Mom and baby at laptopThe pre-dawn wake-up calls of a new baby have always meant bleary-eyed parents trying to make sense of their new world. The way they cope and adjust, however, changes with each new generation, constantly altering the way families with children shop, cook and eat. Like all consumers, mothers are more likely now to peruse food blogs for fast and easy recipe ideas — and less likely to plan an entire week of meals and shop for them up and down grocery aisles. Men are shopping just as often for groceries as women, and consumers generally go shopping more than once a week and to more than one outlet.

Stretched for time, some new parents lean toward frozen and pre-cut or -cooked foods more often than they used to, just to keep their bodies fueled during those sleep-deprived days before the baby starts eating solid foods. As new mother Charlotte puts it below, “Just because I have turned to packaged goods in an effort to make my life easier does not mean I fill my cart with Doritos and Hamburger Helper.” Here we glimpse what meal planning is like for Charlotte now that there’s a baby in the house — and how that is likely to change as her child grows:

“I am up much earlier than I would prefer this morning, but that’s all right. I’ll find a way to enjoy the sun rising. One of my favorite food blogs has a great-looking recipe, and I am racking my brain to come up with the ingredients. Can I make it work without going to the store?

“Pre-baby, I grocery shopped a few times a week for fresh produce and dairy to make salads for lunch at work and to make dinners that included more than one pot — plus, of course, dessert! I shopped at two to three stores, depending on my list. Not only did I have time to research new recipes using spelt and buckwheat, roasted beets and parsnips, but I also had time to chop, roast and make enough for leftovers. I love to cook and have a certain fondness for meal planning and shopping. When I am short on time, other things get left undone so I can prepare a meal or make a healthy snack from scratch. There are not enough days in the week to eat all the food I would like to cook.

“And baby makes three. Well, four if you count the dog. Life is dramatically different around here. There is not a lot of leisure time, and more and more meals consist of packaged goods. I rely on bags of chopped vegetables for snacks and a quick meal. I peruse the frozen section at the market (when I can find the time or energy to get to the market) for new options. Comparing prices is no longer a priority. I am now part of the large percentage of the population that shops for convenience. My priority is to get in and out of the store with everything on my list before the baby wakes up and decides he is hungry.

“Just because I have turned to packaged goods in an effort to make my life easier does not mean I fill my cart with Doritos and Hamburger Helper. I am compromising on price and health to a certain degree, but luckily there are a lot of good ‘fast’ food options in the produce and dairy aisles. I stock up on string cheese and buy baby carrots by the bushel — also hummus, deli meats, salsa and other foods that I no longer have time to make or chop myself. Trail mix has become another staple as a quick-grab, high-protein snack. I shop the bulk bins for nuts, raisins and dark chocolate-covered almonds that I mix in a large canister myself. Most pre-made trail mixes don’t have good-quality ingredients, and the ones that do are too pricey. While in the bulk section, I also stock up on flour and other grains, flaxseed, dried fruit and nuts.

“Because I am on maternity leave and home all day, I look for excuses to get out. We take the dog on a lot of walks, and I go to grocery stores and Target more frequently — perhaps three times a week. Sprouts Farmers Market is a recent find: nice store, quality produce, large bulk selection and great prices. I go to Trader Joe’s for nuts, quinoa, black bean tortilla chips (yum!), cheese, wine, dried fruit and specialty seasonal items. If I need something specific like whole-grain pasta or plain Greek yogurt, I head to Safeway, which has a few of my favorite brands. Grocery Outlet is a fun place to go and get a great deal. I never know what they are going to have, so it’s hard to go with a specific list. I’ve found Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf bags of ground coffee for $1.99, Kashi cereal (a favorite) for $1.99, Athenos feta for 99 cents and Lindt chocolate for $2.99. When I see something I like, I grab a few!

“Our lifestyle with baby has dramatically changed, but I still find time to browse Pinterest for fall recipes for pumpkins and butternut squash and to check my favorite blogs — Smitten Kitchen, Eat Live Run, Ambitious Kitchen — for meal inspiration. I’ve found new ways to bake with whole grains (spelt, buckwheat, oat bran) and coconut oil (I got a jar at Trader Joe’s and loved it so much, I bought a huge one at Costco!). When baby boy is napping, I should too, but my mind races with things to do, so I sack out on the couch with my laptop. Priorities, you know! I also find myself on Pinterest in the middle of the night when I am up nursing the baby. It’s good to keep yourself entertained! I don't think it necessarily makes life easier. If I really wanted to relax, I would order out for dinner or have frozen pizza. However, that is not my style, and I would rather sacrifice in other areas (like dusting and putting away laundry).

“I look forward to a few months from now, when I plan to use the Crockpot more and puree fruits and vegetables to try out on the babe. For now, I will drink my coffee and make a grocery list.”

What’s going on here?

While marketing to moms has shifted with the rise of more diverse types of U.S. households, their needs are in some ways no different from other consumers prowling retailers’ aisles — especially when babies are newborn or infants and rely on Mom for sustenance.

As a new parent whose world has shifted, Charlotte gives us a day in the life of someone seeking quick, healthy, hand-held snacks and meals. Not wanting to "give up" entirely and abdicate to processed foods, she reflects an ongoing trend in our culture in which consumers increasingly hope to solve their eating needs in a rapid and yet thoughtful way, all the while pursuing fresh, less processed products.

As Charlotte's baby gets older, if she's like many other new parents we've spoken to, she will increasingly focus on sustainable foods and beverages, such as organic fruits and dairy. Parents often see organic as shorthand for purity — free from pesticides, hormones, antibiotics — and therefore a sort of “insurance policy” for their children’s health.

Marketing to moms isn't dead; it's just that household structures have changed dramatically in recent decades. Marketers should keep in mind that while we still cling culturally to images of "Mom" as an icon of domestic efficiency and tranquility — a true superhero of the household — dads (and life partners) are now just as likely to be shopping, cooking and worrying about children's needs. To help mothers and changing households with children, marketers should target these shoppers — people looking for snacks and meals at the supermarket — not the people we imagine they are.