Having a baby in the NICU has a way of shifting your priorities. Though that tiny little person will undoubtedly be your number one concern, don’t lose track of your nutritional needs! Whether you’re faced with a grueling commute to the hospital or the task of caring for other little ones at home, making sure you’re adequately nourished is more important now than ever. Fuel your day with these healthy snacks – no vending machine necessary.
Stock the freezer
Ripe banana chunks packed in individual freezer bags and frozen mixed berries are star components of a filling smoothie on the run. My go-to recipe from NICU to now: ½ a frozen banana, a handful of frozen strawberries, 2 T. peanut butter, 1 T. cocoa, 1 T. flax, and a cup of lactose-free 2% milk. The combination of fiber, healthy fats, and lactose-free protein promotes satiety sans added sugars. Another smart freezer bet? An insulated lunch bag that can pull double duty transporting pumped breast milk AND perishable snacks for you.
Fruit and Nuts
There’s a reason these two get together in cereals, atop oatmeal, and in many a cookie! Build a satisfying portable snack via:
- Store-bought trail mix;
- An apple or pear + a serving of walnuts (a small handful)
- Freeze-dried berries + individual pack of almond butter
Choose trail mixes that are heavy on dried fruit and nuts, but a sprinkling of dark chocolate doesn’t hurt, either! A medium sized pear with its peel contains on average 8g of fiber, while walnuts are an excellent source omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha linolenic acid. Freeze-dried berries are light, crispy, full of antioxidants, and won’t leave you with sticky fingers! And nothing beats the comfort of creamy almond butter.
Worried about the fat content in nuts and nut butters? Don’t be! Post-partum isn’t a time for dieting (especially if you’re pumping), and most of the fat in these snacks is of the heart-healthy monounsaturated variety.
Raise the Bar
As the saying goes, the NICU is a roller coaster, and there will be days when you can barely get off the “ride” long enough to breathe, let alone step beyond the parents’ lounge. Stock your purse with no-fuss, nutrient dense bars and always be prepared.
Look for bars without added sugars or artificial sweeteners that contain 8g or more protein, ideally. While there are hundreds of bars on the market, the RX bar scores high marks for its short ingredient list, significant amount of quality protein, and, most of all, indulgent-tasting flavors. Honorablemention: Kind Bars for their filling blends of nuts and dried fruits, and Lara bars to satisfy a sweet tooth.
If you got your hands on one of those aforementioned cooler bags (or intend to consume a snack within two hours), pack yourself a good ol’ cheese stick! Look for full-fat varieties (the low-fat kind often contain more sodium than their full-fat counterparts), and don’t shun other shapes of pre-packaged cheese: BabyBel are tasty and portable, and the Laughing Cow offers several spreadable varieties. Throw in a snack-sized baggie of baby carrots or pre-cut peppers (if you can find the time to slice them), and you’re good to go with a snack that’s both creamy and crunchy.
I rarely recommend store-bought green juices. They’re overpriced, often full of sugar, and are usually stripped of fiber. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little non-perishable green on the go! Consider nori (dried seaweed), which is an excellent source of immunity-boosting vitamin C. Dry roasted edamame is another grab-and-go option that’s packed with flavor, protein, AND a whopping 8g of fiber per one ounce serving. Both can be found at your local health food store, or even on Amazon.
And of course…
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Fiber is an important dietary component at all stages of life, but if you’ve had a c-section, are out of your normal routine (having a baby in the NICU is not routine!), and are trying to keep all systems running, maintaining adequate intake is especially crucial. But fiber can’t do its job without proper hydration. Drink to thirst, stock your trunk with bottled water lest you forget your refillable one at home, and make friends with the water cooler in the parents’ lounge.
What healthy snacks keep you fueled during your NICU stay or at home with your baby?
Nicole Rodriguez is a registered dietitian, NASM-certified personal trainer, and proud mother of a NICU grad based in Long Beach, New York. Visit her at enjoyfoodenjoylife.com/blog.