When I was pregnant with my first child, I ate anything I could get my hands on. Perhaps not the wisest way to go. With my subsequent pregnancies, I made an effort to make better food choices, and the difference in how I felt both during pregnancy and after was remarkable.
Eating when you don’t want to, or eating foods you don’t prefer, can be stressful for expectant mothers. Counting nutrients, balancing food groups and finding foods that are as appealing as they are healthy doesn’t have to leave you hungry for an easier way to eat.
“Pregnancy gives women the chance to begin eating healthy,” says Registerd Dietician Rachel Brandeis. Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, especially during the critical first trimester. And while cravings for certain foods may hinder your efforts to eat healthily, experts say the better nutritional diet you consume the better you’ll feel.
KNOWING WHAT YOU NEED
The best way to plan a healthy menu is to develop an understanding of all of the basic food groups and how they affect your energy, health and well-being. Rely on the food pyramid and the advice of your doctor to determine your specific dietary needs. In addition to eating a diet that allows for sufficient proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, adding foods with Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) helps develop your baby’s brain cells.
Nutrition experts and physicians happily dispel the myth that expectant moms are “eating for two.”
“Pregnant adult women require 300 more calories a day when they are pregnant. They shouldn’t approach eating as though they can eat twice as much food as normal,” explains Registered Dietician and Professor of Nutrition Connie Diekman, Ph.D. Moms-to-be should approach eating as thought they need to eat “a little extra” and “skew toward 10 more grams a day of protein calories than they would normally consume,” says Diekman.
What foods can busy, expectant women snack on?
“It is always good to choose fruit or whole grains versus processed foods,” says Brandeis. “Snacks such as whole-grain crackers and peanut butter that offer the combination of protein and carbohydrates and are terrific, healthy options for moms-to-be,” she adds.
Nutrition and health experts agree that starting the day with a healthy breakfast offers countless benefits. Unfortunately, when you’re experiencing morning sickness, or feeling too rushed to squeeze in a balanced meal, eating breakfast falls to the bottom of the priority list.
“Yogurt sprinkled with low-fat granola, trail mix, nuts or dried fruit and a glass of calcium-enriched juice or milk is a healthy way to start your day,” notes Brandeis.
Eating foods that supply protein and heart-healthy nutrients are doable with many creative combinations. “When I was pregnant with my first son, I ate fresh salsa and sesame seed crackers with nearly every lunch,” shares Suzie Harris, mother of two.
Whole grain crackers and peanut butter or hummus and fresh vegetables are just a few more foods that make eating breakfast or snacks on the go quick and easy.
SUPPLEMENTING YOUR DIET
Nutrition experts stress the significance of eating whole foods instead of looking to gain nutrition from energy bars, drinks, powders and vitamins.
“Vitamins should be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet and not thought of as a replacement for healthy foods,” notes Diekman.
Whole, intact foods instead of those processed and grilled — or steamed foods instead of fried foods — are good alternatives to the energy bars and liquid processed shakes.
PLANNING YOUR MENU
There are numerous food combinations that support a healthy, balanced diet. If certain textures, aromas and tastes don’t appeal to you, you can still ensure you and your baby are well fed. Select substitutes such as whole-grain bread for white bread, oatmeal instead of cold cereal and fruit cocktail instead of a candy bar.
Make a list of foods that are appealing as well as those that provide a balanced diet. Add a bit of fresh spinach leaves to a salad, and watch fat intake when making your grocery list.
“Switching to skim milk and other low-fat dairy products helps moms-to-be plan healthy meals for her and her family,” Brandeis adds.
CALMING THE CRAVINGS
Yearnings for a double beef burrito or a pan of warm, gooey brownies tend to push thoughts of eating healthy out of an expectant mother’s mind. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to give up desserts or eliminate your favorite junk foods. Feed the cravings in a healthy fashion and opt for low-fat ice cream, baked goods made with low-fat substitutes and baked chips instead of ones fried in fatty oils.
WATCHING WHAT YOU DRINK
In addition to watching what you eat, make sure to remain properly hydrated and aware of the nutritional value of what you drink.
“Pay attention to the amount of sugars and empty calories that are in many drinks,” cautions Diekman.
Choose beverages that offer the benefits of calcium and folic acid to quench your thirst.
“It is also important that expectant mothers reduce or restrict their caffeine intake,” Diekman adds.
While it’s important to eat healthily during pregnancy, don’t deprive yourself of goodies now and then.
“I made the best milkshakes when I was expecting,” says Kay Jones of Franklin. “I’d add fruit and vanilla then put my feet up after a nice walk — I loved it!”
Understanding what you and your baby’s nutritional needs are, and how you can satisfy your taste buds and caloric needs nutritiously will ensure you enjoy what you eat when you’re expecting.
Consider these helpful books for more on eathing healthy while you're expecting:
The Whole 9 Months: A Week-By-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide with Recipes for a Healthy Start
By Jennifer Lang, M.D. and Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D.
Sonomo Press; 2016
Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition
By Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE
What to Eat When You're Pregnant: A Week-by-Week Guide to Support Your Health and Your Baby's Development
By Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D.
Ten Speed Press; 2015
Bun Appétit: A Simple Guide to Eating Right During Pregnancy
By Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD
Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook: Over 125 Delicious Recipes to Satisfy You, Nourish Baby, and Combat Common Pregnancy Discomforts
By Stephanie Clarke, RD, and Willow Jarosh, RD
Atria Books; 2016
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.