It’s not uncommon to feel peckish throughout the day, especially when you’ve got a bun in the oven. Whether it’s post-lunch hunger pangs or late-night sugary urges, all pregnant women get hit with sudden food cravings from time to time (or, more accurately, hour to hour). But snacking becomes a problem if you’re shoveling in too many empty-calorie-laden landmines that offer little in the way of meeting your heightened dietary needs. To sidestep potential issues, forge a plan of attack that lets you satisfy all of your salty, crunchy and creamy desires in a way that also packs a nutritional punch. Keep these healthier alternatives on hand whenever you’re in need of fresh snack ideas.
When you’re craving something chewy, try jerky.
Once limited to an audience of long-haul truckers and summer vacation road trippers, jerky is experiencing a serious renaissance—thank you, Paleo dieters and hipsters. Truth be told, when it comes to snack food, you can do a lot worse than grabbing a bag of this gas station stalwart. That’s because most jerky and similar low-fat dried meat products offer about 7 grams of protein per serving, making them a smart and yummy solution to keep up your macronutrient intake.
You’ll also benefit from a shot of iron, a notorious problem mineral for moms-to-be that’s critical in keeping energy levels from flagging. And with parched meat gaining popularity, you can now find more exciting options than ever before, including grass-fed beef, bison, turkey and even salmon jerky.
Tip: When comparing brands, be sure to take a peek at the nutrition label and look for an option that delivers the least amount of added sugar and sodium. Ideally that means choosing jerky with no more than 7 grams of sugar and 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.
When you’re craving something creamy, try nut butter packs.
When you have the hunger monster perched on your shoulder, grabbing a jar of nut butter and a spoon can be derail your pregnancy diet. That’s why you should stock your pantry and car glove box with portion-controlled nut butter packets.
Nut butters, like almond and peanut, provide a winning mix of protein and healthy fat to satisfy appetites. While peanut butter has more protein, you’ll net more minerals like calcium and magnesium to build stronger bones for both you and your growing baby by choosing almond butter. There are also varieties made with cashews, and even a sunflower seed alternative if allergic to nuts. (Bonus: If possible, pick a product with added chia seeds for extra protein.)
When you’re craving something crunchy, try roasted chickpeas.
Hummus isn’t the only way to work nutrient-dense chickpeas into your snacking routine. In fact, if you’ve spent any time perusing food trends on TikTok or Instagram, you know that oven-blasted chickpeas have become something of a snacking sensation. That’s because they deliver great crunch as well as a wealth of dietary fiber.
Beyond helping to waylay hunger and prevent blood sugar swings, a high-fiber diet can go a long way to allay that much loathed pregnancy constipation. Chickpeas also contain a range of vitamins and minerals that helps with the development of your little one.
It’s becoming easier to find ready-to-eat roasted chickpeas in stores, but you can also try making your own. Dry two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas thoroughly with a kitchen towel. (Discard any loose skins.) Toss with 2 tablespoons oil, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and any other seasonings you fancy, such as curry powder or garam masala. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until crisp and golden (about 40 minutes), stirring twice throughout.
When you’re craving something chocolaty, try a chocolate smoothie.
There’s nothing wrong with savoring a little dark chocolate here and there, but consider getting your fix from a glass instead. A well-crafted, cocoa-infused smoothie that also includes items such as Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and even veggies offers up the chance to score a bigger dose of the nutrients needed most for your growing sprout—namely calcium, folate, potassium and protein.
Cocoa powder is an easy way to give your smoothie some oomph, but you can also source out a chocolate protein powder mix that may come with added perks, like a greens blend. It’s best to take a pass on pre-made drink options in stores and juice joints, though, as many are sullied by an excess of sugar. It may not beat an actual milkshake, but it’s still chocolate, right?
When you’re craving something frosty, try frozen grapes.
Most frozen foods can quickly torpedo your quest for healthy pregnancy snacks—but not frozen grapes! The subzero orbs are firm but easy to bite into with a creamy consistency, similar to a bite-sized grape Popsicle. From a nutrition standpoint, grapes offer up some vitamin K to help give your baby the best bones possible, and if you put the red variety on ice, you’ll also get a payload of health-hiking antioxidants.
To make a batch of frozen grapes, simply spread whole grapes in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze until firm and then store in an airtight container. For an even creamier snack, chop up a few and stir into yogurt.
Tip: You may want to splurge for organic grapes. Studies conducted by the Environmental Working Group have shown that conventionally grown varieties, particularly imported ones, can contain higher levels of pesticide residues than many other fruits.
When you’re craving something sweet, try apple chips.
Here’s a way to satisfy your desire for sweet and crunchy simultaneously. Apple chips are made by baking—not frying—slices of fresh apple slices into a crispy power snack. They’re a great way to effortlessly add some extra fiber into your diet to temper blood sugar fluctuations and hunger. Plus, natural sugars in items like apples haven’t been linked to the health woes brought on by added sugars. This makes a package of apple chips an even sweeter treat.
For a healthy riff on trail mix that is pure snacking satisfaction, break up apple chip slices into 1-inch pieces and toss with chunks of jerky, nuts and seeds.
When you’re craving something salty, try dried seaweed.
Just because you’re not making any sushi runs during these delicate months doesn’t mean that seaweed should be off the menu. When you are jonesing for potato chips, pretzels and other salty morsels, a seaweed snack pack can be your savior. Naturally tasting salty without being actually salty, these squares sourced from the sea are packed with umami savoriness, making them strangely habit-forming with only 25 calories per serving. Because this briny snack choice can help slash your salt intake, it can minimize prenatal water retention and swelling. It’s thought that seaweed soaks up important nutrients and antioxidants as it sways in the waves, which can further shore up your health. Again, simpler is better, so look for packages without an ingredient list that sounds like it belongs in a chemistry lab instead of your body.
By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD