Brain Boosting Meal Plan for Vegetarians
By this point, you have likely heard that what you eat during pregnancy can have a big impact on both your and your baby’s health. But did you know that there are certain nutrients that can specifically help with baby’s brain development? Choline, DHA, and Iron are all essential to baby’s brain development. However, many sources of choline, DHA, and iron are not plant based. So vegetarians need to be extra diligent about including the below sources of the brain boosting nutrients in their diets to ensure adequate intake.
Choline: Choline is essential in pregnancy since your body cannot make it in adequate amounts. It plays a role in infant brain development, learning, and memory function. Pregnant moms need more choline since it is transferred to the baby. Vegetarian sources include: milk, peanuts, beans, collard greens, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, cauliflower, and spinach (and if you chose to consume eggs – egg yolks are an excellent source).
Iron: We need extra iron during pregnancy to make more blood to supply oxygen to baby. Additionally, baby uses iron to build up stores that he relies on until six months of age . Too little iron can be problematic for baby’s brain development and leave you anemic. Our body relies on dietary intake as we cannot make iron. Vegetarian sources include: lentils, tofu, beans, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fortified grains (cereals, breads, pastas). Try pairing these food items with a source of vitamin C to help with absorption.
DHA: DHA is an essential Omega-3 fatty acid involved in the development of the brain, nervous system, and retina – it’s especially important in fetal, infant, and early childhood growth. DHA is found mainly in fish, particularly wild salmon, sardines, mussels, and rainbow trout. If you do not eat fish, look for DHA fortified foods as some foods are now being fortified with DHA, such as milk, eggs, yogurt, and soy milk, but be sure to check the package.
Taking a plant-based DHA supplement while pregnant and nursing will help to ensure you’re meeting your and your baby’s needs. Speak with your doctor before starting any supplement.
Vitamin C rich foods (citrus, peppers, etc) will help your body absorb iron. Make sure to also include Vitamin C rich foods in your diet. Selecting meals and snacks from the below listed options will help you choose vegetarian friendly foods that provide DHA, choline, or iron.
- Option 1: Scrambled eggs – using DHA fortified eggs – with salsa, diced avocado, whole grain toast
- Option 2: Yogurt with mixed berries and hemp seed granola
- Option 3: Breakfast scramble with crumbled tofu, diced tomatoes and peppers, with fresh fruit on the side
- Option 4: Oatmeal cooked with flax seeds, crushed walnuts, banana slices, and fortified milk or milk alternative
- Option 5: Whole grain toast with smashed avocado and a sprinkle of chia seeds
- Option 1: Chickpea “salad” made with plain Greek yogurt, walnuts, grapes, and diced apples, stuffed in a whole grain pita
- Option 2: Grilled tofu, hummus, and veggies in a whole grain wrap with a side of fresh fruit
- Option 3: Brown rice bowl: layer beans, diced avocado, tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds over brown rice
- Option 4: Walnut butter and 100% fruit spread jam sandwich on whole grain bread with a side of fresh fruit
- Option 5: Salad topped with mixed vegetables, hard boiled DHA fortified eggs, and chickpeas; walnut oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, whole grain pita bread
- Option 1: Pesto on whole grain linguine mixed with grilled peppers and eggplant
- Option 2: Stir fried tofu with green and yellow squash, scallions, and peppers over basmati rice
- Option 3: Lentil burgers on a whole grain bun with arugula salad
- Option 4: Black bean tacos with melted cheese, salsa, and guacamole, sprinkled with hemp seeds
- Option 5: Homemade pizza topped with grilled veggies. Mix ground flax seeds into the tomato sauce. (To get the full nutrient benefit of flax seeds, make sure yours are ground. You can either buy ground flax seeds or place whole flax seeds in a coffee grinder. Store unused ground flax seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.)
- Option 1: Overnight Chia Pudding: Stir 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1 cup milk of choice, and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract in a mason jar, close and refrigerate overnight. Top with fruit and nuts and enjoy! (also makes a great breakfast!)
- Option 2: Apple slices with homemade walnut butter. (To make walnut butter, take 1 cup raw walnuts and a pinch of sea salt and blend in the food processor until creamy. You may need to stop to scrape down the sides every couple of minutes.)
- Option 3: Hemp seed granola mixed with raisins
- Option 4: Mixed berry smoothie made with frozen mixed berries, milk or milk alternative, and flax seeds
- Option 5: Trail mix made with walnuts, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips
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