Preparing for a new baby: menu planning

A new baby on the way always prompts me to think about the areas that will need re-organising to make life as easy to maintain as possible. A small amount of preparation now goes a long way towards surviving enjoying life with a new baby after the birth! One area that usually gets tweaked is shopping and menu planning.

Menu planning saves me time: I remember to defrost the meat the night before I need it, I can quickly do a little prep towards dinner when I have a spare 10 minutes and I am not flapping around trying to come up with something to cook at the last minute. It also saves me money: I only buy what I need at the shops, I use what I have before it goes rotten and I am not as tempted to go running out to grab take-away at the end of a hard day. We also eat a more interesting and varied diet rather than dishing up the same old standby meals every week.

I have a bunch of lists and planning proformers that I print out and use to do my planning. They are in Word documents so feel free to print them out and alter them for your own personal use. They are not fancy (most are in black only because I don’t want to use up a bunch of coloured ink every time I print them) but they do the job.

Monthly menu plan. The 3 colour strips per day are for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do not pre-date the planner so that I can use it for any month without having to make changes. I simply add the date in the corner of each day as I fill it in. I do plan all daily meals, however menus are very flexible and meals often do not match the day that I plan them for.

Weekly menu planner.  7 day planner for all meals plus morning and afternoon tea.

Index for menu planning. I have listed all the recipes I regularly use under meal types so when I sit down to plan a weekly or monthly menu I don’t have to search through recipe books.

Fruit and veggies shopping list. I print this out, cut it into strips, punch a hole in each one and hang them from a string inside the pantry door.  We shop for our fruit and veg separately to our regular groceries and when we want a list we rip one off and tick what we need.

Weekly groceries list. Again, I print this out, cut it into strips and quickly tick off what we need before a trip to the shops. I also have a pad on the fridge where we write items that have run out or are about to run out, or new items we need to remember.

Freezer stock-take list. This stays on the front of the freezer. As I add an item, I write the quantity on the stock-take list (adding a “1” to represent a meal amount) and when an item is removed, I cross it off. e.g. mince 1 1 1, chicken breasts 1 1  etc. This allows me to see at a glance what needs to be re-stocked when I am planning my shopping list, without scrabbling around in freezer drawers. It also helps me to use what I have first, rather than double up or buy unnecessary items.

The other thing I am doing is cooking heaps of bulk meals and freezing multiple dinners so that I have a couple of weeks worth of meals for after the baby comes. I have also cooked a heap of foods (meat balls, pizza, scrolls, sausage rolls, quiche etc) that can be plopped out to defrost with some fresh fruit or salad added to make a complete lunch. These are all cut into single serves so I can defrost only what we need for one meal at a time. Morning and afternoon teas are also stocking up. Again, all cakes, slices etc. are cut into small individual serves that can be pulled out and defrosted in a few minutes on the bench.

I don’t necessarily use these frozen items for straight after the baby’s arrival as my husband has holidays then. When he goes back to work for the first time is when I love the stocked freezer.

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Preparing for a new baby

Having now prepared 3 toddlers for the birth of a sibling and about to do it all again with 2 more, I thought it was time for a quick review of some of the ways to do this so that the whole family greets the newest arrival with joy and enthusiasm. I have tried all of these ideas myself and the transition that occurs when a new baby joins our family has generally been fairly smooth.

The hardest so far were the twins who were 9 weeks premature and stayed in hospital for 7 weeks. That put a bit of a spanner in the works, however we still tried to keep everything as smooth as possible and have not seen the jealousy that some families experience. The rough road with the twins stemmed more from me being away for home on a daily basis than any negative feelings over the babies themselves and the children were so glad to finally have their babies (and Mum) at home with them. They have in fact been heard to complain that we should have had triplets as there are not enough babies to go around.

