What to eat during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time that’s often full of discovery for both mums and dads. Most would agree however, that some learnings are far more exciting than others. For example, understanding how a specific micronutrient may benefit your unborn child can be fascinating! Coming to the conclusion that some of your favourite foods like sushi, cold deli meats and soft cheeses are off the menu – not so much. In fact, navigating around what you should and shouldn’t be eating during pregnancy can be pretty hard. Fortunately, we’ve put some information together to help guide you through this important time – ensuring you are getting the right level of nutrients, from the right kinds of foods.
What should I be aiming to eat each day?
During pregnancy, there are a number of nutrients that you will need to eat more of. This includes protein, folic acid, iron, iodine and zinc, which all help to ensure optimal growth and development of your unborn baby. Learn more about your extra nutrition requirements.
These additional requirements are also reflected in the NZ Dietary Guidelines, where pregnant women are encouraged to consume at least:
- 4 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day
- 6 servings of wholegrain foods per day
- 3 servings of milk or milk products per day
- 2 servings of lean meat, egg, or lentils per day
Below are some examples of what a typical serving size looks like:
Lean Meats, Eggs or Legumes
½ cup freshly washed salad or cooked vegetables (e.g. broccoli, beans, cauliflower, carrot, eggplant, or courgette)
1 medium apple, pear or banana
2 wheat biscuits
1 glass of pasteurised milk or calcium-fortified milk alternative (250mL)
100-120g freshly cooked beef, fish, chicken or lamb
An easy rule to make sure you are meeting these requirements is to make sure that:
- One quarter of your plate contains a source of protein such as egg, cheese, milk, yoghurt, tofu or cooked meat
- One quarter of your plate contains wholegrain cereals such as brown rice, barley, oats or wholegrain toast
- The remaining half of your plate consists of freshly washed fruits and cooked vegetables – this is where you are likely to get the most bang for your buck in regards to vitamin and mineral density!
Using the above rule, you can whip up a number of delicious and nutritious meal ideas for all occasions. Read on for some ideas to keep you on the right track!
Touted as one of the most important meals of the day, a good nutritious breakfast can help to set you up for the morning. The good news is that the majority of breakfast foods are still perfectly safe to eat, including wholegrain breads and cereals, pasteurised milk and yoghurt, eggs, hard cheeses, nuts and seeds. The only watch out here is to make sure any egg you do eat is well cooked before consuming – that means no runny yolks! It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on how long your dairy products are open for. This is because Listeria – a type of bacteria that can harm your unborn baby – can grow on food even when stored in the fridge. It’s therefore recommended that pregnant women consume perishable dairy products within 2 days of opening.
Putting a healthy and safe breakfast together could be as easy as:
- Adding yoghurt, nuts and some fresh seasonal fruit onto your muesli or porridge
- Pairing well cooked eggs on toast with mushroom, tomato, spinach and avocado
- Bumping up with goodness of your morning smoothie by adding freshly washed spinach, yoghurt, frozen berries and chia seeds
- Whipping up a breakfast frittata, with plenty of pre-cooked vegetables and a sprinkle of cheese
If you are suffering from morning sickness, a simple marmite sandwich with cottage cheese may be the only thing you can keep down – and that’s ok too. Don’t worry too much if your palate becomes somewhat limited during the morning sickness phase, try snacking on some fresh vegetables or fruit at a later stage in the morning. Learn more about morning sickness .
Lunch & Snack Ideas
Finding safe and nutritious ideas for lunches and snacks can often be the hardest thing to find for those of you who are still busy at work and on the go! Planning meals ahead, along with safe storage and food preparation, are all going to help you succeed in eating healthy and safe food throughout your day.
An easy, and often healthy lunch option can consist of the left over’s from the night before. During pregnancy however, immunity is lower than normal and we are more susceptible to bugs and bacteria found in food. It’s therefore important to make sure your food is covered and stored in the fridge, consumed within 2 days of initial cooking, and thoroughly heated above 70°C before you sit down to eat. While it’s not practical to carry around a thermometer every time you want to reheat something, your food should be piping hot all the way through after heating, and only reheated on one occasion.
Other healthy and safe, yet simple lunch options include:
- A wholegrain sandwich with hard cheese, canned tuna, freshly washed tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise (just make sure you choose store bought mayonnaise to avoid any raw egg)
- A freshly made salad with nuts, seeds, cubes of hard cheese, lettuce and a bunch of your favourite vegetables (take care to wash any raw vegetables under the tap before eating)
- A hot, home-made vegetable soup with lentils and wholegrain toast
During the second and third trimester of your pregnancy, you may find you need to increase your total energy intake by a small amount. A good way to achieve this is to have healthy snacks on hand that will also help you reach your higher micronutrient and protein targets. Here are a few tasty ideas that will help you on your way:
- 2 slices (40g) tasty cheese with wholegrain crackers and tomato
- 150g pottle unsweetened yoghurt with your favourite fruit
- Carrot or celery sticks with cottage cheese or peanut butter
- One handful of mixed nuts
- 1 hardboiled egg
- 1 glass of milk with a banana and some cinnamon
- Home-made popcorn
During the second and third trimesters, aim to have one or two healthy snacks each day.
Making a safe and healthy dinner can be easy when you start to understand which foods can be eaten and under what circumstances others can’t. For example, while cold, pre-cooked meats and rice are off limits during pregnancy, they can be eaten safely, provided they are thoroughly cooked through, piping hot and reheated only once.
Like breakfast and lunch, a good, practice rule to remember is to aim to have a plate that contains one half vegetables, one quarter meat, legumes or dairy and one quarter grains (such as brown rice). While this could be as simple as cooking some chicken or fish, and pairing it with brown rice and your favourite vegetables, other examples could include:
- A home-made pie with some crusty bread on the side like this vege shepherd's pie.
- A wrap or pita with your favourite meat and vegetables like these lamb meatball pockets.
- Crumbed fish, teamed with a bunch of your favourite vegetables and couscous.
Eating safe and nutritious foods during pregnancy is absolutely achievable, without you needing to go overboard on dense and dry food that may have been cooked within an inch of its life! While there are some foods that are absolutely off limits during your pregnancy, with safe food handling, preparation and storage, meeting the majority of your nutrient requirements should be a breeze!
 Ministry for Primary Industries Food Safety in Pregnancy, Wellington: Ministry for Primary Industries, 2016.
 USDA Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Part D. Section 4: Protein. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-DGACReport.htm
 Ministry of Health Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breast feeding Women – A Background Paper, 2006
 Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health, 2005