Eating for the Future

The nutrition you get while you're pregnant could set the scene for your child's health as she grows.


I’ve always been happy and generally satisfied, if not occasionally ecstatic, about life. However, in looking back from my vantage point as a well-seasoned parent of two children, I now realize that I didn’t have a clue about how good life could be until I had kids. For one thing, kids bring out a side of you that you probably never even knew was there — your mother-bear side, which makes you capable of superwoman-caliber love and protectiveness. Even before your baby has a face or a name (or even a recognizable gender, for that matter), you want the very best for that little tyke. One of the most important things you can give her is a healthy start by eating high-quality foods while you’re pregnant.

For the next nine months (and longer if you breastfeed), your baby is totally dependent on you for all the nutrients she needs, including essential ones like water, protein, calcium and folic acid. Those nutrients come either from your current diet or from stores you stockpiled prior to pregnancy.

Recent research shows that the developing baby is much more sensitive to the mother’s nutritional status than previously thought, and some health consequences don’t show up until much later in her life. Poor intake of one or more essential nutrients during critical periods in an organ’s growth can alter the structure, size or function of that organ.

“There are very good data to show that fetal growth affects adult disease risks,” says Irvin Emanuel, M.D., professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Researchers suspect that inadequate nutrition during fetal development increases an individual’s risk later in life for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, reduced intellectual ability, impaired immunity and even obesity. If, for example, you aren’t receiving proper nutrition when your baby’s pancreas is forming and its size, structure or function is affected, she could be at a greater risk for diabetes as an adult.

Research also has shown that mothers who were underweight at birth are more apt to bear low-birth-weight babies themselves. Even the growth status of our grandmothers has affected our health by influencing our mothers’ development in the womb. “The changes are subtle, but they accumulate over generations,” says Emanuel.

The responsibility is great but not daunting; just use a little nutritional common sense. “Quality is key when choosing foods during pregnancy,” says Maureen Murtaugh, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago. “If women focus on a variety of minimally processed, wholesome foods following the Food Guide Pyramid, they can rest assured they’re providing their babies with everything needed for healthy growth and development.”

Every bite counts

It takes about 55,000 extra calories to make a baby. That might seem like a lot, but it’s only 300 extra calories a day (the equivalent of a glass of low-fat milk, a slice of bread and an apple), and that’s only in the last two trimesters. Your calorie needs don’t budge in the first trimester, when your baby grows no longer than a string bean. However, to support yourself and your growing baby, vitamin and mineral needs skyrocket. You need more than twice as much vitamin A, folic acid and iron; and up to 50 percent more vitamin B1 and calcium. That means more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low- or nonfat milk — and, unfortunately, little room for extra chocolate cake.

Pregnant women need to get aggressive when it comes to meeting those needs. According to a study from the University of Maine in Orono, many fall short in their intake of several nutrients, including iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B6 and folic acid, especially in the first trimester, when their baby’s major organs are forming. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Continuing Surveys of Food Intakes by Individuals say that only one in every four pregnant women includes a folic acid-rich leafy vegetable in her daily menu, while pregnant women are as likely to drink coffee as orange juice, the best dietary source of vitamin C.

How do you maximize nutrients without adding unnecessary calories? We thought you might ask that.

The guidelines

Here’s what you need to eat every day to ensure optimal intake of all the building blocks your baby needs.

Whole Grains

Whole-wheat bread and crackers, whole-grain cereals, brown rice, barley and oatmeal

How Much: At least 6 servings (1 serving = 1 slice of bread; 1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice or cereal)


  • Fiber to keep you regular
  • Carbohydrates to fuel the daily cell divisions and metabolic processes that make a baby
  • B vitamins, which help convert calories into energy and contribute to normal growth and development
  • Magnesium, essential for building bones and regulating nerves
  • Trace minerals, such as copper, which help prevent birth defects, aid in the formation of connective tissue and are essential for the development of a baby’s circulatory, skeletal and nervous systems
  • Folic acid (in fortified grains), the B vitamin that has been found to prevent neural-tube defects in the early stages of pregnancy and preterm deliveries in the last trimester

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh, plain frozen, or canned vegetables; fresh or canned-in-its-own-juice fruit; orange, grapefruit, tomato or vegetable juice

How Much: At least 5, preferably 9, servings; at least 1 serving of vitamin C-rich citrus and 2 servings of folic acid-rich dark green leafy vegetables (1 serving = 1 piece, 1/2 cup cooked or canned, 1 cup raw, 6 ounces juice)


  • The antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and beta carotene, which protect you and your baby’s tissues against damage from highly reactive oxygen fragments called free radicals and also aid in cell division and formation of connective tissue, including skin and the linings in your baby’s body
  • Folic acid to protect against neural-tube defects