My “how to” includes:

  • Put routines in place well in advance to give you time to work through the kinks before bub arrives. Think about feed times (how many and when they may occur) and plan around these. You may have around 5 feeds when toddlers are awake to begin with, so plan good independent activities for these times that they are well used to doing without your help or interaction. If you can’t mop the floor or cook dinner in peace now, with a well occupied toddler, then there is no way you will be able to breastfeed in peace later!
  • Involve siblings in choosing a gift from them to the new baby and have the baby “buy” one for them in return. When the children came in to the hospital for their first visit we always have a small gift waiting for them in the baby’s cot. Gifts are exchanged after time with Mum and meeting their new baby.
  • Plan for their first meeting with the new baby to be a time when there are no other visitors around to compete with Mum and Dad’s attention. Try and time it so Mum is not feeding or holding the baby so that she can greet children with a big cuddle and kiss before introducing the baby.

  • Have children visit regularly if you will be staying in hospital for any length of time and take a pack or box of toys, activities and small snacks to the room. The novelty of looking at a sleeping bundle wears off very quickly! Mine still remember that we let them have mini tiny teddy packs when the third was born. It was a highlight for them! Poor treat deprived children! 
  • While the twins were in hospital, the children all drew pictures and wrote about their new babies. I scanned and shrunk these on to one A4 page and laminated them. They were stuck up on the end of each of the twin’s isolettes. Every time the older children came in to visit they could see their special work on display.

  • Ask friends and family to be mindful of not bypassing older children for the baby during visits. They can fuss over them being a big brother or sister now as well. That said, of course this will happen to some extent regardless, just be a little aware and try to make them feel special too. Children also need to be taught to be happy for their sibling when they receive something special. This is your first opportunity to begin teaching this attitude. There is no need to have a gift for the older children every time the baby receives one, but there is something to be said for keeping that side of things a little low key.
  • Get all changes to bedrooms, big beds, car seats etc. made well ahead. Closer to the time, talk about where the baby will sleep, where they will go in the car, their room, that you will be away for a little while, who will look after the children and any other arrangements you can think of. Do not tell children they will have a brother or sister to play with – there will be no playing for a very long time!
  • Practice being gentle with teddies, pets, dolls, teddies and other babies and talk about delicate bodies, being easily hurt, not touching faces etc. This is especially important for the toddler in the family.

  • Read books about caring for babies but be wary of the kind that promote the idea that there will be jealous feelings, Mummy and Daddy will be too busy for them now and other negative themes.
  • Borrow/buy/make a baby change mat, mini bath, little bed or any other baby related stuff you can think of, with all the accessories like spare facecloths, nappies, cotton wool, empty paste container etc for children to use with their special teddies and dolls. They may enjoy making them out of boxes and cut up fabric and other bits and bobs close to the time that bub is due. Even young boys at this age will often be surprisingly into this for a little while before reverting right back to their car loving selves. When you are busy bathing or with some other baby chore they might like to copy and work right alongside you with their own “baby.”
  • Have lots of really positive conversations about how wonderful it is that they will be a big brother/sister, how lucky they are to have a new sibling coming, how much the baby will love having them as a big brother/sister etc.
  • Pray. This is a wonderful time in a family and babies are a gift and blessing from God. Teach your older children this attitude right from the beginning.

Moving to a big bed – managing your morning routine

The age at which children transition from a cot to their big bed is up to the parents. Some start as early as 12 months, others wait until much later. I found around 2 years of age to be a good time, mostly as there were other babies on the way who would be requiring the cot! Don’t wait until a new baby has been born to suddenly make this big transition – have it all organised and any kinks worked through well and truly before bub arrives. This also prevents any resentment associated with the baby taking MY cot.

If your child is already trained to obedience during the day and will stay to play where you tell them, then you shouldn’t have too many hassles with them getting out of bed when they shouldn’t. If your child will not obey you during the day and stay where they are told, then it’s very likely that they will not obey you at night or in the morning either. Do this training first by implementing mat times, highchair times, playpen times and other obedience training during the day while everyone is much more able to deal with it in a calm and consistent manner. Be aware that almost all children will test your resolve a couple of times just to see what happens so be prepared and have appropriate strategies for dealing with children out of bed when they shouldn’t be – the FIRST time it happens.

