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, every mom-to-be gets 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 overconsumption and excess weight gain, 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. The next time you’re tempted to reach into the cookie jar, swap in one of these healthier alternatives to your favorite guilt-inducing eats.
When you’re craving: Something chewy
Grab this: Jerky
Once limited to an audience of long-haul truckers and summer vacation road trippers, jerky is experiencing a serious renaissance—gracias, 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 dried meat products are a stellar source of low-fat protein, making them a smart solution to quieting the bump-induced cravings that leave you susceptible to downing an entire batch of your mom’s homemade caramels.
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 enjoying its moment in the limelight, you can now find more exciting options than ever before, including grass-fed beef, bison, turkey and even salmon jerky.
Need to know: 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
Grab this: Nut butter packets
When you have the hunger monster perched on your shoulder, grabbing a jar of nut butter and a spoon can be a serious calorie hazard. That’s why you should stock your pantry and car glove box with portion-controlled nut butter packets. Simply rip open the top and suck back a creamy nutrient bonanza.
Nut butters, like almond and peanut, provide a winning mix of protein and healthy fat to silence a growling tummy and put the brakes on any maniacal munching episodes that could spiral into excessive pregnancy weight gain. While peanut butter has more protein, if you go with the almond variety, you’ll net more minerals like calcium and magnesium to build stronger bones for both you and your tadpole.
Need to know: Look for nut butter packs without added sugars. (Healthy additions, like chia seeds, are A-OK.)
When you’re craving: Something crunchy
Grab this: 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 food-stalking on Pinterest or Instagram, you know that oven-blasted chickpeas have become something of snacking sensation. That’s because they deliver great crunch as well as a wallop 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. As a worthy bonus, chickpeas contain a range of vitamins and minerals that helps with the development of your little one.
Need to know: 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.
Best buy: Biena Chickpea Snacks Sea Salt ($3 for 2 ounces)
When you’re craving: Something chocolaty
Grab this: Chocolate smoothie
There’s nothing wrong with luxuriating in a piece of a dark delight when the 3 p.m. energy slump hits, but consider getting your chocolate fix from a glass instead. A well-crafted, cocoa-infused smoothie that also includes items such as yogurt, 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 and protein.
Cocoa powder is an easy way to give your blender creation a chocolaty essence, 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 hefty amounts of calories and sugar.
Need to know: Whirl together this creamy and frosty drink to tame a raging desire for a candy bar. Place 1 cup milk of choice, 1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 cup baby spinach, 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 small frozen peeled and chopped banana in a blender container, and blend until smooth.
Best buys: Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Protein Dark Chocolate ($22 for 16 ounces); Navitas Naturals Cacao Powder ($10 for 8 ounces)
When you’re craving: Something frosty
Grab this: Frozen grapes
Most frozen snack foods can quickly torpedo your healthy nine-month diet plan with a hazardous mix of unhealthy fats and sketchy sweeteners—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. Yes, please! 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.
Need to know: 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.
Best buys: 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
Grab this: Apple chips
Here’s a way to satisfy your hankering for sweet and crunchy simultaneously. Apple chips are made by baking—not frying—slices of fresh apple 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.
Need to know: 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.
Best buy: bare Fuji & Reds Apple Chips ($5 for 3 ounces)
When you’re craving: Something salty
Grab this: Dried seaweed
Just because you’re not making any sushi runs during these delicate months doesn’t mean that seaweed should be off your menu. When you are jonesing for chips 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 without any calorie guilt. (There’s a measly 25 calories in each serving of unflavored varieties.) Because this briny snack choice can help slash your salt intake, it can minimize pregnancy 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.
Need to know: It sounds stranger than mayo on banana, but somehow slathering your nut butter packet onto seaweed snack squares is totally awesome.
Best buy: SeaSnax Original ($4 for 0.5 ounces)