smart start

{Good nutrition to help you make the most of your prenatal diet}

As a mom-to-be, you can make a powerful impression on your baby before she’s even born. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, medications and supplements not approved by your doctor can help you have the brightest, healthiest baby possible. So can your diet. Granted, eating perfectly isn’t guaranteed to produce a genius or an Olympic athlete, but healthful foods will provide your child with the raw materials to build a vigorous body and brain.

In fact, perhaps the most important role of a healthful prenatal diet (one that emphasizes seasonal, brightly colored fruits and vegetables) is to help nourish your child’s growing brain. Babies enter the world with all the neurons — the basic units of the brain and the entire nervous system — they will ever have. And just like the rest of your baby’s body, neurons need the proper nourishment. Here’s how to give baby what she needs to succeed.

fueling fetal growth

Pregnancy is demanding. “Even the perfect pre-pregnancy diet is no longer adequate once you conceive,” says Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. That makes choosing a nutrient-packed diet more important than ever.

It takes 80,000 calories to nourish the rapid growth of your baby’s brain and body for nine months. During the first three months, energy needs are negligible, since the baby is only the size of your index finger by the end of the first trimester. Growth begins in earnest around week 14. That’s when you’ll need 300 extra calories a day to meet the recommended weight-gain goal of 25–35 pounds. Moderately active women require about 2,900 calories daily; very active women may need more.

Skimping on calories to preserve your figure isn’t healthy for you or your baby. Inadequate weight gain increases the chance of a low-birth-weight baby (51/2 pounds or less). However, pregnancy is no license to overeat. Moms-to-be who gain too many pounds have been shown to have bigger babies, resulting in difficult deliveries.

Packing protein: 60 grams

Protein supplies the raw materials for the construction of cells, antibodies and the hormones and enzymes that support life. For all of protein’s importance, pregnancy boosts protein needs by a mere 10 grams a day, the amount found in 10 ounces of milk or 11/2 ounces of meat, poultry or seafood. Five ounces of meat, chicken or seafood daily, in addition to three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese, satisfies pregnancy protein requirements.

Fish for good fat

Fish contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a polyunsaturated fat that promotes brain growth and strengthens vision in your baby. “Brain and retina cells contain more DHA than nearly any other type of cell,” says William Connor, M.D., professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

Fattier fish like salmon, trout and bluefish are richest in DHA, but any seafood provides it. In the absence of a recommended dietary allowance for DHA, Connor suggests that pregnant women eat at least one fish meal a week.

B’s for brain power

Folate: 600 micrograms

Chances are, you have all the grains you need right on your kitchen shelves. Rice, grits, pasta, cereal, grain products and bread made with enriched flour are fortified with folic acid, which is also found in supplements. (Folic acid is the man-made form of the B vitamin folate.) Folic acid and folate, the umbrella term used to describe both types, can help head off neural-tube defects (NTDs) in babies — incomplete closure of the spinal column or the absence of part of the brain — which can occur within four weeks of conception. Folate also fosters cell production, wards off anemia and helps prevent premature delivery.

While pregnant, you need 600 micrograms of folic acid in your daily diet. Folic acid is the form of choice, because it’s absorbed at nearly twice the rate of folate. Nevertheless, folate counts, so it pays to include foods such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils and peanuts), green leafy vegetables and orange juice in your diet.

Vitamin B6: 1.9 milligrams; vitamin B12: 2.6 micrograms

Vitamin B6 is instrumental in the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that relay messages between neurons), proteins for new cells and antibodies that bolster baby’s immune system. According to Picciano, research links low vitamin B6 intake in pregnancy to low scores on the Apgar test, which hospitals use to determine responsiveness of newborns at one and five minutes after birth. Bananas, chicken, pork, tuna fish, whole-wheat bread and nuts supply vitamin B6.

Vitamin B12 — in addition to folate — helps the body produce red blood cells and also converts food calories into energy to help fuel your baby’s rapid growth. Naturally occurring vitamin B12 is unique to animal foods. Some of the richest sources include clams, salmon, tuna, yogurt and milk.

