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 on hand to ensure you neither go hungry nor fill up on not-so-healthy temptations. (Yes, half-empty bag of chocolate chips, that’s a reference to you.) Eleana Kaidanian, RD, CDN, CPT, a mom of one who runs a series of health and wellness events for expectant women in Long Island, New York, knows what it’s like to be pregnant and ravenous—but she’s also up on the importance of getting growing babes the nutrition they need. Here, she shares her short list for nutrient-dense foods with a long shelf life.
1 | Walnuts
“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-3s, which are key in supporting brain and eye development,” informs Kaidanian. Enjoy them solo as a snack, or add them to salad or oatmeal for an extra nutrient boost. Just limit yourself to a handful a day, warns Kaidanian, to keep your calorie intake in check.
2 | Quinoa
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 tri-color varieties in a quinoa salad, or sneak them into an extra healthy rendition of crab cakes or meatballs.
3 | Beans
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.
4 | Seaweed
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 in the brain), iodine (which is important for fetal brain development) and folic acid (which enables cell division and protects against serious birth 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.
5 | Chia Seeds
Small but mighty, these super seeds are rich in fiber and omega-3s. For a healthy treat, Kaidanian recommends letting a tablespoon of chia seeds soak in a cup of almond milk overnight to produce a no-cooking-required chia seed pudding for dessert.
6 | Oatmeal
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 fruit or nuts.”
7 | Flaxseeds
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 world. Add a tablespoon to yogurt or a smoothie for an unobtrusive nutrient boost.
8 | Canned sardines
“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.
9 | Popcorn
This low-calorie 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 savory flavor.
10 | Barley
“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,” says 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 beef or poultry, or adds it to soup for a hearty enhancement.