. I’ve read enough birth stories to know that I’m nothing short of lucky with my labor and delivery (and, achem, the fact that he was less than 5 pounds…) But I’ve felt 100 percent since 10 days postpartum. Around that time, the weather warmed up to over 50 degrees and Miles, Remy, and I started taking four-mile walks almost every day. In true Chicago spring fashion, the temperature dropped and it snowed this past week, but I’m looking forward to getting back outside with him again. I also can’t wait to get back to the yoga studio in a few weeks, too! IMG_2897 I could write a short novel about our first month (and already have), but I’ll stop myself here and wrap up with 10 things I’ve learned during Miles’ first month of newbornhood and my first month of motherhood:

  1. Forget everything you said you wouldn’t do as a parent because you’ll do it all—most within the first days after your baby is born. This includes: Feeding him formula (sigh, more about that another time…), feeding him from a plastic (not glass) bottle, using your cell phone while holding him, sleeping with him in your bed, using disposable diapers for a prolonged period of time (he just started fitting into his newborn cloth dipes this week–I love it so far), giving him a pacifier within the first two weeks, and much, much more. Let go of your expectations and accept things exactly as they are. He’s happy and healthy and that’s what matters most. (I foresee this being an ongoing lesson I’ll need to learn and relearn…)
  2. Your baby sleeps more heavily during the day and more lightly at night, as most newborns do. At night, make sure he’s fully asleep before putting him down otherwise he’ll cry and you’ll have to start over. There will come a time when you’re able to put him down sleepy, but awake and he can learn to soothe himself to sleep. That time isn’t now.
  3. All of those things people said about how your heart will swell with more love than you ever thought possible watching your husband become a dad? Spot on.
  4. Your baby is hard to burp. Try this: Put him over your shoulder (thanks for the tip, Leah!), turn on some music, and dance around. It’s fun, effective, and drastically reduces gas-related fussiness.
  5. Accept help in every form. While you hadn’t planned for your parents to come out the first week after Miles was born (because you thought you could do it all yourself—ha!) it will turn out to be the best thing ever. They’ll get your house and your life organized, cook delicious meals, and stock your refrigerator with things you’ll live off of for the first month. Then, when Miles is three weeks old, your sister will visit and help you in even more ways–from organizing your closet, to navigating Whole Foods with Miles for the first time, to cooking even more meals. Your family will help you in ways you never expected you’d need help and saying “thank you” will never, ever feel like enough. Your heart will also break over the fact that you don’t live closer to them.
  6. Any time Miles falls asleep, eat something. If you save eating for last, he’ll wake up just as you take your first bite. It never fails.
  7. Buy a big package of notepads (like these) and leave them all over the house with pens. Whenever something pops into your head such as a To Do, grocery-list item, etc. write it down. Mommy brain is real.
  8. Some time around week two you’ll have a big breakdown because you’re trying to do way too much during the day and feel like you’re missing out on all of your baby’s newbornness. Here’s how to cope without having your house become a disaster: Choose at least one (but ideally more) of his naps per day that you spend with him lying on your chest and try to nap, too. You can do stuff during the other naps, but make at least one per day all about you and your baby.
  9. The Internet and Amazon.com will still exist after your baby is born and you’ll find time to use it. You don’t have to buy everything you think you might need before he’s here. This will result in countless trips to the UPS store to return a gazillion useless items. Wait until you actually need something before buying it. You’ll make it through the two days it takes for it to arrive at your door.
  10. You’ll be amazed at the outpouring of love, support, and advice from other new moms—some you know well and some you haven’t spoken to in years or even decades. Facebook truly is the 21st century village. Embrace it. Reach out to them when you need to and hope that someday you’ll have the opportunity to pay it forward.

Meet Miles!

01-IMG_0338 He’s here, he’s here! We welcomed our son, Miles Atlas Fowler, on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 5:39 a.m. I can’t believe the little life that was growing and squirming inside my belly is now sleeping soundly next to me while I type. It’s surreal and more wonderful than I ever dreamed it would be. We’ve been home since Sunday, March 1 and are settling in beautifully as a family of three. (Or five if you count Remy and Pippa, which we certainly do .)

Before Miles was born, I wasn’t sure whether I’d share his birth story or not. Being on the other side of things now with a healthy baby in our lives, I want to be sure to document the experience before it fades and honor the incredible journey we went through in order to bring him into the world. So here it goes…

Miles Atlas’ Birth Story

bw-08-IMG_0378 Robert and I are some of the biggest planners you’ll ever meet, so it’s surprising that except for the fact that I knew I wanted an epidural, we adopted the no-plan plan when it came to our baby’s birth. I’m so grateful that’s what we did because it enabled us to embrace the process as it unfolded in a very unexpected way.

