A little girl sits at the dinner table and looks at her meal with her father behind her

Family Health

5 Tips To Survive Mealtime As A Newly Single Parent

Feb 19, 2019

As if meal planning and preparation wasn’t hard enough as a working mom of three young kids, now I’m doing it solo half of the time. I never thought I’d be a single parent, but then again, who does?

Because if you’re running the show solo, help — although not always necessary — is always appreciated.

Although my kids now have a happier mom and dad, I do miss the teamwork that comes along with having a live-in co-parent. Someone to help with making meals, brushing teeth and reviewing homework. Parenting often feels like a juggling competition. Just when you’ve finally figured out a good balance, life can throw another ball your way. And if I thought mealtime was a struggle before, I had no idea what I was in for as a solo parent.

I’ve gotten into a bit of a groove now, and wanted to share my top five tips for mealtime success as a single parent. Because if you’re running the show solo, help — although not always necessary — is always appreciated.

Prepare Freezer Meals To Maximize Time

This is a quick tip for all families, whether you’re single parenting or not. Batch cooking recipes to stock up your freezer is a wonderful way to ease the 5 p.m. “witching hour." It’s around this time of the day when kids are hungry and tired, and parents are ending their work day. Everyone is exhausted from the day and you’re looking for something quick and nutritious to feed your kids.

Enter the frozen casserole, soup or sauce you prepared on a day without the kids. You could prep the ingredients and cook all while enjoying a glass of wine and watching Netflix! Then, when the time comes, all you have to do is defrost and reheat. This means less stress and more quality time with the kids — win-win. Bonus tip: freeze and label your soups and sauces into family size portions AND single servings. Because when the kids are with their other parent, you still need to feed and nourish yourself. Some of my go-to favourite (and easy!) freezable dinners are here, here and here

You'll Also Love: 5 Simple Sheet Pan Suppers

Embrace The One-Pan Meal

All you need is one pot or pan, some simple ingredients and about half an hour — voilà, you’ve made a delicious dinner that your kids will love (well, most of the time anyway — you know kids!). This kind of meal cuts down on dishes, time and stress. It simplifies mealtime and also (typically) creates some leftovers that are great for school lunches the next day. And it leaves more time for hanging out with your kids. Here are a few of my favourite go-tos:

Meal Plan In Advance

All family schedules will be different, so this tip is going to take some trial and error. Aim to prepare larger meals earlier in your week with the kids so that you can repurpose leftovers for your remaining meals. For example, the roasted chicken you cook on Wednesday can turn into a chicken pasta dish, chicken salad or chicken tacos. You get the picture.

Later in the week plan meals that can either be frozen or cook meals that you know will be devoured. In my house, it’s tacos! We always have zero leftovers.

Learn How To Manage Leftovers

Food wastage has been the toughest part of meal planning as a single parent. It has taken a lot of practice to prepare the right amount of food. I was used to cooking enough food to feed a family of five with leftovers for lunch the next day. Now I am feeding a family of four, but I may or may not even need leftovers the next day! And sometimes I’m cooking for just me. It’s tricky to manage!

There were often days when I was left with either too much or too little food. Through trial and error, I have discovered my new normal. I have also relied heavily on my freezer. You can freeze just about everything, from shredded cheese and bread, to browning bananas and overripe avocados!

You'll Also Love: 4 Delicious Meals To Make With A Can Of Beans

Keep Mealtime Boundaries

Whatever you do, don’t forget to keep your regular mealtime rules and boundaries. Parental guilt happens to all parents, because let’s be real — parenting is hard. But when you’ve gone through a separation or loss, you may feel an extra sense of guilt about the loss of the family unit and overcompensate with leniency, treats and catering. Special meals, snacks half an hour after dinner, letting kids eat in front of a screen — you get the idea. We all do it sometimes.

Single parenting — especially in the beginning — can be hugely emotional and hard, and sometimes it’s just easiest to give in. I get it. But the best thing you can do for your kids is to keep as much stability and “normality” as possible (and structure is part of this and will make them feel more in control). Now, remember that you can’t control what goes on at the other parent's house (as frustrating as that can be) and that you only have control over what happens at your house. Your kids are resilient and will learn how to adapt, as long as you stay consistent.

Bonus Tip: Be Forgiving

I have learned so much about myself in the process of my separation. I have found that my inner strength is stronger than I could have imagined, that my friends and family love me unconditionally and that my kids will be OK. So if a meal isn’t perfect, if you become overwhelmed or if you are feeling like you need a break — that’s just fine! Forgive yourself and move forward.

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!