Choline: 450 milligrams

Choline is not well-known, but this B-like vitamin is beginning to gain ground with nutritionists. As a component of cell membranes and a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for enhanced mental processes, choline may actually make babies smarter.

“Giving pregnant rats supplemental choline produced offspring that learned better and had better memories for their entire lifetimes,” says Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of nutrition at the School of Public Health and Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “While the exact effects of choline on humans can’t be tested, there’s no reason to believe these animal findings can’t be translated to humans.”

Choline is concentrated in higher-fat foods such as meat, peanuts and eggs (two eggs provide all the choline you need for the day), and you’ll probably get enough by eating a wide variety of foods.

Zinc: 15 milligrams

Zinc is essential for cell growth and division, energy production and proper formation of your child’s nervous system. Animal foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, yogurt and milk, provide zinc. Oysters are by far the best source, but beans, almonds and wheat germ are also good.

Iron for energy: 30 milligrams

As part of the hemoglobin attached to red blood cells, iron ferries oxygen to a growing baby. Without iron, baby’s development falters, while risk of prematurity and low birth weight increases.

Pregnancy doubles a woman’s iron needs to 30 milligrams a day. Meat, poultry and seafood are richest in iron. While there’s little chance of meeting pregnancy iron needs without a supplement, don’t dismiss iron-rich foods.

Calcium counts: 1,000 milligrams

Soon after conception, your body’s calcium absorption steps up, which is why you don’t need extra calcium during pregnancy. You need 1,000 milligrams a day to protect your bones, since your growing baby takes the calcium she needs to construct her skeleton from your stockpiled stores.

Each serving of milk, yogurt and cheese contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. Strive for at least three servings a day. Examples include 8 ounces of milk or yogurt, 11/2 ounces of hard cheese and 2 cups of cottage cheese.

Look to fortified foods for calcium, too. Calcium-added orange juice supplies as much calcium as milk, and tofu processed with calcium sulfate contains 260 milligrams per 1/2 cup.

five days of SMART EATING

This five-day eating plan provides 100 percent of many nutrients vital to baby's growth and development. (Prenatal iron needs are difficult to satisfy with food; that's why iron supplements are often prescribed in the second and third trimesters.) Talk to your doctor about additional viatmin and mineral supplements. We've provided extra calories as add-ons for later in pregnancy, when calorie needs increase.

The asterisks (*) refer to recipes.

Day 1

Breakfast

1 cup high-fiber cereal

8 ounces skim milk

1 medium banana

1 small bran muffin topped with 1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon orange marmalade

Snack

4 graham cracker squares topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

4 ounces orange juice

Lunch

Roast beef pita: 3 ounces whole-wheat pita bread, 3 ounces lean roast beef, 1 teaspoon mustard, 2 romaine lettuce leaves, 1 tomato slice

8 ounces skim milk

1/4medium cantaloupe

Snack

4 cups low-fat microwave popcorn

Dinner

1 serving Warm Indian-Spiced Salmon Spinach Salad*

1 cup cooked orzo pasta

2 teaspoons butter

1 medium pear

Snack

2 fig bar cookies

8 ounces skim milk

{Second- and third-trimester additions}

2 tablespoons raisins in morning cereal

4 ounces orange juice at midmorning snack

1 fig bar for after dinner

Daily nutritional analysis First trimester: 2,375 calories, 25 percent fat (66 grams), 55 percent carbohydrate, 21 percent protein, 38 grams fiber, 32 milligrams iron, 1,419 milligrams calcium, 22 milligrams zinc, 4 milligrams vitamin B6, 12 micrograms vitamin B12, 714 micrograms folate.

Second and third trimesters: 2,641 calories, 24 percent fat (71 grams), 57 percent carbohydrate, 19 percent protein, 42 grams fiber, 39 milligrams iron, 1,460 milligrams calcium, 24 milligrams zinc, 4 milligrams vitamin B6, 13 micrograms vitamin B12, 835 micrograms folate.

