What to Eat When You're Pregnant: Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy

Megan Dahlman
February 22, 2016

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What to Eat When You're Pregnant

This week I'm doing a big shout out to all the pregnant moms and moms of tiny ones. I want to arm you with you all the information you need to know to be strong and healthy during your pregnancy and into the year after. If you haven't read yesterday's post yet, Enjoying Your Baby Body, make sure you go back and read it. It sets you up for having a good perspective about your body during this time of your life...which is wild, to say the least! 

Today is for all you pregnant mommas. If you're not pregnant, please share this with someone who is. This is incredibly helpful. I wish I had a concise and handy guide like this when I was pregnant. 

Eating healthy while you’re pregnant should begin with a foundation of nutritious eating all the time, not just when you’re pregnant. However, when a baby is growing inside of you, it can certainly motivate you to step up your game in the food department. I know plenty of women that don’t make very good food choices on a regular basis, but as soon as they become pregnant they become very concerned with what they eat.

This is great, of course, but you may need to examine your normal eating habits. Hopefully during pregnancy you can channel that desire to eat better and carry through with it long after baby is born. Eat good food all the time, not just for your baby, but also for yourself, momma.

Whether you’re pregnant right now or not, these eating habits should make up the foundation of your nutritional choices on a daily basis:

  • Eat at regular intervals throughout the day, averaging about four planned meals daily
  • Eat lean protein with every meal
  • Eat produce, preferably vegetables, with every meal
  • Eat healthy fats with most meals
  • Eat starchier carbohydrates (whole grains) based on your body type
  • Drink mostly water and avoid beverages that contain calories
  • Eat real, whole foods and avoid packaged and processed foods

Read more in detail about these Healthy Eating Habits here.

These healthy eating habits should dictate how you eat during pregnancy as well.
But of course, you’re not reading this to learn how to eat healthy in general. You want to know exactly what you should eat when you’re pregnant.

Based on these basic healthy eating habits, let’s get specific and breakdown how/what you should (and should not) eat when you’re growing a baby.

Eat more frequently. You need a few more calories when you’re pregnant, and the best way to do this is to eat more frequently. Instead, many women eat much larger portions knowing that their body needs more energy. But this is a bad idea and can lead to too much weight gain. Eat a good portioned meal but at more regular intervals. This may mean that you eat breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and a late evening snack. Wow, that's a lot of meals! But, I'm serious here.

The benefits of eating more frequently are at least two-fold: eating helps with nausea, so you can stay ahead of it with all these little meals. Also, you will ensure that your body receives enough nutrients and adequate energy to keep you and your baby healthy.

Eat more protein. Protein is crucial for baby development. To get adequate protein, just make sure you eat some form of protein with the many meals that you’re eating. Good protein choices are chicken, lean cuts of beef, turkey, cooked eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, fish and protein powder. If you do choose to use a protein powder (like in a daily smoothie), double check to make sure it isn’t artificially sweetened.

Eat more vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens. You and your baby need an extra dose of certain vitamins and minerals, and the best way to get them is through your food. Vegetables are loaded with these nutrients, especially the dark green vegetables. Get in the habit of having a spinach or kale salad every day or including a large handful of these greens into your smoothies. My signature scramble is a perfect breakfast loaded with nutrients.

Don’t just stop at the greens. Eat a variety of produce—peppers, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, onions, squash, beans, asparagus and various types of fruit. Remember, you need produce, preferably vegetables, with every single meal.

Eat plenty of healthy fats. In particular, pregnant women should get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are especially beneficial for both mom and baby. Fish is a good source of omega-3’s, but pregnant women should not eat more than 6 ounces of fish per week, and completely avoid the big fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Chia seeds, flax meal, walnuts, canola oil, hemp, small fish, algae, green leafy veggies (there they are again!), and seaweed are all good sources of omega-3’s.