At my 36-week doctors appointment, my belly hadn’t grown since two weeks prior so my doctor ordered an ultrasound to check our baby’s growth. It showed that he was small, but everything appeared healthy. With a month left before my due date, he still had plenty of time to grow.

However, on Thursday, February 26 at my 38-week appointment, another ultrasound showed that our little guy hadn’t grown since the previous scan. Again, there was nothing that appeared to be impeding his growth. Just as I was contemplating whether I wanted to pick up Chipotle or Protein Bar for lunch on my way home, my doctor walked into the dimly lit ultrasound suite and informed me that I’d be having a baby that day. (Or the next morning as it turned out…)

She explained that although there was no apparent reason why he wasn’t growing, it would be safest to deliver him as soon as possible. The moment she mentioned the risk of stillbirth the longer he stayed in there without growing, I knew it was what we had to do. In fact, she strongly urged me to head to the hospital right then and there to begin an induction. I still can’t believe I was so determined, but in my state of shock I pleaded with her to let me run home, grab our bags (or, in my case, pack my bag…oops), and drop the dogs off at boarding. Robert was working at a client about an hour outside of the city that day and it was snowing pretty heavily. I feared that by the time he got home, accomplished those tasks, and arrived at the hospital, I may have already begun the induction process. I didn’t want to go through a moment of it without him so I insisted she let me go.

The drive home is still a blur. I called Robert at work and told him to head to the hospital because we were having a baby (!!!) I called my parents and my sister. I then started calling editors because I had interviews scheduled that afternoon that I needed to cancel or have them cover. I arrived home, sent e-mails to more editors letting them know what was happening and that I wouldn’t be able to finish various assignments. I blew through our house like a tornado grabbing clothes, toiletries, and snacks. I packed up the dogs and their stuff. I dropped the pups off at boarding and headed to the hospital while shoving a banana and two granola bars in my mouth. So much for that burrito bowl.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, Robert had already started checking me in. We unpacked the car, waited briefly in triage, and were then on to Labor & Delivery. There, we waited in a waiting room for an hour or more while they prepped a room for us. Robert and I discussed names some more (we hadn’t fully committed to one just yet), and I chugged as much coconut water as I could. I’m sure we said “We’re having a baby!” and “Can you believe we’re having a baby!?” a few hundred times. Finally, we were admitted to the room where our baby would enter the world early the following morning.

My very last bump picture

My very last bump picture before Miles was born

As far as induction goes, it’s an extremely slow process. Without going into too many details, the rough chain of events went something like this: By Thursday evening I started the CRIB procedure in which a balloon-like device begins to dilate the cervix. At first it was bearable. Robert sat at my bedside, we talked a lot, he ate the leftover quiche he’d brought to work for lunch, and I snuck some Saltines and an applesauce muffin (I was supposed to be on clear fluids only). 

Then the contractions started. They offered to give me a medication through my IV to help relieve the pain. At first I declined, but eventually they became too much to bear especially since I knew that I still had hours to go with the CRIB even before moving on to the next step (pitocin). It was a great decision. The medication made me drowsy so Robert and I got an hour or more of much needed shut-eye before it wore off.

Robert made a genius move and brought a sleeping bag to the hospital. Everyone who walked into our room throughout our hospital stay was impressed–they’d never seen anyone do that before.

IMG_2001

After six hours, if the CRIB didn’t work they were going to leave it in for another six. I was sure I’d need six more, but, fortunately, the first six did the trick. By about 10:30 or 11pm I was 4cm dilated so it was on to the pitocin. After a while a nurse came in to break my bag of waters. However, her attempts were way too painful so she suggested I get the epidural and she’d come back to do it after that was working.

As anyone who’s had an epidural knows, it can take a while from when you request it to when you receive it, which was the case for me. Thirty to 45 minutes later, through a series of painful contractions (people say they’re worse with pitocin, but I have nothing to compare it to), the anesthesiologist arrived. As far as the epidural goes, I’d say it was uncomfortable, but completely bearable and totally worth it for me. It took about 30 minutes to administer the epidural.

