When I was pregnant, first with our daughter and then with our twin sons, I devoured listicles of pregnancy "superfoods" to help me eat well for those growing babies. Greens for folate and fiber. Meat for protein and iron. Dairy and beans for calcium. Salmon for healthy fats.
Wonderful, I thought. Options abound for eating well. But when I cook and eat, I think mostly in terms of meals and snacks, not necessarily singular ingredients and their nutrients. I suspect most moms-to-be do, too.
Here, then, is a list of pregnancy superfoods all situated into satisfying meals built especially for these precious trimesters. These "supermeals" are ready to be cooked, and your saved time and imaginative energy can be spent dreaming up nursery details and baby names instead.
Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich
There are tons of pregnancy nutrients inside an egg, so scramble it, fry it, cook it hard, or sandwich it between two slices of fiber-filled toasted whole grain bread with a couple cuts of cheddar cheese for extra calcium. However you like them, eggs pack in protein for growth and energy, Vitamin A for eyesight and bone growth, good fats that moms-to-be need, and choline, a vitamin that can help fetal brain development.
Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal
Oats are whole grains, which retain their nutritional virtues, including the fiber, vitamins and minerals usually stripped from refined grains during processing. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate that helps keep blood sugar balanced through the morning. A bowlful bumps up fiber tallies and helps move things along the digestive tract (lots of moms-to-be could use some help here). Cook plain rolled oats (including quick-cooking or instant varieties) in milk for extra calcium and protein (non-dairy milk works great, too), and cut in a banana to simmer along with the oats for sweetness and cramp-fighting potassium (Charlie horses waking you up at night?). Add a spoonful of natural peanut butter for protein and fat for your baby's development.
Fruit and Nut Bars
For snack time, fruit and nut bars are nature's perfect candy bar for pregnant mamas. Packaged varieties are plentiful, but you can make them at home with a food processor and a jumble of your favorites: raisins, dates, cherries, apricots, cranberries, cashews, pecans, almonds, peanuts, or whatever combination you love. Chewy dried fruit cures hankerings for candy with natural sugars and tons of flavor. Nuts, including peanuts, bring prized omega-3 fatty acids, energy-sustaining and tissue-building protein, vitamin E, and critical minerals like iron (for all of that extra blood your body makes) and bone-boosting calcium.
Beef boasts vitamin B12 (found almost exclusively in animal products), responsible for nervous system maintenance and red blood cell production; protein, which is especially coveted during the second and third trimesters for baby's growth; and fat. A bed of folate-filled greens, like romaine lettuce, kale, or arugula contributes to helping prevent neural tube defects. And an abundance of vitamin C from veggies like carrots and red peppers helps the body absorb beef's iron, which works to ward off anemia (very common during pregnancy). Try a vinaigrette made with anchovy for an extra boost of the iron, protein, calcium and DHA omega-3 fatty acids the tiny fish offers.
Black Bean and Cheese Burrito
A fork-free, one-handed meal packs a punch of nutrients that are perfect for mom and baby. Black beans alone fill the bundle with fiber, a coveted bonus for systems sluggish from pregnancy progesterone; iron, for a healthy placenta; non-dairy calcium for bones and hair; and folate, one of the B vitamins that play a roll in preventing spina bifida. Add cooked grains, like quinoa or brown rice for extra fiber and energy from complex carbs. A few spoonfuls of shredded cheese and fresh salsa add in calcium for strong bones and vitamin C for a boosted immunity.
Salmon and Slaw Tacos
Wild salmon is one of the best foods for expecting moms because of its abundance of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is especially important for development of baby's eyes and central nervous systems. Pregnant women are advised to consume 200-300 mg daily (one 3-ounce serving of wild salmon can boast upwards of 1000 mg of DHA!). Look for wild Alaskan salmon (fresh, frozen, or canned), since it is sustainably sourced from protected waters. Fold pieces of grilled, roasted, or seared salmon inside a corn or flour tortilla topped with quick pickled cabbage slaw for folate, fiber, and vitamin C.
Tara Mataraza Desmond is the author of Full Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy (Running Press), a food writer, and mother of three: a daughter and twin sons. She blogs at Crumbs On My Keyboard and stays social on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @TaraMDesmond
Salmon Image: Courtesy of Shutterstock