Whether you consider yourself a foodie or not, adventures in eating often go into overdrive as soon as that pregnancy test comes back positive — and sometimes before! Between all the wild cravings, quirky aversions, and new-found considerations about budgeting with a growing family, you may have noticed that healthy nutrition has become one of the hottest topics in your pregnancy journey.
After all, no one is more committed to your child’s health than you are — and you may find that everyone around you has their own opinions about how to support your best nutrition. But when time, money, cravings, and aversions are all competing for your attention, it can feel overwhelming to make healthy choices — and you can fall into the temptation of eating the quickest, cheapest thing that won’t upset your stomach, regardless of its nutritional value.
Here are a few tips to simplify the sometimes complex maze of healthy nutrition in pregnancy (and afterwards):
Keep It Simple
For many Moms and Moms-to-Be, making a delicious, multi-course meal every night to provide the best nutrition for herself and her family sounds ideal — and that’s exactly what it is: an ideal. It’s a vision of how things ought to be, an unrealistic expectation filtered through Instagram and Facebook that often leaves moms overwhelmed and feeling like they’re failing.
Mothering is not at all about adhering to impossible standards — it’s about doing the best you can with the tools you have. When reality kicks into high gear and those idealized ambitions fade fast in the midst of all the other priorities you’re juggling — jobs, appointments, older siblings, sleep — let them fade. Vow to keep it simple.
Start with a base meal that you know you love, like a chicken salad sandwich; and then make an addition or two that boosts the nutritional value, like whole grain bread or avocado slices. Create a shortlist of three fast food restaurants that you know have wholesome options like salads and lettuce wraps. That way, when you’re on the go and get hit by a craving, you have options already in place. Planning ahead is the best way to avoid making unhealthy choices.
Keep It Fresh
With a reduced stomach capacity and often a lack of interest in eating due to heartburn or overall midsection discomfort, every last bite counts. Focus your grocery list and eating-out choices on whole real foods that pack the most power to their punch.
Remind yourself to “eat the rainbow” — a general guideline to include colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet, such as strawberries, oranges, yellow bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and blueberries. Blend them up in a smoothie or pile them onto a salad. Frozen fruits and vegetables carry the same nutritional value as fresh, and they keep longer and are often cheaper options, which makes it easy to fit them into the budget.
Another great guiding principle for making healthy shopping choices is to “shop the perimeter,” because this is where most of the healthier, low-calorie options are found: vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy, whole grains, and others. Staying out of the aisles helps avoid food items that come in boxes or cans — foods that often pack in a lot of preservatives and unhealthy calories.
Keep It Coming
Thanks to an ever-shrinking stomach capacity and the need to keep blood sugars stable in pregnancy, it’s recommended that pregnant women eat six small mini-meals throughout the day rather than three large meals. Again, planning ahead is key to preventing the quick (and usually unhealthy) go-to when a craving hits.
Before the week starts, prepare a few easy-to-grab, nutrient-packed items for the fridge such as hummus and carrots, turkey with brown rice, or egg salad, that you can quickly pack away in your bag for when you’re out and about. Individual, pre-packaged healthy snacks like nuts or cheese sticks are a great way to save time, and can also help prevent overeating. Having a few standbys at-the-ready can make all the difference in making excellent choices when you’re in a time crunch.
Through all of this, make sure to stay hydrated: sometimes, food cravings are actually just our bodies crying out for water.
Healthy eating while you’re pregnant and taking care of a family can feel like an unattainable goal, only available to Instagram moms with seemingly endless time, energy, and money. Don’t get caught up in the ideal: your job is to feed your family, and you can do that well with the means you have available. You don’t have to get all of your produce from a farmer’s market or create a picture-perfect meal — you just have to do your best for yourself and the little person growing inside of you.