As we moved from one step of the induction process to another, my body shook uncontrollably. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. It happened even before the epidural so I can’t attribute it to that. I’m pretty sure that it was fear overtaking my body. Going through labor for the first time (or maybe every time is like this?) is terrifying. There’s no doubt about it. It’s especially so when one moment you’re contemplating what to eat for lunch and the next you’re being told that you’re about to have a baby two weeks before his due date (when you were sure you’d go past your due date). I didn’t know what anything would feel like or whether any complications would occur. And, due to how urgently my doctor wanted me to be induced, I often felt more fear about our baby’s wellbeing than about what I was experiencing. I just wanted to deliver him and find out if he was okay. While shaking, I did my absolute best to soothe myself with deep breaths. Robert was at my bedside every step of the way holding my hand, reminding me to breathe, and providing endless reassurance. I always knew he’d be amazing when this day arrived, but the reality was so much better.

Once the epidural was in and started working, the nurse came back and broke my water.

From that point, the nurse explained it could take many hours to dilate from 4cm to 10cm. Neither Robert nor I kept track of time during the labor process (we were a little preoccupied…), but I kept reaching the next step much faster than anyone anticipated.

In the early morning hours on February 27, I told the nurse that I felt like I needed to push. She couldn’t believe it, but when two different people checked they agreed it was time. The only problem? Since they figured it would take many more hours before I’d be ready, my doctor was still at home, more than 30 minutes away!!! The wait was excruciating. Not only is it the oddest feeling to want to push and not be able to, but I’d misunderstood the anesthesiologist’s instructions on how to use the bolus to administer more of the medication. For a while, the pain got away before the medication could catch up. Robert was there holding my hand as I breathed deeply through each contraction.

As a side note, ladies, if you ever plan on giving birth start taking yoga now. Seriously. I can’t tell you how helpful it was at every stage in the labor process. Being able to control your breath and use it to its full capacity is an incredible skill I’ve never been more grateful to have. I’m certain that yoga is invaluable if you choose to have a natural birth. But even if you take a medicated route like I did that doesn’t mean it’s painless or comfortable. And when you have to be confined to a bed and can’t use your body to change positions (except from side to side–and even that is limited depending on how baby’s heart rate responds) your breath is one of the only things you have that will bring you any relief. Knowing how to use it makes all the difference. Yoga also proved to be incredibly helpful when it came to pushing…

Which, thankfully, I was able to do shortly after the doctor arrived. Speaking of the doctor, I go to a medical practice that has about six OB’s on staff. Whoever is on call when you’re in labor is the one who delivers your baby. I’d met all of them prior to that day—except the one who delivered Miles. In fact, I had an appointment scheduled for the following Tuesday to finally meet her. As luck would have it, she couldn’t have been more wonderful. Now, I can’t imagine anyone else delivering our baby but her. Between contractions, one of the most helpful things I did was to ask the doctor where the baby was within the birth canal and what exactly I was trying to achieve with the next series of pushes. She explained it all so clearly so that from then on, at each contraction, I was able to visualize what was happening. Not only did this help me make the most of each contraction, it gave me something to focus on beyond the fear and immense pressure I experienced. This is again where I felt my yoga practice made a huge difference thanks to the mind-body connection I’ve developed over time. When I could visualize in my mind what I was trying to do, my body was able to carry it out.

The doctor explained that most first time moms push for two or three hours before baby is born so I braced myself for the long haul. But the contractions came fast and furious. A little more than 20 minutes after I started pushing, at 5:39 a.m.on February 27, baby Miles was born.

I think that every parent hopes they’ll hear those cries as soon as baby is born and I’m so grateful that that’s exactly what we experienced. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. I immediately dissolved into a flood of tears, crying just as hard as our newborn son. I’m still weepy every time I think about the moment he was born (like right now…) It was the greatest sense of joy and relief I’ve ever experienced in my life.

07-IMG_0375 While I’d hoped they’d be able to lay him on my chest right away for some skin-to-skin, the nurses had to take him to the warmer first so they could make sure he was okay, given his tiny size. And tiny he was: Miles weighed just 4 lbs 13 oz at birth. And, like most babies, he’s lost weight since then–bottoming out at 4 lbs 6 oz. He was almost back to his birthweight at our one week doctors appointment and he’ll get checked again this Friday, at two weeks old, which is also his actual due date.

