7 Must-Have Prenatal Pantry Staples

Stock your kitchen with these non-perishables, and you'll always have a healthy meal on hand.

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Pantry Staples

The road to unhealthy eating is often paved with good intentions: You start off the week meaning to whip up wholesome meals and snacks. But a hectic day means there's no time to get to the supermarket—and, without groceries on hand, you wind up ordering take-out or raiding that cookie stash.

To sidestep these diet disasters, experts recommend keeping your kitchen stocked with healthy non-perishable foods. Even when the fridge is empty, you can still toss together a nutritious, delicious meal or snack with the following staples.

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Fortified cereal

There's no shame in eating a bowl of flakes or puffs for dinner. "Fortified cereals are packed with important prenatal nutrients, such as calcium, iron, and fiber," explains Raynelle Shelley, R.D., a dietitian and diabetes educator at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas.

Scout out a brand that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per serving—and you'll get two-thirds of your daily recommended amount of this vitamin, which is crucial for fetal neural development.To bulk up your bowl, top it with fresh or dried fruit and nuts.

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Beans

Whether you prefer the convenience of canned or affordability of dried, load up on a variety of beans. They're one of the best sources of protein, which helps your body repair the constantly changing muscles surrounding your belly. Pregnant women need around 60 grams of protein—and a cup of black beans or lentils delivers about a quarter of this daily quota.

You can incorporate beans into nearly any dish: Toss cannellini beans with whole-wheat pasta, tomato sauce, and frozen veggies for a quick meal. Or mix black beans or chickpeas with spices, eggs, and ground oats for an easy veggie burger.

"If you're using canned beans, remember to drain and rinse them first," says Shelley. A study from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville found that this process washes away 41 percent of the sodium, and too much of the salty stuff can lead to bloating and an increased risk for high blood pressure.

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Oatmeal

Full of iron, fiber, and B vitamins, a bowl of rolled or steel-cut oats is a nutritious way to start your day, says Shelley. But don't stop at breakfast: Use oatmeal as a substitute for bread crumbs in meatloaf, burgers, and more. You can also grind whole oats in the food processor, and add the flour to cookies, muffins, and cakes for a boost of nutrients.

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Low-sodium soups

For a tasty dinner that's ready in minutes, look no further than a can of soup. Broth-based soups, like chicken noodle or minestrone, serve up vegetables and protein for a reasonable amount of calories. For a more filling meal, you can stir in an extra serving of brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, beans, and vegetables. Just make sure that you reach for a can with "low-sodium" on the label, which guarantees it contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving. ("Reduced-sodium" means it has 25 percent less than the original, which can still have too much of the salty stuff.)

One caveat: Preliminary research has linked BPA, a chemical found in the lining of cans, to developmental problems in fetuses. Although the studies aren't definitive, you may want to play it safe and opt for BPA-free canned goods.

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Unsweetened applesauce

For a treat that's low in sugar, bring back this childhood favorite. "It's a sweet way to sneak in another serving of fruit," says Shelley. Besides having it as a snack, you can also swap applesauce for oil and butter when baking to slash the fat and calorie content of your favorite muffins and quick breads.

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Whole grains

Pregnant women need 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, which helps you to stay full and steer clear of constipation.

A cup of quick-cooking whole grains, such barley or brown rice, supplies up to 6 grams of fiber per serving. "For a complete meal, mix a serving of grains with beans, along with some vegetables and spices," says Paola Mora, R.D., a dietitian who works in the division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

She suggests experimenting with lesser-known grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, and millet. "Each one has a different texture and taste, but they're all high in fiber and nutrients."

Five simple to-prepare and flavor-packed whole grain recipes >>

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Nuts

The healthy unsaturated fats in nuts not only keep you full, but they're also important for your baby's brain development. Snack on nuts out of hand, or toss them into your salads and sautés.

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