Figuring out what to eat during pregnancy can be confusing and overwhelming. You're steering clear of sushi, alcohol and other foods on the "Foods to Avoid" list. You're adding a prenatal and any other foods your healthcare providers have asked you to emphasize. And you're trying to figure out what "eating for two" really means and how to manage an increased appetite. Even as a nutritionist with a passion for prenatal nutrition, I felt overwhelmed during my first pregnancy!
But now on my second pregnancy, I have developed a go-to formula for building a healthy pregnancy bowl. It is a reliable method to ensure I am getting all the nutrients baby and I need, satisfy my appetite, and provide energy to keep up with my toddler!
Approaching the Extra Calories
The way I eat while pregnant is pretty similar to the way I eat when I am not pregnant. I focus on nutrient-dense whole foods that are organic, pasture-raised or responsibly-caught. I follow my body's cues and appetite and I do not count calories or macros, though I am mindful of proportions. I leave food on my plate when full, and I go get seconds if I need them.
The majority of the additional food I add to my bowls during pregnancy is extra protein and fat. After the carb-free-for-all that is the first trimester, my cravings tend towards these macronutrients instead. A woman's body during pregnancy is naturally more insulin-resistant, and babies are built primarily from protein and fat, so I don't worry about this and just eat what my body is leaning towards!
I also tend to start eating smaller meals towards the end of pregnancy. There just isn't a lot of room for food! My meals get smaller and my snacks get bigger. It all evens out!
So here is my method for building a healthy pregnancy meal:
If you google the standard recommended daily protein intake, you'll likely find the formula of 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight. For a woman weighing about 130lbs, this would equal 47 grams per day. However, research suggests we need more - we are building an entire human after all! I tend to have more energy when I eat closer to 75-100 grams a day. But like I said, I don't count macros and I am only aware of this from tracking to report to my midwife.
For every bowl, I include a moderate serving of eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, lentils or chickpeas. This may look like 2 eggs and a slice of bacon, 3 lamb meatballs, 4oz of chicken, 4-5 sardines, or 3/4 cup of lentils. To add extra protein, I add a sprinkle of hemp seeds or a dressing made with tahini (ground sesame seeds). Nuts are also a great source of additional protein. I am allergic to tree nuts, but if you're not, add them!
Vegetables and Greens
After picking my protein, I add a handful of greens (like spinach, arugula or kale) and a cooked vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.). I try to vary it up with the seasons to make sure I get a diverse range of nutrients, but if I am craving the same thing week after week, I just go with it.
BONUS: Vegetables include a lot of fiber to help relieve constipation (a frequent pregnancy complaint).
Avocado (or other fat)
I am a huge fan of avocados during pregnancy. They have fiber and healthy fat to build babies and keep my stretching skin healthy. They also have calories that help me feel full and energized for the day. If I don't have any avocados, or even in addition to adding them, I will add a dressing with tahini or olive oil for extra fat. I also cook or sauté my vegetables in avocado oil or coconut oil. Babies, especially their brains, need fat to develop! I certainly don't limit my fat intake during pregnancy and eat to satisfy my cravings.
Next, I add a nutrient-dense carbohydrate. Like my first pregnancy, my second and third trimesters will span autumn and winter so I am enjoying all types of sweet potatoes (orange, white and purple) and squash (butternut, acorn, delicata and kabocha). I also love cooking sprouted brown rice in a mix of coconut milk and bone broth for extra nutrients and delicious flavor. And unlike Ellington, this baby is all about fruit!
Pregnancy demands so many nutrients both to fuel the baby but also to fuel your body and keep your nutrient reserves full. So if I have time, I try to add any extras I can to a bowl. Sauerkraut or other fermented foods help keep my gut and body bacteria in balance (also critical to baby's gut flora). A dressing with olive oil, tahini, turmeric or other herbs adds micronutrients. A small handful of cilantro or parsley adds even more.
And then it is time to eat!
P.S. If you are interested in seeing more of my pregnancy meals, follow me on Instagram @gheeful.