Thankfully, he was completely healthy and continued to pass every test for both full-term and small for gestational age (SGA) newborns with flying colors throughout our hospital stay. Robert cut the umbilical cord, the nurses cleaned our baby off, confirmed that he was okay, and moments later they laid him on my chest for the first time. During labor, we’d settled on his name, Miles Atlas, and I’ll never forget the first time after he was born that I uttered it out loud. Miles Atlas, our son, was finally here! It’s entirely impossible to capture in words what it felt like to hold him for the first time, except to say that it was the purest sense of love I’ve ever known.IMG_2043 We may never know what stopped him from growing during my pregnancy. It falls under the category of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), but that may be due to countless factors or for no reason at all. The best the doctor could say is that for one reason or another, my placenta may have stopped working. They sent it to pathology, but told me the results are often inconclusive. I’m just grateful that I was able to carry Miles to full-term and he entered the world as safe and as healthy as could be. My dad has already nicknamed him TBM–Tiny but Mighty–and that’s exactly what he is.

Our hospital stay couldn’t have been more wonderful. I’m healing really well, Miles is doing great and I couldn’t dream of a better husband or father than Robert. There’s no other way to describe how I feel right now, even through the sleepless nights, new mom doubts, feeding challenges (it’s so hard, but we’re working at it) and fussy moments–than peaceful. It feels like Miles was always supposed to be ours and caring for him is already the greatest joy I’ve ever known.

Thank you so much for joining us on this incredible journey!

P.S. I got my burrito bowl on our way home from the hospital : ) 15-IMG_0416

Applesauce Muffins

Applesauce MuffinsOh, how I love this recipe! I’ve made it so many times that I can’t believe I haven’t shared it with you. I’m sorry! While prepping PART II of my Epic List of Freezer Meals (coming soon!) I searched for the link only to discover it was nowhere to be found on the blog. Well, that changes today!

This is one of the simplest muffin recipes you’ll ever find, but you’d never know because they’re so delicious. The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice will warm you all the way to your soul. You can make the batter in the time it takes to preheat your oven. And get this: You can mix everything together in ONE bowl. That’s right – no separating the wet and dry ingredients. No dirtying multiple dishes. Just mix it all together!

One note regarding flour: You can make this with part white and part whole wheat (noted below). If you’re making it for yourself or your family then I highly recommend using some whole wheat for the extra fiber and nutrients. But if you’re making these for a special occasion such as a brunch, then stick with white flour. You’ll get the most perfect crumb you’ve ever seen in your life. Either way, just wait until you experience how amazing these muffins will make your house smell. You’ll want to bake them every day!

Applesauce Muffins

Applesauce Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (use all white or 1 cup white + 1/2 cup whole wheat)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin tin with cooking spray or muffin liners.

In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar, egg, applesauce, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine. To the bowl add flour(s), salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix until combined. Add flaxseed and walnuts, if using, and mix until combined. Pour into prepared  muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Most Epic List of Healthy Freezer Meals Ever (Part I)

The most epic list of freezer meals ever

For the past few weeks I’ve been on a mission: To stock our freezer with as many delicious and healthy recipes as I possibly can. It’s become a bit of an obsession, really. I can’t be stopped. Since reaching 34 weeks, I’ve spent pretty much every spare minute cooking and freezing meals. I’ve chopped onions at 5 a.m. I’ve put recipes into the slow cooker at 10 p.m. I’ve been to Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods more times than I can count. I’ve made so many lists that Robert’s sure he’s going to come home from work one day to find recipes scribbled on our walls. I’ve spent so many hours cooking on weekends that by the end of the day I can no longer stand.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

And you know what? I’ve loved every single moment of it! Honestly, deep down, I know that it may be a long time before I get to spend six consecutive hours on a Sunday by myself, cooking in the kitchen, blasting the Taylor Swift Pandora station. It’s my happy place. I know it’ll always be there for me, but I also know that it’ll look a little different for a while once Baby is here. So for now, I’m trying to soak up every moment and along the way create meals that hungry, sleep-deprived Future Paige and Future Robert will be oh so grateful to have.

I’ve also kept careful notes (more lists!) of everything I’ve made along with instructions for prepping, freezing, and serving every recipe so I can share them with you! No matter your situation–baby on the way, crazy work schedule, busy home life–everyone can benefit from having a few (dozen?) freezer meals ready to go.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

My plan is to share my epic list in three parts:

  • PART I: Entrees {That’s today!}
  • PART II: Breakfasts & Baked Goods {Coming soon!}
  • PART III: An update on how everything worked out, things that froze exceptionally well, changes I’d make for the future, etc. Freezing meals isn’t rocket science, but I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m sure there will be plenty to learn.

But first, some things you should know:

  • Although I try to avoid plastic, stocking up on glass containers proved to be way too expensive for the volume of meals that I made. Once completely cooled, I froze most things in BPA-free 1 gallon sized freezer bags.
  • Freeze plastic bags flat (place on a plate or baking sheet while freezing) so they take up less space in your freezer.
  • Keep a list of everything that’s in your freezer and cross them off as you eat them
  • LABEL LABEL LABEL EVERYTHING!!! What’s inside, date, etc.
  • I’ll always prefer fresh food to frozen. So rather than cooking every single recipe all the way through (though some I did), in many instances I cooked it up to a certain point, froze it, and included instructions for how I’ll finish it once it’s thawed. All of these modifications are included in the instructions below. But if you want to cook a recipe all the way through and freeze it like that, by all means go for it!
  • When the instructions below say “thaw in refrigerator overnight” it’s smart to place the bag in a baking dish or bowl in case any tiny holes occurred in the freezing process.

Here’s the complete list of meals that I made for PART I. Scroll down to find cooking/freezing/thawing instructions for each recipe.

Complete List of Freezer Meals (PART I)

And we’re off!

Supplies you’ll need (besides food ingredients):

  • LOTS of 1 gallon BPA-free freezer bags
  • Labels
  • Sharpies

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To cook:

  • In a bowl, combine raw chicken, coriander, cumin, salt, and yogurt. (Skip browning the chicken). Transfer to freezer bag.
  • Make the sauce: Saute onion, garlic, 1 chopped, seeded jalapeno (instead of adding it whole), and salt until onions are soft & translucent (8-10 mins). Add garam masala and fresh ginger, cook about 1 minute, add tomatoes, increase heat and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
  • When sauce is cool, pour into freezer bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Slow Cooker Sesame Honey Chicken 

made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Season chicken with black pepper, add to freezer bag (raw)
  • In a bowl, combine soy sauce through sriracha. Whisk together. Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.
  • Serve with brown rice, green vegetable (such as steamed spinach, broccoli, or bok choy), top with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Place chicken breasts, raw, in freezer bag.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, and Worcestershire sauce (I omit the sugar). Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

To serve {options}:

  • BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches: Pile chicken onto whole wheat buns with toppings.
  • BBQ pulled chicken quinoa bowls: Layer cooked quinoa on the bottom of a bowl, top with BBQ pulled chicken, black beans, corn, green onion or cilantro, and avocado. (Inspired by recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking)
  • BBQ pulled chicken pizza: Top prepared pizza dough with extra BBQ sauce, BBQ pulled chicken, sliced red onion, and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake. Top with chopped cilantro.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it into 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat soup in a pan on the stove or individual portions in the microwave.
  • Add any toppings you like (cilantro, tortilla chips, fresh lime, hot sauce, etc.)

Main ingredient: Rotisserie Chicken

Freezer Chicken Quinoa Burritos 

Makes about 20 burritos

  • Changes I made: Add chopped red onion & use whole wheat tortillas
  • To make, freeze, and reheat: Follow recipe!

Homemade chicken broth using rotisserie chicken carcass from the freezer burritos

This is totally extra credit, but SO easy especially if you use the slow cooker! Just dump the chicken carcass from the rotisserie chicken (and any remaining skin, etc.) into your slow cooker. Add any veggies from your veggie drawer: I usually add 3 to 4 carrots (unpeeled, quartered), 3 to 4 celery stalks (roughly chopped, it’s okay to keep any leaves on), fresh herbs such as parsley or green onions (if you have it—I’ve made it with and without), 1 yellow onion (unpeeled, quartered), 4 to 6 garlic cloves (unpeeled, smashed), 1 Tbsp or more black peppercorns, some Kosher salt, and then pour enough water to cover everything by about 1 to 2 inches. Cover and cook on LOW 12-24 hours. Pour contents of slow cooker through a strainer into a container (discard solids) and store broth in the refrigerator until chilled (overnight or even a whole day is fine). Skim the fat off of the top and either use the broth within a few days or pour into freezer bags or mason jars to freeze.

Main ingredient: Ground Beef

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe (I substituted ground beef for the sausage), but skip pasta. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • When ready to eat, cook pasta
  • Reheat soup on the stove. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Add cooked pasta. Add additional broth if needed.

Easy Meaty Mushroom Marinara Sauce

Original recipe: In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and sauté 1 yellow onion, chopped until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add 10 oz sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and sauté until softened. Add 1 to 1.5 lbs lean ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Pour a 2 lb jar marinara sauce (any kind you like—I used an organic kind from Costco) into the pot. Add 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried parsley, ½ tsp dried thyme, and ½ tsp red chili pepper. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Allow sauce to cool completely. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra sauce, if needed. You could also mix in some spinach or other greens until wilted.
  • Serve on whole-wheat pasta or zucchini noodles

Slow Cooker Beef Chili

To cook:

  • Follow recipe. Changes I made: Saute 1 jalapeno with the onion instead of using chipotle in adobo. Add 2 cups frozen corn when it’s done cooking (it’ll quickly thaw). Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on stove. Add any toppings you like.

