Make time for a nutritious lunch to stay strong & grow a healthy baby.
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Even before you were expecting, you probably felt too busy to plan a healthy lunch ahead of time. Now that you're pregnant—and preoccupied with doctor appointments, car seat reviews and picking the perfect baby name—packing a wholesome lunch may not be at the top of your priority list. But a healthful midday meal is more important than ever.
"Missing lunch can lead to mindless munching and poor food choices," says Richmond, Calif.-based Nora Norback, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.E., certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente. Poor eating habits can contribute to excess pregnancy weight gain, she notes, and experts agree that putting on too many pounds during pregnancy can contribute to the development of gestational diabetes, backaches and high blood pressure.
Keeping your body satisfied with nutrient-rich foods means you're less likely to reach for chips or a candy bar, and it can help manage pesky pregnancy symptoms, such as morning sickness. "Women might get nauseated if they go too long without food," says Norback. " A growing baby puts pressure against a mother's stomach, which makes it hard to eat large amounts of food at one sitting," she explains.
To help you get the most pregnancy bang for your brown bag buck, we've put together four delicious lunches that make it easy to get fiber, protein and other nutrients you need to grow a healthy baby — and will give you the energy to power through your day.
Chicken Salad Sandwich + Low-fat Greek Yogurt + Banana
Hiding between the fiber-rich bookends is a pregnancy-power-packed filler. Chicken is full of protein, which gives you energy and is a crucial building block in your baby's overall development (particularly his or her brain). This sandwich also provides niacin, a B vitamin that aids digestion, promotes healthy skin and bolsters nerve cell development. Tomatoes boast vitamins E, A, C, K and folate, a nutrient that helps prevent neural-tube disorders, such as spina bifida.
Pair it with Greek yogurt (half the sugar and double the protein of regular yogurt) and a banana for a blast of potassium; unavailable in most prenatal vitamins, potassium keeps blood pressure in check, Norback says. Greek yogurt also provides plenty of calcium for building strong baby bones and teeth, as well as probiotics, which help you keep a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
PACKING TIP: Stash sandwich stuffers separately and assemble when ready to eat to avoid soggy bread.
Curry Quinoa Salad + Whole-Grain Fruit Bar
Packed with protein and iron, this salad is more satisfying than your standard bowl of greens. Iron—which helps build red blood cells, prevents you from getting anemia and decreases your likelihood of delivering prematurely—is a crucial nutrient that's difficult to get without supplementing, Norback says, "but 1 cup of quinoa provides 10 percent of the iron you need daily during pregnancy."
Plus, protein-rich quinoa and chickpeas help keep your energy levels up and lower your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease long-term. Finish with a fruit bar for added fiber, which helps ward off constipation, a common pregnancy side effect.
PACKING TIP: The quinoa mixture will keep in the fridge for a week; mix in the greens when you're ready to eat. Get the recipe >>
Avocado, Cheese & Egg Stacks + Grapes + Cookie
Plain old crackers and cheese get a nutrition boost with these healthy bites. Cheese supplies protein and vitamin B12, which aids the production of your baby's red blood cells. Avocado may help prevent morning sickness and contains vitamin E (another red-blood-cell builder) and folate. Eggs are rich in protein and choline, a B vitamin that helps build your baby's brain and nervous cells. In addition, egg yolks provide zinc, which helps prevent preterm birth.
Bonus: Both avocado and cheese contain small amounts of hard-to-get vitamin D to boost calcium absorption in both you and your baby. In addition, multigrain crisp bread provides insulin-stabilizing fiber to keep your blood sugar levels up.
PACKING TIP: Boil eggs in advance (shells on, they keep in the fridge for a week). Assemble just before eating. Get the recipe >>
Loaded Vegetarian Chili + String Cheese + Baby Carrots
This one-pot wonder combines a colorful crop of fiber-filled vegetables, plus protein-packed black beans, which also deliver iron and folate and contain the most antioxidants of all beans. Pair it with string cheese (for protein and calcium) and baby carrots for a hearty midday meal.
PACKING TIP: Freeze and reheat glass containers instead of plastic to prevent potentially harmful chemicals from leaching into food.