Whether you’re itching for a snack after work or trying to cobble together lunch on a lazy Saturday, there are a few foods you can have at the ready to ensure you neither go hungry nor fill up on current cravings. (Yes, half-empty bag of chocolate chips, that’s a reference to you.)
Eleana Kaidanian, RD, CDN, CPT-WFS, owner of LI Nutritionist PLLC in Long Island, New York, knows what it’s like to be expecting and ravenous—but she’s also up to date on the importance of getting both pregnant women and growing babes the nutrition they need. Here, she shares her short list of nutrient-dense foods with a long shelf life for healthy eating.
“While most nuts are a good source of vitamin E and fiber, walnuts are the only type of nut with a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that are key in supporting eye and brain development,” informs Kaidanian. Enjoy them solo as a snack, or add them to a leafy green salad or oatmeal with fresh fruit for an extra nutrient boost. Just limit yourself to a handful a day, says Kaidanian, to keep your calorie intake in check.
A gluten-free whole grain, quinoa brings fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and folic acid to the table. “It’s a low-arsenic grain that is also a good source of protein,” says Kaidanian. When you’re short on time, quinoa is a quick alternative to brown rice: “After rinsing and draining, quinoa takes about 10-15 minutes to cook in boiling water.” Use white, red or tricolor varieties in a quinoa salad, or sneak them into an elevated rendition of crab cakes or meatballs. Bonus: Quinoa helps with constipation, a common pregnancy complaint that pops up in the first trimester, often from increased iron in your prenatal vitamin.
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Beans may be inexpensive to buy, but they’re rich in nutritional value, assures Kaidanian. They offer protein and iron, which becomes increasingly important as your blood volume multiplies. Try whipping up a Tex-Mex inspired salad with black beans, lettuce, avocado, tomato and corn, or blend together chickpeas, olive oil, tahini and zesty veggies, like bell pepper, for an at-home hummus spread.
This vegan source of iron contains vitamin C, too, which conveniently facilitates iron absorption, Kaidanian explains. The edible algae also boasts choline (which promotes memory and learning), iodine (which is important for baby’s brain development) and folate (which enables cell division and protects against neural tube defects). Not bad for a swaying sea-dweller, right? Munch on dry-roasted low-sodium seaweed as a snack, suggests Kaidanian, or put together a fresh seaweed salad topped with sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil.
Small but mighty, these super seeds are rich in fiber and omega-3s. For a healthy pregnancy treat, Kaidanian recommends letting a tablespoon of chia seeds soak in a cup of almond milk overnight with blueberries to produce a no-cooking-required chia seed pudding for dessert. You can also sprinkle them on top of cottage cheese if trying to minimize sugar.
Filling and affordable, oatmeal is packed with iron, fiber and about 5 grams of protein per serving. Plus, its starchy composition can help with nausea, says Kaidanian. She touts the simple cereal’s impressive versatility: “It can be consumed dry or cooked, made with water or milk, served alone or mixed with toppings like dried fruit or nuts.”
Itty-bitty flaxseeds are practically tasteless. “You will forget they are even there,” says Kaidanian, “but your cells won’t!” They’re full of fiber, lignans (a kind of plant compound) and omega-3s, all of which are pluses in the pregnancy-diet world. Add a tablespoon to your dairy product of choice (avoiding anything that’s unpasteurized) or a smoothie.
“It takes bones to build bones!” exclaims Kaidanian, who advises opting for wild caught, unsalted sardines with bones in water. These little swimmers are high in vitamin D, protein and calcium and low in both mercury and calories. Enjoy them atop a cracker, or add them to a salad or sandwich with whole wheat bread.
This satisfying whole grain contains antioxidants and fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer. And at just 30 calories per cup, air-popped popcorn makes for a terrific snack. Kaidanian’s recommendation: Season it with cayenne pepper for a spicy treat, or sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese for a more savory flavor.
“As a complex carbohydrate and excellent source of soluble dietary fiber, barley is broken down slowly during digestion, providing a steady release of glucose (energy) to your cells,” states Kaidanian. In other words, it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar, which makes it especially appealing to expectant women with gestational diabetes. The whole grain also boasts folic acid, as well as several micronutrients like niacin and copper. Kaidanian serves chewy, nutty-flavored barley as a side dish with lean meats or poultry, or adds it to soup for a hearty enhancement.