Day 2

Breakfast

Egg and cheese sandwich: 1 whole-wheat English muffin, 1 ounce Swiss cheese, 1 egg fried in 1 teaspoon butter

8 ounces orange juice

Snack

1/4 cup mixed dried apples and apricots

Lunch

1 serving Tuscan Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup With Swiss Chard*

1 medium whole-wheat roll

8 ounces skim milk

1/2 cup pineapple chunks

Snack

8 ounces plain nonfat yogurt mixed with 1 teaspoon raspberry jam, 1/4 cup raspberries and 1/4 cup Grape-Nuts

Dinner

Chicken broccoli pasta: 11/2 cup cooked ziti or rotini tossed with 4 ounces cubed skinless, boneless chicken breast sautéed in 1 tablespoon canola oil, and 2 cups steamed, chopped broccoli topped with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

8 ounces skim milk

Snack

1 serving Pumpkin Gingerbread With Molasses Cream*

{Second- and third-trimester additions}

1/4 cup mixed dried apples and apricots at midmorning snack

1 teaspoon butter on roll at lunch

1/2 cup mandarin oranges at lunch

Daily nutritional analysis First trimester: 2,295 calories, 21 percent fat (53 grams), 58 percent carbohydrate, 21 percent protein, 29 grams fiber, 21 milligrams iron, 2,100 milligrams calcium, 13 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 6 micrograms vitamin B12, 712 micrograms folate.

Second and third trimesters: 2,440 calories, 23 percent fat (63 grams), 58 percent carbohydrate, 19 percent protein, 31 grams fiber, 22 milligrams iron, 2,200 milligrams calcium, 14 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 6 micrograms vitamin B12, 719 micrograms folate.

Day 3

Breakfast

Breakfast smoothie: Blend together 8 ounces skim milk, banana, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 sesame-seed bagel (2 ounces) with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

Snack

10 animal crackers

4 ounces skim milk

Lunch

Tuna sandwich: 2 ounces tuna packed in water, 1 tablespoon reduced-fat mayonnaise, 1/4 cup chopped celery

2 slices oatmeal bread

1 medium apple

10 baby carrots with herb dip made with 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt and fresh or dried herbs

8 ounces skim milk

Snack

1 ounce cashews

8 ounces cranberry juice (vitamin C added)

Dinner

1 serving Gingery Flank Steak Stir-Fry With Crunchy Vegetables*

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1/2 cup grapes

Snack

1/2 cup low-fat chocolate frozen yogurt topped with 1 tablespoon semisweet chocolate chips

{Second- and third-trimester additions}

4 ounces skim milk at midmorning snack

1/2 cup grapes at afternoon snack

2 teaspoons butter on rice at dinner

1/3 cup dried cranberries for after dinner

Daily nutritional analysis First trimester: 2,350 calories, 25 percent fat (66 grams), 56 percent carbohydrate, 19 percent protein, 20 grams fiber, 17 milligrams iron, 1,516 milligrams calcium, 17 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 8 micrograms vitamin B12, 643 micrograms folate.

Second and third trimesters: 2,685 calories, 25 percent fat (75 grams), 57 percent carbohydrate, 18 percent protein, 23 grams fiber, 18 milligrams iron, 1,700 milligrams calcium, 18 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 9 micrograms vitamin B12, 652 micrograms folate.

Day 4

Breakfast

2 whole-grain frozen waffles

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon butter

8 ounces skim milk

1 cup cubed cantaloupe

Snack

2 tablespoons raisins mixed with 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Lunch

1 serving Tuscan Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup With Swiss Chard*

2 ounces whole-wheat pita bread

1 ounce Havarti cheese

1 medium orange

8 ounces skim milk

Snack

2 tablespoons hummus

1 cup chopped raw red bell pepper

Dinner

1 serving Braised Raspberry-Cranberry Chicken Breasts*

1 cup cooked egg noodles

1 teaspoon butter

1 cup cooked carrots

8 ounces skim milk

Snack

1 serving Pumpkin Gingerbread With Molasses Cream*

{Second- and third-trimester additions}

1 granola bar at breakfast

2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips at midmorning snack

1 ounce Havarti cheese at lunch

2 teaspoons butter at dinner

Daily nutritional analysis First trimester: 2,316 calories, 23 percent fat (58 grams), 57 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, 38 grams fiber, 24 milligrams iron, 1,811 milligrams calcium, 13 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 5 micrograms vitamin B12, 581 micrograms folate.

