Yay, you’re pregnant! So that means you’re eating for two, right? And bring on the ice cream, pickles, and anything you might have a craving for. (That’s how this whole thing works, after all, isn’t it?) It’s actually…not. Sure, pregnancy – especially the first trimester – is really a time to listen to your body and perhaps give in to some indulgences from time to time, preparing healthy pregnancy meals is an important way to help you and your baby thrive during this time.
By Anna Keller, curiouser & curiouser
So what exactly are foods to eat during pregnancy that will leave you and your developing baby the healthiest? There are a few key nutrients to prioritize for a healthy pregnancy diet, and you can get those nutrients through a variety of foods. A healthy pregnancy diet is one that consists of lots of colors (think produce galore), which as a result provides many different kinds of nutrients for your growing baby. Healthy grains, complex carbohydrates, and protein are also key diet staples. We’ll dig into examples of what those can look like to help you feel confident about eating healthy pregnancy meals!
Three other pregnancy diet tips to keep in mind (and by “diet” we mean foods to eat during pregnancy – not restricting in any way like a traditional diet, as this is not the time for that) are:
1) Be diligent about taking a good prenatal vitamin each day to ensure your body and growing baby get many key nutrients to support health and growth. To work as a strong complement to healthy pregnancy meals, look for a prenatal that includes nutrients such as folic acid or folate, iron, vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins.
2) During your first trimester in particular, you’re very likely to experience food aversions or to gravitate toward more “simple” foods than you’re used to. For example, you may be wanting things like white rice and mashed potatoes, while feeling a bit queasy at the thought of preparing raw chicken. Most of the time, these aversions lift after the first trimester, so during those early weeks do your best to squeeze in healthy pregnancy meals where you can, but also cut yourself some slack. Keep taking your prenatal, which is a great way to fill in some healthy pregnancy diet gaps that might be present at this stage.
3) Keep in mind that the “eating for two” phrase our culture is so familiar with doesn’t really pan out. Your body needs around 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy, so be careful not to overdo it and add too many calories to your diet – even if they’re healthy – to keep you feeling your best.
Let’s dig into some great foods to eat during pregnancy to maintain a healthy pregnancy diet:
This family of foods are a wonderful source of plant-based fiber, protein, iron, folate, and calcium. Examples of legumes are lentils, peas, chickpeas, and soybeans, and these versatile foods can be enjoyed in soups, made into a hummus dip, used as salad toppings, and become a delicious element in countless healthy pregnancy meals.
Easy hummus recipe:
Add the juice from one lemon and ¼ cup tahini to a food processor and blend well. Add one garlic clove, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon cumin, and a pinch of salt and blend again. Then add a 15-ounce can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed). Add more water as needed for the perfect consistency, and salt to taste. Serve with raw veggies for an easy and healthy snack!
If you tolerate eggs well, they really pack a punch as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. In particular, eggs contain choline, which is a vital pregnancy nutrient that helps with fetal brain and spine development.
Easy egg scramble:
Heat a skillet over medium heat, and then add the veggies of your choice. Things like broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers are especially tasty for this dish! Sauté for about five minutes, and then add spinach and cook until wilted (about two minutes). In a separate bowl, whisk together two eggs along with salt and pepper. Add egg mixture into the skillet with the veggies and cook until eggs are done, stirring frequently. You can top with cheese and/or hot sauce!
Dark, leafy greens
These veggies bring essential nutrients like vitamins C, K, and A and calcium, iron, folate, and potassium to the table (literally!), and can be incorporated into a healthy pregnancy diet through salads, smoothies, added into other cooked dishes (like throwing kale into a stir fry, for example), and more. Great examples of dark, leafy greens include kale, spinach, and turnip greens.
If dairy is part of your diet and your body responds well to it, it’s a good part of a healthy pregnancy diet. In particular, dairy products like probiotic-rich yogurt are a great source of calcium while also helping to strengthen your gut health.
Easy yogurt bowl breakfast:
Top Greek yogurt with a bit of granola, some berries, a spoonful of nut butter, and a Tablespoon or so of hemp hearts. You can also add a drizzle of honey for a bit more sweetness!
Bring on the fiber and vitamins when you choose whole grains (versus things like white bread, pasta, and rice) as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. This is a broad category, including oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and brown rice.
Tip: Try using quinoa or brown rice as a base for a flavorful stir fry, or incorporating those ingredients into a tasty vegetable soup!
Nuts and nut butters
These contain heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and fat is critical for your baby’s brain development. The thing to keep in mind with these foods, though, is to not to overboard with serving size. It’s recommended to keep nut/nut butter consumption in check to avoid bringing too much fat into your healthy pregnancy diet. (One ounce of nuts and two Tablespoons of nut butter is a good rule of thumb.)
Snack Tip: Enjoy nut butter along with apple slices for the perfectly balanced (not to mention delicious and easy) snack.
Whether you eat meat or not, protein is always a key element of our diets – and that certainly remains true during pregnancy. Protein assists with fetal tissue growth, and it helps to support your increasing blood supply during pregnancy. Protein-rich foods to eat during pregnancy include high-quality meats like chicken, lean beef, and fish, or plant-based options such as tofu or tempeh.
Not only are these tubers tasty, they also provide your body with tons of vitamin A and fiber – helpful all the time, and especially helpful as part of a healthy pregnancy diet! Sweet potatoes are also incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of delicious ways.
Tip: Roasted sweet potatoes are amazing when served warm with a spoonful of almond butter. It sounds strange, but give it a try and you’ll see how magical this combo is!
As with most things pregnancy related, when it comes to pregnancy diet tips for you individually it’s a great idea to chat with your provider. They can answer any specific questions you have, including addressing dietary restrictions or preferences you might have and how to work around those to create a variety of healthy pregnancy meals.
Prioritizing healthy pregnancy meals and foods will not only ensure your growing baby is getting essential nutrients to support their development, it will also help you keep weight gain in check and make it more likely that you’ll feel strong and healthy during your pregnancy (and afterward as well). Don’t sweat it if every meal isn’t perfect – perfection isn’t what we’re going for here, after all – but instead do your best to choose healthy foods to eat during pregnancy as often as you can. (But yes – there’s definitely room for a sweet treat or fries every now and then!)
Creator of Curiouser and Curiouser, Anna Keller blogs about parenting, pregnancy, health & wellness, fashion, and more. Her compelling content can be read by those who love brands such as Beyond Yoga and the blog Triad Moms on Main.
Anna’s priority in all that she does – whether it’s with her family and friends, through her writing, during her work as a Pure Barre teacher, or as a Beautycounter consultant – is connection. After all, from connection comes understanding, purpose, and joy.