Meal Plan with Iron Rich Foods for Pregnancy

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Iron not only plays an important role in our daily diet, but also helps meet our and our baby’s increasing needs during pregnancy. Incorporating iron-rich whole foods is an essential component for a healthy pregnancy.

Why is iron important during pregnancy?

Extra iron is needed during pregnancy to make more blood which will supply oxygen to your baby.1 And in fact, the iron that we provide our baby during pregnancy will help build the iron stores that your baby will use for the first six months of life.2 Taking in enough of this nutrient will also bolster your own iron stores to help prepare for any blood loss during delivery.1

Since our body cannot make iron, we rely on food sources and/or supplements to meet our needs.

Getting too little iron is associated with an increased risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, so it’s important to pay attention to the quality and quantity of iron of your diet.1

How much iron do you need ?

  • Women aged 19+ years should consume 18 mg of iron per day.

  • During pregnancy needs increase to 27mg a day.3

Learn more about your iron needs: What Should I Know about Iron Deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy?

Food sources of iron

Heme-iron, or iron that is found in animal products, is absorbed very well by the body. Good sources of heme-iron include: Red meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry.4

Non-heme iron comes from plants and is not absorbed quite as well. Food sources of non-heme iron include: Legumes, beans, vegetables and some fruit, as well as fortified cereals and grains.3

The good news is that a diet rich in vitamin C can help non-heme iron be better absorbed by the body.5 Be sure to include food sources of vitamin C throughout your day, such as: bell pepper, orange, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, and tomatoes.6

Read more: Why Does Vitamin C Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

Pro tip:

Constipation is a common side effect of supplemental iron, whether from your prenatal vitamin or an additional iron supplement if your doctor has recommended one.7

To help ease the constipation supplemental iron can cause, be sure to eat a high fiber diet (think fruits, veggies, and whole grains), drink plenty of water, and engage in physical activity if given the okay by your physician.8

Always discuss your diet and supplements with your doctor before making any changes.

Learn more: 6 Tips to help Manage Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation

Iron Rich Meal Plan for Pregnancy

Choosing meals and snacks from the options listed below can help you eat a diet rich in iron. 

Breakfast

  • Option 1: Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts

  • Option 2: Bran cereal with banana, low-fat milk and flaxseeds

  • Option 3: Whole grain toast with nut butter and 100% fruit spread

  • Option 4: Quinoa breakfast bowl with chopped dates and sunflower seeds, and a drizzle of peanut butter.

  • Option 5: Eggs scrambled with spinach and tomatoes; orange slices

Lunch

  • Option 1: Dark leafy greens, raw veggies, and grilled chicken; cup of black bean soup

  • Option 2: Whole grain tortilla, black beans, salsa, shredded cheese; dark leafy green salad 

  • Option 3: Quinoa salad tossed with tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil and chopped chicken breast on a bed of spinach

  • Option 4: Whole grain pita stuffed with canned chunk light tuna* and vegetables

  • Option 5: Hamburger, made with lean ground beef on a whole grain bun or wrapped in lettuce, with broccoli and baked sweet potato fries

Dinner

  • Option 1: Chicken, turkey, or beef, with sweet potato and broccoli

  • Option 2: Baked cod on bed of wilted Swiss chard in garlic and oil, side of wild rice

  • Option 3: Grilled pork chop with no sugar added applesauce, and spinach and white beans sautéed in garlic and oil

  • Option 4:  Stir fried shrimp with rice and veggies including broccoli, red peppers, and cauliflower. Cook using sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and a drizzle of hoisin sauce to taste

  • Option 5: Ground chicken, turkey or lean beef with tomato sauce and whole grain pasta

Snack

  • Option 1: Peanuts and raisins

  • Option 2: Edamame

  • Option 3: Vegetables and hummus

  • Option 4:  Trail mix made with: dried fruit pieces, 1 oz dark chocolate, and popcorn

  • Option 5: Whole grain toast with nut butter

*Pregnant women should eat no more than 6 ounces of high mercury fish per week

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles and recipes:

Which Nutrients do I Need during Pregnancy?

How much Should I Eat while Pregnant?

Our meal plans offer recipe and meal suggestions. They are not designed to replace your doctor’s recommendations, nor do they take into account special nutritional needs, including allergies and intolerances. The meal plans suggest serving sizes that may or may not be appropriate for you. Please consult your doctor to determine what is best for you and your child.

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