New mamas are often overwhelmed and too tired to eat properly. Vegetarian and vegan mothers face even more challenges because like it or not, there are some key energizing nutrients found in meat and fish that are harder to come by in veggie diets. Still, don't give up your diet yet. Plenty of research shows that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet is perfectly healthy for pregnancy and breastfeeding, plus can be healthier overall, helping to prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. As for being too tired to eat. Well, you're not doing your baby any favors if you deprive yourself of nutrients. Proper nutrients build healthy breast milk and a healthy mama - two of the best gifts you can give your baby. Also, research shows that babies gain flavor preferences from breast milk, so healthy foods now means your tot may eat better for life. Aim to eat a variety of foods and because you're tired, keep it simple. Snack if you like. Three square meals a day can be overrated. Lastly, make every bite count. Forget about empty calories or fast food. Even though you're exhausted, there are plenty of nutritious power foods for vegetarian and vegan breastfeeding mamas that are insanely fast and easy to manage, as shown below.
Blueberries pack in many awesome nutrients, including an antioxidant punch to keep you healthy. For breastfeeding mamas, blueberries provide perks like carbohydrate for energy plus a lot of vitamin A and K, potassium and even some calcium. You can quickly top off cereal or yogurt with blueberries or add them to a smoothie. In the summer, blueberries get even better, because you can eat them straight from the freezer and they’re like icy little bits of candy. If you’re not a fan of blueberries, note that most berries are packed with antioxidants and fiber. Look for darker berries first for the most nutrients.
Make it fast: Stock your freezer with frozen blueberries instead of running to the store for fresh or spread organic blueberry jam on bread. Buy pre-made organic blueberry muffins or fruit salad with berries.
Avocados offer 60% more potassium than bananas, lots of folic acid, vitamin C, lutein and “healthy” fat, plus have the highest fiber content of any produce product. Breastfeeding mamas will like that avocados offer B-vitamins that help increase energy. Eat slices raw or in wraps or sandwiches.
Make it fast: Instead of cutting up fresh avocados, see if your store carries a fresh, organic guacamole and scoop it onto whole wheat crackers.
Yogurt is a super speedy snack packed with a huge dose of calcium and probiotics, plus vitamin B12, magnesium and more. For vegan mamas, soy yogurt still offers plenty of perks like 12% of your daily recommended protein intake, lots of vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium too.
Make it fast: You can’t make yogurt much quicker. Pop the top of a container and you’re good to go. Still, if you want an extra easy life, freeze lots of yogurt in ice pop molds before you go into labor, then you’ll be well-stocked on yogurt that won’t go bad.
Brown rice has a lot of carbs, so many new mamas shy away from it in order to lose that baby weight. However, cutting too many carbs is bad as it’ll make you even more sleepy and if you lose weight too fast, it can mess with your breast milk quality. Brown rice also has healthy perks like vitamin B, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and selenium, and even some choline which has been shown to help fetal brain development, prevent memory loss and prevent liver damage.
Make it fast: The downside of brown rice is cooking time. It can take an hour to make (ugh). To make it faster, buy instant brown rice, which still has nutrient perks or stock up on some Amy’s bowls made with brown rice, which are tasty and cook in about 5 minutes.
Most nuts provide lots of fiber, vitamin E, healthy fats and magnesium. Plus nuts are insanely easy to munch on. Current research shows that nuts may help lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, and improve blood vessel function. Nuts are also one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Go for unsalted mixed nuts for a variety of nut benefits and to see a rundown of nut nutrition read, best and worst nuts by nutrition and price.
Make it fast: Choose pre-shelled nuts and don’t forget about yummy nut spreads, like almond, hazelnut or peanut butter on a spoon.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are packed with calcium, fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. An added benefit for vegetarian and vegan mamas is high amounts of iron. You can eat your greens raw, as shown above in this zucchini, tofu and spinach salad or cook them up if you feel motivated.
