10 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Pregnancy Diet

Eating healthy for two doesn't mean you have to overhaul your habits. These mealtime tweaks can make a big difference.

prenatal diet upgrade

With a baby on the way, chances are your to-do list is plenty long: Get the nursery in order. Sign up for childbirth education classes. Speak with your benefits manager. It may seem like there aren't enough hours in the day, which can make the task of prepping and eating healthy meals and snacks seem overwhelming.

But hitting all your nutrition bases doesn't mean that you have to completely overhaul your current habits, says Sharon Richter, R.D., a dietitian based in New York City. A few simple changes can go a long way in adding more of those essential nutrients to your diet. (Looking for prenatal vitamins? Get New Chapter® Perfect Prenatal® vitamins at GNC Live Well.)

Read on to learn the little moves that can add up to big results.

1. Habit: Using iceberg lettuce for salads

Upgrade: Swap in spinach

Although iceberg lettuce is low in calories and contains vitamin A, you'll get a bigger nutrient punch from a dark leafy green, such as spinach. Spinach is packed with folate, an important vitamin for your baby's neural development: One cup of the veggie delivers more than 60 percent of your daily needs. It also contains a dose of iron, and pregnant women need twice as much of the mineral, or 27 milligrams (mg) each day. Not accustomed to the taste of spinach? Try baby spinach leaves, which have a milder flavor.

2. Habit: Seasoning food with salt

Upgrade: Reach for spices

If you watch Top Chef, you know that nothing makes a dish fall flat more than sparse seasoning. But excess sodium can lead to bloating, not to mention an increased risk of high blood pressure. And the majority of Americans are consuming too much of the salty stuff—3,600 mg a day, more than twice than the 1,500 mg limit recommended by the American Heart Association.

Instead of reaching for that shaker, try livening up your food with spices. According to research published in Nutrition Journal, dried spices are one of the top sources of disease-fighting antioxidants. So sprinkle some cumin on your sweet potato, rosemary on that chicken breast or thyme on those scrambled eggs—get creative!

Try it: Rosemary Lemon Chicken Strips

3. Habit: Adding a dollop of sour cream

Upgrade: Try nonfat yogurt

Plain yogurt has the same creaminess of sour cream, but it also provides calcium, a mineral important to your child's skeletal development. One cup of yogurt contains 488 mg of calcium—nearly half of the 1,000 mg needed daily by expectant mothers. So swap yogurt for sour cream: Add a dollop to that bowl of chili or tacos, or stir it into mashed potatoes. If you want to try using it in hot dishes, take the pot off the stove before stirring it in; heat can cause the yogurt to separate.

Try it: Chocolate Parsnip Chili

4. Habit: Dousing your pancakes with syrup

Upgrade: Top them with berries and honey

Instead of drowning that stack in pancake syrup, microwave frozen berries with a touch of honey, suggests Melinda Johnson, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and dietitian in Chandler, Arizona. You'll cut down on your sugar consumption, plus add fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C to your morning meal.

5. Habit: Snacking on chips and crackers

Upgrade: Dress up veggies

Craving a salty treat? Instead of reaching for chips or crackers, add an extra serving of produce in your day by munching on veggies. "Edamame is high in folate, fiber and protein, and it's a satisfying snack," says Richter. She recommends stashing a pack of frozen edamame at home or in the office.

You can also bake up a healthier version of the potato chip with kale, another folate-rich vegetable. Simply tear this dark leafy green into bite-size pieces, coat with olive oil and salt, and bake at 350ºF for 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Habit: Spreading mayo on your sandwich

Upgrade: Try avocado

Avocado adds creaminess to your sandwich—for a fraction of the artery-clogging saturated fat. In fact, this green fruit is packed with healthy monounsaturated fat, which is important for your baby's brain development. Plus, you'll also get a dose of fiber and potassium.

Try it: Vegetarian Monte Cristo

7. Habit: Dipping veggies in ranch dressing

Upgrade: Pair them with hummus

Crunching crudités with dip is one of the healthiest snacks around. But to bump up the nutrient factor, swap the ranch dip for hummus, suggests Johnson. Unlike that bottle dressing, this creamy chickpea-based spread contains protein and fiber, which will help keep you fuller for longer.

8. Habit: Dredging chicken breasts in breadcrumbs

Upgrade: Use crushed whole-grain cereal or oatmeal

Traditional breadcrumbs can contain extra sodium and fat. For a healthier spin, used crushed whole-grain cereal flakes. They have the same crunch, but fortified versions contain important prenatal vitamins, such as folate, iron and calcium. You can also use crushed cereal or rolled oats in place of breadcrumbs in meatloaf, meatballs and casseroles.

9. Habit: Serving crostini as an appetizer

Upgrade: Have asparagus wrapped in turkey bacon

Entertaining guests? Trade in those crostini for asparagus, and you'll do them—and your baby—a favor. "Asparagus is high in folate," says Richter. "And a low-sodium turkey bacon delivers protein."

10. Habit: Whipping up a smoothie with milk

Upgrade: Use kefir

Kefir, a fermented dairy drink with a pleasantly tangy flavor, is like a cross between yogurt and milk. "Add it to your smoothie instead of plain milk for a boost of good-for-you probiotics," says Johnson. According to a study published in the journal Epidemiology, moms who took a probiotic supplement during pregnancy were less likely to have children with eczema than those who didn't. Plus, kefir's creaminess and protein punch will make your smoothie extra-filling.

Read more: Quick and healthy smoothie recipes

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