Main Ingredient: Ground Turkey Breast

Barefoot Contessa Turkey Meatloaf  

Recipe is for one huge meatloaf. I made 5 smaller ones—see instructions below

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through mixing ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Instead of forming one giant meatloaf, divide into five smaller meatloaves (you’ll need 2 baking sheets). Spread as much ketchup as you like on each meatloaf.
  • Bake about 60 minutes until internal temperature is 160 degrees.
  • Allow meatloaves to cool completely.
  • Individually wrap each meatloaf in parchment or wax paper, leaving a little space so the ketchup doesn’t get smushed. Then wrap in foil. Store in freezer bags.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in microwave or oven
  • I like to serve meatloaves with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes and something green such as sautéed broccolini.

Turkey Meatball Parmesan 

I browned the meatballs and froze them in the sauce

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through browning the meatballs. Remove meatballs to baking sheet or baking dish to cool.
  • Pour pasta sauce into freezer bag. Add meatballs. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Preheat oven to 400 F. Finish following recipe: Empty contents of bag into a baking dish. Top meatballs with mozzarella. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes until bubbly. Uncover and broil until a light brown crust forms on the cheese, about 3 minutes.

Other

Beef Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • I used lean beef stew meat instead of bison.
  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Chicken Sausage Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Barefoot Contessa Winter Minestrone 

doubled the recipe and separated into 4 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through adding beans.
  • Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.
  • Cook penne. Add to soup.
  • Stir in pesto, if desired (I sometimes skip)
  • Serve with baguette or other crusty bread

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup with Chickpeas 

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Red Lentil Soup 

doubled the recipe and separated into 2 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow the recipe, except double the carrots per recipe (if you’re making one recipe use 2 carrots, if you’re doubling it use 4). Use low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (not water). All soup to completely. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove or reheat individual portions in microwave. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  • Top with fresh lemon juice (so key!) and fresh chopped parsley.
  • Serve with naan pizzas: Heat whole wheat naan (frozen) in the oven according to package instructions. Top with hummus, raw baby spinach or arugula, and anything else you like!

Other items I froze:

  • 3 packages of naan from Trader Joe’s (great with the slow cooker chicken tikka and as naan pizzas)
  • Basil pesto from Costco (emptied the contents of two containers into four sandwich-sized baggies; great on toasted baguette or other crusty bread served with soup, excellent in pasta salad similar to this)
  • Giant bag of frozen stir-fry veggies from Costco
  • 2 lb bag of frozen shrimp
  • Frozen wild caught salmon
  • Frozen pizza (pesto, tomato, mozzarella) from Costco
  • Frozen organic chicken dumplings
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies
  • Frozen pie dough for quiche (recipes such as this or this)

Baby Fowler’s Jungle Themed Baby Shower

DSC07075

Last weekend, three friends and my sister hosted a baby shower here in Chicago for our little guy. I can hardly find the words to tell you what a special day it was. They thought of absolutely everything. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time because I was so touched and grateful.

Everywhere I looked it seemed like I noticed something new–the jungle theme and decor were too cute for words and fit perfectly with baby’s nursery (I really can’t get enough lions, monkeys, elephants, and giraffes), the food and drinks were amazing, there were notes for guests to write to our baby, and there were so many thoughtful and generous gifts that I can’t wait to put to use. And there were donuts. Lots and lots of donuts. Is this real life?

But most of all, I loved looking around and seeing so many incredible women all in one place. Some already knew each other and others were meeting for the first time. I loved introducing my mom and sister to so many Chicago friends, too!