Milk and Milk Products

Low-fat or nonfat milk, low-fat yogurt, hard cheeses, cottage cheese or calcium- and vitamin-fortified soy milk

How Much: 3 servings (1 serving = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1 ounce cheese, 2 cups cottage cheese)


  • Calcium, which prevents lead mobilization from bone tissue, reducing lead absorption and toxic exposure elsewhere in the body
  • Calcium and vitamin D (milk only) to build strong bones
  • Vitamins B12 and B6 to aid in nerve development
  • Protein for the formation of enzymes, nerve chemicals and muscle tissue

Meats and Legumes

Cooked beans and peas, skinless chicken, tofu, fish, shellfish and lean red meats

How Much: 3 servings (1 serving = 8 ounces tofu, 1 cup beans, 3 ounces fish or meat)


  • Protein for the formation of various hormones, enzymes, nerve chemicals and muscle tissue
  • Vitamin B6, essential to the development of your baby’s nervous system and all tissues, as well as for protein metabolism
  • Vitamin B12 and iron for red blood cell formation (Please note: Beans and tofu are not good sources of these nutrients)


Fruit juices, green tea, water

How Much: At least 8 glasses


“Getting enough fluids is so important throughout pregnancy to provide for the expanding blood volume that carries oxygen and nutrients to both mother and the baby,” says Murtaugh.

Mix-and-match 5-day pregnancy menu plan>>>>

On the following two pages are five days of menus. Choose one item from each column, plus an additional choice from Column C at dinner. Choose four items from the Snack section for midmorning, midafternoon or after-dinner munchies. Recipes included, which can be found on page 112, are marked with an asterisk (*).

Columns A, B and C and the Snack section are designed for your first trimester; add a choice from Column D at lunch and

dinner during your second and third trimesters. Include eight or more glasses of water, and you’ll get all the nutrients you need (except for iron, so take a supplement). Of course, it won’t hurt to take a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement with folic acid.

Nutritional analysis for an average day (1st trimester): 2,220 calories, 21 percent fat (51 grams), 59 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, 45 grams fiber, 1,517 milligrams calcium, 18 milligrams iron, 550 micrograms folic acid.

Nutritional analysis for an average day (2nd and 3rd trimesters): 2,450 calories, 22 percent fat (58.7 grams), 60 percent carbohydrate, 18 percent protein, 49 grams fiber, 1,657 milligrams calcium, 20 milligrams iron, 605 micrograms folic acid.


breakfast column a=grain/entree b=calcium-rich choice c=fruit


Select one

1 cup oatmeal and 2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ, cooked in 1 cup nonfat milk (counts as 1 serving from Column B) and topped with 2 tablespoons raisins, 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts and 1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 whole-wheat English muffin, toasted and topped with 2 tablespoons peanut butter

1 cup shredded wheat topped with

1 tablespoon chopped almonds,

2 tablespoons dried cranberries and

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 whole-grain frozen waffles, toasted and topped with 2 tablespoons berry or maple syrup

2 small or 1 large bran muffin with 2 tablespoons cashew butter

2 slices low-fat French toast (made with nonfat milk)


Select one

10 ounces nonfat vanilla soy milk (fortified with calcium and vitamin B12)

1 cup nonfat milk

6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt

2 slices fat-free cheese singles

1 cup nonfat cottage cheese

3/4 cup hot cocoa made with nonfat milk


Select one

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup stewed prunes

11/4 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cantaloupe or honeydew melon, drizzled with lime juice

21/2 cups fresh strawberries

1 banana (optional: dust with cinnamon powder)

lunch column a=grain/entree b=calcium-rich choice c=fruit & vegetable d=2nd and 3rd trimesters only


Select one

Turkey sandwich: 2 ounces roasted white turkey meat, 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 2 tablespoons cranberry sauce, 1 lettuce leaf

Grilled vegetable sandwich: 2 slices eggplant and 1/3 sweet red pepper cut into slices, brushed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and grilled. Place on 2 slices French bread with 1 slice low-fat mozzarella cheese and 2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped. Drizzle vegetables and cheese with balsamic vinegar (1/4 teaspoon or less).

1 cup split pea soup and small piece of cornbread

Grilled chicken Caesar salad: 2 cups romaine lettuce topped with 1 medium tomato, chopped; 3 ounces grilled chicken breast; and 2 tablespoons low-calorie Caesar salad dressing. Serve with 1 whole-wheat roll.