Second and third trimesters: 2,758 calories, 29 percent fat (89 grams), 53 percent carbohydrate, 18 percent protein, 38 grams fiber, 25 milligrams iron, 2,069 milligrams calcium, 15 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 5 micrograms vitamin B12, 614 micrograms folate.

Day 5

Breakfast

1 cinnamon-raisin bagel (2 ounces) with 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 medium pear

8 ounces cranberry apricot juice

Snack

8 ounces nonfat vanilla yogurt mixed with 1 cup high-fiber cereal

Lunch

Chef’s salad: 2 cups romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1/4 cup grated carrots, 1/2 cup garbanzo beans, 1 hard-cooked egg, 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, 2 ounces tofu (baked garlic herb Italian-style) topped with 1 tablespoon reduced-fat vinaigrette

1 medium whole-grain roll

1 teaspoon butter

Snack

1 medium banana spread with 1 tablespoon cashew butter

Dinner

1 serving Double Cheese Grits Smothered With Vegetables Ragout*

8 ounces skim milk

1 cup cubed mixed fruit

Snack

2 medium chocolate chip cookies

8 ounces skim milk

{Second- and third-trimester additions}

1 ounce turkey and 1 tablespoon vinaigrette on lunch salad

4 ounces skim milk at afternoon snack

1 chocolate chip cookie for after dinner

Daily nutritional analysis First trimester: 2,396 calories, 25 percent fat (66 grams), 56 percent carbohydrate, 19 percent protein, 22 grams fiber, 17 milligrams iron, 1,868 milligrams calcium, 11 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 5 micrograms vitamin B12, 524 micrograms folate.

Second and third trimesters: 2,623 calories, 27 percent fat (79 grams), 53 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, 22 grams fiber, 18 milligrams iron, 2,030 milligrams calcium, 12 milligrams zinc, 3 milligrams vitamin B6, 5 micrograms vitamin B12, 533 micrograms folate.

Recipes

Tuscan Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Soup With Swiss Chard

Serves 6To make this soup vegetarian, substitute 21/2 teaspoons of olive oil or soy-based vegetable “bacon” bits for the bacon (heat oil before adding onion and herbs) and use vegetable instead of chicken broth.

3 slices bacon, diced

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

6 cups chicken broth

2 (151/2-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained

1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups Swiss chard, chopped

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon; cook for 2 minutes. Add onion, oregano and rosemary. Sauté for six minutes, or until onion is soft. Stir in broth, beans, squash and garlic; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in Swiss chard and cook for 10 minutes more, or until squash and greens are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Nutritional information per 1-cup serving: 210 calories, 15 percent fat (3.5 grams), 64 percent carbohydrate, 21 percent protein, 7 grams fiber, 4 milligrams iron, 123 milligrams calcium, 1 milligram zinc, .3 milligram B6, 4 micrograms B12, 107 micrograms folate.

Warm Indian-Spiced Salmon Spinach Salad

Serves 4Salad

4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 cups spinach leaves

2 cups purple cabbage, shredded

1 1/2 cups carrot, shredded

4 plum tomatoes, diced

Dressing

1/2 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat broiler. Place salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Rub each fillet with 1/4 teaspoon oil. Stir together brown sugar, curry powder and salt; rub over fillets. Broil fish until cooked through, about 12 minutes. Slide a spatula under each fillet to loosen fish from skin (skin will stick to foil). Toss spinach, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes in a bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a covered jar; shake to combine. Pour half of the dressing over salad; toss to mix. Arrange salad on 4 plates. Top each salad with a fillet and drizzle with remaining dressing.