This baby of ours is already so loved and I felt that so powerfully all day long.DSC06884Sweet Kiera does it again!!! How adorable are these cookies? You may remember Sweet Kiera’s gorgeous (and delicious) treats from my bridesmaid ask and bachelorette party, too! DSC06860One of the hostesses, Lisa, who also took most of these photos (thank you!!) MADE these animal poufs. I couldn’t stop staring at them!!! DSC06878Mimosa bar!DSC06906DSC06903Parfaits, quiche, salad, muffins, and more made for such a delicious lunch! DSC06869 DSC06870DSC06917 DSC06916 DSC06927 More books for Baby F’s little library! DSC07033DSC07022My mom surprised me with my baby book! I can’t wait to read through it more thoroughly soon. In a separate post, I’ll be sharing something else my mom did for the first two years of my life that I now plan to do for our son, too. Stay tuned!DSC06992You guys, this is my BABY BLANKET! That my Grammy knit! And it’s an ELEPHANT!!!! I can’t wait to wrap our baby in it. Every time, it’ll be like a hug sent from his Great Grammy in heaven. Aaaand cue the tears….DSC06986I absolutely loved having my mom & sister there! DSC06934The incredible (and super talented) hostesses DSC06940Scotch Club WAGSIMG_1882Kappa Delta friends! DSC07069Northwestern!! DSC07073They truly thought of everything—including indulging my biggest pregnancy craving: DONUTS!!! Before becoming pregnant I didn’t really have any strong feelings about donuts. Now, I think about them constantly and can’t get enough. Baby was very, very happy once I ate one…DSC06879After balancing it on my belly of course.IMG_2581FullSizeRenderThank you so much to everyone who made it such a special and memorable day. My heart is still so full.

{Oh and one last thing. That dress? It’s STITCH FIX! Crazy, right? It came in a shipment a few months ago and I knew right away that I’d wear it to the shower (thank goodness it still fit…I was a little worried). I’m a terrible shopper and wasn’t too excited about finding a dress for the occasion, but it literally showed up at my door and I was done! They have maternity stuff and I’ve enjoyed wearing a few Stitch Fix items throughout my pregnancy.}

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Turkey Meatball ParmesanThis weekend, I finally started making my way through my epic list of freezer meals to cook before baby arrives. {I’ll be sharing my list, links, and instructions on the blog soon.} And I just have to say…it was the most fun ever! Sunday morning, we woke up to a massive snowstorm here in Chicago. I was already planning to spend the entire day inside cooking, but the storm just made it so much easier and fun to do. I had absolutely nowhere to be but in our kitchen, chopping onions, mincing garlic, making a mess, and using every single burner on our stove. I cooked about eight meals in one day. As silly as it sounds, I haven’t felt a sense of accomplishment quite like that in a long time. I can’t wait to do it again soon–there’s still a lot to make in the next few weeks.

At the top of my list for the next round: These heavenly meatballs. I cannot get enough. And the wonderful thing is, they’re ridiculously easy to make. Just make your favorite meatball recipe {I use a healthy turkey meatball recipe, below, but you can make any kind of meatball you like–turkey, chicken, beef, etc.}. Brown the meatballs on the stove, add them to a baking dish {I love our Le Creuset Casserole} with your favorite jarred tomato sauce, bury it all under an obscene amount of shredded mozzarella, and bake until bubbly and gooey and omg so delicious.

They’re so great on their own that I don’t even bother serving them with pasta, though you totally can! Every time I make this I just roast some broccoli until it’s brown and crispy and pile it beside the meatballs. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, grated (I use a microplane)
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp died parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Olive oil
  • 25.5 oz jar pasta sauce (my favorite is Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Organic pasta sauce) Note: If you like things extra saucy you may want to have a second jar on hand in case you want to add some additional sauce
  • 3/4 lb part-skim mozzarella, shredded (I buy a block or ball of mozzarella and shred it myself)

Preparation:

In a bowl combine meatball ingredients (ground turkey through beaten egg). Mix with your hands until combined. Form into meatballs smaller than ping pong balls. I get about 40 to 45 meatballs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized pot on the stove. Add meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Brown meatballs on both sides. They don’t have to be cooked through– they’ll finish cooking in the oven. Add additional olive oil between batches, if needed.

Pour half of the jar of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. As you finish browning each batch of meatballs, transfer them to the baking dish. Once all the meatballs are browned and in the baking dish, pour the remaining pasta sauce on top. (Here’s where you may want to add some extra sauce from a second jar.) Sprinkle grated mozzarella over everything. Cover and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly.

Remove dish from oven. Move top rack just below the broiler and heat broiler to HI. Remove the cover from the baking dish and broil meatballs until a light brown crust forms on the cheese, about 3 minutes.

My Pregnancy Favorites

ABalancedLifeCooks.com Pregnancy FavoritesWell here I am at 33.5 weeks! The countdown is on. Before becoming pregnant, I remember reading other bloggers’ pregnancy favorites and thinking, do you really need that much stuff? Of course, you don’t need much else besides a good prenatal vitamin (I take these), some TLC, and a few people who will tolerate you talking about baby stuff 24/7 (thank you Robert, Mom, and Leah!)