Make it fast: Make a hyper fast strawberry spinach smoothie – vegans can leave out the honey. Buy fresh, pre-washed greens or frozen greens. You can also make spinach popsicles before your bundle arrives for an easy green snack.
Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are some of the most versatile and nutritious foods for new vegetarian and vegan mamas because they are a good source of protein. Legumes are low in fat, have zero cholesterol, and are packed with folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. Legumes also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber.
Make it fast: Dried legumes take a lot of prep work – a major downside. However, if you’re short on time, canned beans, although not as healthy as homemade, are still useful for a fast, nutritious meal. You can cook some vegetarian pinto beans and eat them on a tortilla or toss black beans in a wrap or quick-fix salad. For really fast bean bites, make up a big batch of black bean burgers or vegan white bean burgers before your due date, freeze them, then microwave one when you’re hungry. You can also get organic hummus at the store, which is a fast snack with crackers or veggies.
Oats have a lot of protein, fiber, complex carbs and best of all iron. A good deal, because low iron can reduce milk supply. Many athlets eat oats to improve energy and performace – which can work for you too. Also, research shows that people who eat a lot of oats vs. not so much, have less weight gain over time and are less likely to be overweight to begin with.
Make it fast: Oatmeal keeps for days. Make one large batch and keep it in the fridge or use quick instant packs of organic oatmeal. You can also buy organic whole oat granola bars to munch on.
You may have heard that flax, flaxseed and flaxseed oil are power foods, and for good reason. Flax in many forms is packed with so much healthy stuff like fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals called lignans. The Mayo Clinic also notes that a diet rich in omega-3s may help ease depression too. The Institute of Medicine recommends between 1.1 and 1.6 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids, and lucky for you just one little tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s easy to eat flaxseed. Simply sprinkle a teaspoon or more into smoothies, soup, chili, cereal, oatmeal, sauces, yogurt or add some to batter when you bake muffins, cakes or cookies. The taste is great and you’ll barely notice it in most foods.
Make it fast: Whole flaxseed is not as good as ground, because some of it may pass through your system undigested. That said, grinding is a pain. Although it’s better to grind your own, don’t bother if you’re tired. You can buy ground flaxseed meal at the store.
Okay, granted, zinc is not a food. However, it’s very important that you get some as a breastfeeding mama. In fact one study shows that mamas who get more zinc have an easier time breastfeeding. Zinc is one of the few nutrients that vegetarians and vegans miss, because it’s simply not found in many plant-based foods. Zinc is crazy important though as it’s found in all organs, tissues and fluids in the body and everyone needs it for optimal growth and development, reproduction, appetite, taste ability and night vision. Zinc keeps your immune system working correctly and some research shows that zinc may help protect cracked nipples and ease the baby blues or postpartum depression. Also, during lactation, you need more zinc, because your baby absorbs a lot of it via breast milk. Thankfully there are some fast and easy ways to get more zinc. Toasted wheat germ, sesame seeds, sesame oil, whole grain foods vs. processed grains and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of zinc. Fermented soy foods such as tempeh or miso are also good sources of zinc, as are many of the fake veggie meats on the market.
Make it fast: Drizzle sesame oil on your fresh greens or sprinkle wheat germ on oatmeal or in a smoothie. Buy quick to prepare veggie burgers, most of which offer you about half the zinc you need daily.
Good Old H2O
Water’s not a food no, but it’s the best drink for a breastfeeding mama. Plenty of water means better milk production, better milk let-down and it can help you feel full so you don’t snack on empty calories. Most experts recommend at least 8 glasses of water per day while breastfeeding, plus more if you’re sick and/or hot thus dehydrate easier. Research shows that water is actually an energy booster too. When you get dehydrated, you’re more likely to feel fatigue because your body needs fluids to carry out all the hard work it’s doing, such as digesting food and carrying nutrients around. If you’re not a fan of boring ol’ H2O add some citrus slices to your water or even fresh berries.
Make it fast: Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge to save you from running the tap. Also, carry the biggest reusable water bottle you can find to save on refill time.
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