1 whole-wheat pita bread, broken into chunks and dunked in 1/2 cup hummus (homemade or made without oil from package mix)

Beef and bean burrito: 1 10-inch flour tortilla filled with 2 ounces extra-lean cooked beef; 1/4 cup fat-free refried beans; 1 medium tomato, chopped; 2 tablespoons corn kernels; 2 tablespoons salsa


Select one

10 ounces nonfat vanilla soy milk (fortified with calcium and vitamin B12)

1 cup nonfat milk

6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt

2 slices fat-free cheese singles

1 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1 cup nonfat milk, warmed, flavored with vanilla and NutraSweet and sprinkled with a pinch of ground nutmeg


Select one

Carrot-apple salad: 3/4 cup grated carrots; 1/2 medium apple, chopped; 1 tablespoon raisins; 1 teaspoon lemon juice; 2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise; salt and pepper to taste

Spinach-pear salad: 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, 1/3 winter pear cut into thin slices, 1 teaspoon blue cheese, 1 tablespoon fat-free vinaigrette dressing

Raw veggie platter: 1 cup raw broccoli florets, 10 baby carrots, 1/4 cup sliced jicama and 3 raw mushrooms dipped in 3 tablespoons low-fat blue cheese salad dressing

Fruit salad: 1 kiwi, peeled and sliced; 1/2 can mandarin oranges, drained; 1/2 banana, sliced; 10 fresh raspberries; and 1/2 teaspoon candied ginger, crumbled

1 papaya, seeded and flavored with fresh lemon juice and garnished with a mint leaf

Three-bean salad: 1/4 cup cooked kidney beans, 1/4 cup cooked green beans, 1/4 cup cooked garbanzo beans, 2 tablespoons thinly sliced red onion, 2 tablespoons fat-free vinaigrette dressing, 1/2 teaspoon fresh dill, salt and pepper to taste


Select one

1 large orange, peeled and sectioned

3/4 cup frozen grapes

1 medium apple, cored and sprinkled with cinnamon

1 steamed artichoke with 2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise, seasoned with lemon juice and freshly ground pepper

2 small oatmeal-raisin cookies

1/2 cup fruit sorbet

dinner column a=entree & starch b=calcium-rich choice c=salad & vegetable d=2nd & 3rd trimesters only


Select one

Chicken-Apricot Curry With Rice*

Halibut With Grilled Corn and Tomato Salsa*

Black Bean and Couscous Salad*

Steak and potatoes: 3-ounce extra-lean grilled steak with a small baked potato and 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

Fettuccine with shrimp and vegetables:

1 cup cooked fettuccine topped with 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 chopped green onions and 5 jumbo shrimp sautéed in 1 teaspoon olive oil, mixed and heated with 2 tablespoons dry white wine, 3 tablespoons chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 cup cooked broccoli florets and 1/4 cup cooked carrot rounds

Tofu fajita: 1 10-inch flour tortilla filled with grilled: 3 ounces firm tofu cubes, 1/4 cup red onion slices, 1/4 cup sweet green or red pepper and 1/2 cup shredded cabbage, blended with 1 tablespoon fajita sauce


Select one

10 ounces nonfat vanilla soy milk

(fortified with calcium and vitamin B12)

1 cup nonfat milk

6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt

2 slices fat-free cheese singles

1 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1 cup nonfat milk, blended with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 ice cube


Select two

1 cup steamed spinach, sautéed with

1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Sweet potato fries: 1 sweet potato, sliced into 3/4-inch strips and baked on a cookie sheet at 400° F 30 minutes, or until crispy on the outside and cooked through

Sautéed asparagus: 2 cups fresh asparagus spears sautéed in 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons chicken broth, and garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Sauté 12–15 minutes; then top with thin lemon slices.

Tossed salad: 2 cups leaf lettuce; 1 medium tomato, chopped; 2 tablespoons cooked kidney beans; 1 tablespoon fat-free salad dressing

Corn and peppers: 1/2 cup corn and 1/3 cup diced sweet red peppers, steamed or sautéed in nonstick vegetable spray

Gingered carrots: 1 cup lightly steamed, sliced carrots tossed with 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger and 2 teaspoons orange marmalade


Select one

2 slices French bread

1 cup steamed brown rice

1 cup chocolate nonfat frozen yogurt topped with 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 slice angel food cake topped with 1 cup fresh or thawed raspberries (mash and mix with 1 teaspoon sugar)

2/3 cup homemade custard (made with

1 percent low-fat milk)

1 cup decaf cappuccino with 1 biscotti


Select four

1 mango

4 cups air-popped popcorn

1 tablespoon fat-free chocolate syrup drizzled over 2 cups fresh strawberries

2 graham crackers topped with 2 teaspoons peanut butter

11/2 cups frozen blueberries

Cranberry spritzer: Mix 8 ounces cranberry juice with 8 ounces sparkling water, ice cubes and a twist of lemon

1 large baked apple

1/4 cup dried fruit

1 slice cinnamon-raisin bread dunked in

4 tablespoons low-fat cinnamon-apple yogurt

1/2 cup pineapple chunks with 1/2 cup

low-fat cottage cheese