Yet I discovered that it never hurts to have a few things that make you feel a little more comfortable. I never could’ve anticipated that these items would be on my list, but with some trial and error I’ve found that they help me sleep better, stress less, move more, and feel better overall. And I think it’s thanks, in part, to these items that I’ve felt pretty darn good throughout my pregnancy. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll help me sail through these final weeks.

{From left to right}

Crane Cool Mist Humidifer  There are some things nobody tells you about pregnancy, but are incredibly common. Like how you might get bloody noses all the time. I’ve been (un)lucky enough to experience them often. We finally got a humidifier in our bedroom that we use at night and I’ve noticed a huge difference ever since. Thank goodness.

Bump Nest Pregnancy Pillow I purchased one of these at the very beginning of my second trimester as a gift to myself (and our baby!) I’m so glad I did! This thing is soooo comfy. After the first trimester, you’re encouraged to sleep on your side. When you sleep on your back, there’s a risk that your growing uterus may compress the vena cava and affect blood flow to your baby and to your heart. While there’s some debate about whether this is truly an issue, I decided to follow the guidelines and sleep on my left side as much as possible. Normally, I sleep on my back so this pillow helps me comfortably lie on my side. I’ll admit that it takes up A LOT of space and takes some getting used to at first, but it has been so worth it. Fact: Dogs love Bump Nests as much as humans do. Husbands? Well let’s just say they love having well rested pregnant wives : )

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee  Once I started liking coffee again, I made the informed personal decision to enjoy one cup per day. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to make one good tasting cup of coffee with a regular coffee maker or a French press. Instead of spending $2 a day for a cup at the pie shop a block away or $4 for a latte at Starbucks (though I’ve been known to do both from time to time), I discovered that Starbucks instant coffee is actually very delicious, convenient, and more affordable. Instant coffee has come a long way.

Fitbit Zip The Zip is basically a fancy pedometer. Since my main activities have been prenatal yoga and walking, I wanted to be sure I was getting in enough steps/activity per day. The Zip helps me keep track of that. Whenever I’m shy of my 10,000 steps per day goal, seeing that number encourages me to fit in some additional movement. I’m quite proud of the day I hit more than 22,000 steps!

Hugger Mugger Yoga Bolster I’ve had this bolster for years and only used it occasionally. Now? I keep it in our living room and use it almost daily. I’ve been fortunate to not have too many aches and pains, but I have experienced some low back pain and even a few days where I had full on back spasms. Not fun. The ONLY thing that helped was lying on the bolster in reclining bound angle pose. It helps relieve compression in my back, as well as open up my hips, chest, and shoulders, which often feel tight. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that the bolster is super helpful whenever I have heartburn. For some reason, I don’t get a burning in my chest as much as I feel it in my upper back, behind my heart. Lying over the bolster in the same position with a pillow propped under my head has been a lifesaver.

Coconut Oil I haven’t been too worried about stretch marks. If they happen, so be it. However, a few months ago I discovered the awesomeness that is coconut oil–for your skin. It makes your skin so soft and of course it smells delicious. I keep a jar by my bed and rub it on my belly most nights before I go to sleep. So far, I haven’t noticed any stretch marks (whether I can attribute that to the coconut oil, genetics, or my super pale skin, I have no idea.) But I think the coconut oil has been especially helpful for minimizing any itching that occurs as the skin on my belly stretches.

Lululemon Energy Bra I LIVE in this bra. I have two and it’s a sad day when I’m washing both at the same time. It’s super supportive without being too tight in the upper rib cage or shoulders, which is a rare combination. A word to any newly pregnant ladies: As soon as you outgrow your current bras get new ones ASAP even if you have to go up a size more than once. I waited way too long and can honestly say that I felt 100 percent happier when I finally found what worked for me. For regular bras, I like the hidden underwire ones from Gap. The underwire is great for support, but doesn’t cut into you like other underwires do.

Old Navy Rollover-Waist Jersey Lounge Pants (not maternity) and Old Navy Maternity Super-Soft Hoodie Welcome to my uniform. I have two pairs of the black pants and the tops in three different colors and I wear them pretty much every day of the week. Although the pants aren’t maternity, they’re perfect – the waist hits right below my belly so there’s absolutely no pressure on it. I love my Lululemon leggings and Groove pants as much as the next gal, but I found that as I got bigger, the rise was too high and put too much pressure on my tummy. And these hoodies are just as soft as their name implies. There’s plenty of room in the torso to accommodate growth, yet they don’t make me feel like I’m wearing a tent or come down to my knees. I’m sure I’ll still get plenty of use out of both of these items long after baby arrives.