I also recommend supplementing with fish oil. Find a fish oil capsule that is high in EPA and DHA, but does not come from the liver of this fish, such as cod liver oil. You can take about 4,000-6,000mg daily.

Eat whole grains. For a woman that is not pregnant, grains should be consumed based on your body type and goals. Read more about that here. But for pregnant women, whole grains provide a good source of nutrients (and usually do a good job at taking care of nausea). Grains should always take a backseat to protein, vegetable and fats, but go ahead and have a couple servings daily. Good options are quinoa, brown rice, oats, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, barley, and corn.

Most women, pregnant or not, overdo it in the grain department. These should not be the staple of your diet, but when you do eat grains make sure they’re whole and not refined. If you greatly suffer from morning sickness (who are we kidding…all day sickness!), crackers help a lot. Try to find a cracker that is made from whole grains and has some seeds on it, too. That way you’re also getting some good nutrients from the cracker.

Drink lots of water. One of the best ways to know if you’re well hydrated is if your urine is a light yellow color or nearly clear. If you’re not pregnant, being well hydrated like this usually equates to consuming half your body weight in ounces of water daily. During pregnancy, you may need a little extra water.

Avoid drinks that have calories like milk, juice, and flavored coffee and tea beverages. The calories in these drinks come solely from sugar, and you just don’t need that.

Take a prenatal vitamin. This is a given, but just make sure you are taking a good prenatal vitamin daily. It will cover any holes that you may have in your nutrition.

Be cautious with your cravings. Many pregnant women use pregnancy as an excuse to eat whatever they want, indulging every food craving that comes their way. Food cravings during pregnancy are certainly legitimate at times (your body asking for certain nutrients), but I doubt you need Oreos and ice cream.

In the long run, it’s not going to harm anything if you indulge these cravings every once in a while, but use some self-control and don’t let yourself do this daily. By giving in to unhealthy cravings on a regular basis, you will probably find yourself having gained far too much “baby weight”, which ends up being really difficult to lose later.

Every time I was pregnant I would crave citrus foods like crazy, and I know several other moms who felt the same way. Go ahead and indulge this kind of craving. Eating oranges all day long and drinking lemon water is not hurting anything. This citrus smoothie is perfect for a citrus craving! 

Dealing with nausea. Sometimes morning sickness is incapacitating. My sister dealt with nausea so badly that she required a prescription medication to make it through the day. I have another friend that is still vomiting at 33 weeks pregnant. This is just one of the horrible side effects of pregnancy, and you can blame all the hormonal changes for this nasty thing.

There are some home remedies that you can try that might help. But if you are like my sister and can’t keep anything down, making you worried that you’re even getting adequate nutrition, then definitely talk to your doctor about an anti-nausea medication.

If it's not too serious, you can try supplementing with vitamins, particularly B6. Ginger can be helpful, too. Try it in tea, on your food or as a small candy to suck on. Eating frequently throughout the day and eating starchy carbs like bread or crackers, as I already mentioned, helps a lot.

The don’t-eat list. Please do not freak out about this list. Of course these foods are more dangerous for a growing baby, but if you accidentally have a little bit here and there it’s not going harm your baby. Just do your best to avoid these things.

  • Alcohol—totally avoid
  • Tobacco—totally avoid
  • Caffeine (no more than 300mg/day…about one cup of coffee)
  • Cured/deli meats
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw seafood
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • More than 6 ounces of fish per week—totally avoid the big fish like swordfish, shark, etc.


Both you and your growing baby will greatly benefit from eating like this. You will provide your baby with enough nutrients to grow healthy and strong, while avoiding unnecessary additional weight gain.

If you’re pregnant and this is all new to you, commit to changing your habits now. Take advantage of being motivated by your pregnancy to establish new eating choices that you can carry with you into the post-natal period and beyond. 

Tomorrow we'll be learning all about good nutrition for the breastfeeding mom. This is a popular topic as well, so make sure you check back in!

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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