Think about what you want the morning to look like. Will he be able to get out? Can she independently turn on a light and read books or access a few toys from a basket next to the bed? What is your goal for a morning routine that suits you now and in the long run?

While our children are still in a cot, we put books, teddy and a few small toys at the end after they have gone to sleep. To begin with, at the first peep in the morning we dash in, saying “Well done for staying quiet, now read and play quietly until we come and get you.” Initially they are left for very short times so that they can be successful and praised for their quiet time. This time is increased as they became used to the routine.

We wanted this time to be quiet as there were other siblings who we didn’t want woken up and in the long term, siblings may be sharing bedrooms. I also personally don’t like the idea of children being up and about without supervision. I trusted them not to do anything deliberately dangerous or destructive, but what if they wanted to be helpful and tried to make Mum a cup of tea with boiling water? Not much can go wrong if you are reading in bed! After this training is in place we stop going in to remind them and let them start reading and playing quietly themselves.

As children became older and closer to the move to their big beds, we transition to books only in the cot, rather than toys. This also leads to a long term love of books which is something we want to cultivate in our family. Once the change to a big bed is made, the exact same morning routine is used and we found that they never really thought of getting up and wandering about in the morning as they already knew what they were expected to do.

Parents will often ask how the child knows it’s time to start reading, particularly those whose children’s bedrooms are completely dark in the morning. Some strategies are:

Child turns light on and helps themselves to books next to their bed whenever they wake (I don’t like this as most children go through phases where they wake WAY TOO EARLY and if left laying down in the dark would quite possibly fall back to sleep.)

  • Soft music alarm, bunny clock or colour change clock that signals when it is time for lights on
  • Mum or dad comes in every morning to say it’s time to get up
  • Pin a paper clock next to their own analogue clock with the hands at the time they are allowed to rise.
  • Tape over the minute numbers on a digital clock and write the number the hour must match before they may turn on the light (or teach them to read it properly if you want wake up times to be half past the hour.)

It’s nice to build some excitement around the big move and get children really wanting to do it. Maybe they can come shopping for their new big boy/girl sheets, pillow, doona etc and help choose (Between an appropriate selection you pick out!) We were able to have the bed all set up in their new rooms (as each time has involved a room change as well as a bed change) a couple of weeks before they were “allowed” to sleep in it – you could do it in the same room if you have enough space. By the time we were ready for them to move, they were practically begging to be able to go in it. Each time they asked we’d recite all the rules and say they had to wait until they were responsible enough, big enough etc. to which they would be eagerly saying I will, I can, I won’t get out of bed and on and on until we finally said the grand day had arrived.

They also showed every family member and visitor the bed and we primed them to be really excited and talk about what a big boy/girl they are to be able to sleep in a big bed, ask when they were going to move to their new big girl room, what are the rules? etc.

If your child is a very mobile sleeper a bed rail may be a good idea or at least a mattress on the floor. We have borrowed rails but they make it difficult to sit and read to children on the bed so we get rid of them as soon as possible. Most of our children move around a lot in the cot but in a bed press themselves up against the wall and stay there – security maybe? One of our daughters on the other hand fell off repeatedly which we put down to the fact that it was summer and she wasn’t able to be tucked in under tight bedclothes – she kept getting out and laying on top them, rolling about and dropping off night after night. We had to go and borrow a rail again and needed it for about 6 months before we took it off and she was fine.

Another trick to stop falling out is to tuck a large towel or similar in a roll along the outside edge of the bed to tilt the mattress back with the slope down towards the wall side. Also, putting the top sheet on sideways so children are securely tucked in seems to stop them rolling towards the outer edge. (Children’s feet don’t go anywhere near the bottom of the bed anyway.)

All in all, the key is in the daytime training and consistent parenting throughout the entire day, not just at bedtime. Usually children love the idea of a big bed and with a little training and preparation, so will you!