Nutritional information per serving (21/2 cups salad, 1 salmon fillet, 3 tablespoons dressing): 336 calories, 35 percent fat (13 grams), 23 percent carbohydrate, 42 percent protein, 6 grams fiber, 5 milligrams iron, 203 milligrams calcium, 2 milligrams zinc, 1 milligram B6, 4 micrograms B12, 262 micrograms folate.

Double Cheese Grits Smothered With Vegetable Ragout

Serves 4

2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

2 cups eggplant, diced

1 cup onion, chopped

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chopped tomatoes seasoned with garlic, basil and oregano

1 cup vegetable broth

3 cups shredded kale, leaves only

3 cups water

Salt and black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup quick-cooking grits

1 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese

1/2 cup 50 percent reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms, eggplant and onion; sauté for 6 minutes, or until tender. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth and chopped kale and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Cover and keep warm. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly stir in grits until well-mixed. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, or until grits are creamy and thick. Add ricotta and Cheddar cheeses and stir until the Cheddar is melted and the grits are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon grits into 4 pasta bowls and top with a portion of the vegetable ragout.

Nutritional information per serving (1 cup grits with 1 cup vegetable ragout): 351 calories, 28 percent fat (11 grams), 48 percent carbohydrate, 24 percent protein, 4 grams fiber, 3 milligrams iron; 427 milligrams calcium, 1 milligram zinc, .3 milligram B6, microgram B12, 104 micrograms folate.

Braised Raspberry-Cranberry Chicken Breasts

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

4 (4-ounce) chicken breast halves, skinned and boned

Salt and black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup frozen raspberries

1/2 cup canned whole cranberry sauce

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion, thyme, a pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper; sauté for 2 minutes. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour and add to skillet. Sauté for 2 minutes on each side. Add chicken broth, raspberries and cranberry sauce to skillet. Stir until cranberry sauce slightly melts. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 10–12 minutes, or until chicken is tender and just cooked through. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Nutritional information per serving (1 chicken breast and 1 cup berry sauce): 318 calories, 20 percent fat (7 grams), 32 percent carbohydrate, 48 percent protein, 3 grams fiber, 2 milligrams iron, 41 milligrams calcium, 2 milligrams zinc, 1 milligram B6, .5 microgram B12, 22 micrograms folate.

Gingery Flank Steak Stir-Fry With Crunchy Vegetables

Serves 4

2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided

1 pound flank steak, cut into thin, bite-sized strips

1 tablespoon fresh peeled ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups bok choy, coarsely chopped

1 (15-ounce) can baby corn, drained

1 sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Place a wok over high heat. When hot, add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Add steak; cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. Place wok over high heat. Add remaining teaspoon sesame oil, ginger, garlic, bok choy, corn and red pepper; cook for 5 minutes. Add hoisin sauce, soy sauce and steak; cook for 1 minute, or until beef is cooked through and vegetables are crisp-tender.

Nutritional information per serving: 340 calories, 32 percent fat (12 grams), 31 percent carbohydrate, 37 percent protein, 4 grams fiber, 5 milligrams iron, 123 milligrams calcium, 8 milligrams zinc, 1 milligram B6, 4 micrograms B12, 144 micrograms folate.

Pumpkin Gingerbread With Molasses Cream

Serves 15

Nonstick cooking spray

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup lightly salted butter

1 cup plus 21/2 tablespoons molasses, divided

1 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin purée

1 whole egg

1 egg white

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup raisins

1 cup boiling water

2 cups nonfat sour cream (for optional molasses cream)

Preheat oven to 350? F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Beat sugar with butter for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of molasses, pumpkin purée, whole egg and egg white, and blend until thoroughly mixed. Sift together flours, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a medium bowl. Add to molasses mixture and blend until smooth. Add raisins and boiling water and blend until well-combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45–50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack. To make the optional cream frosting, stir together the sour cream with the remaining 21/2 tablespoons molasses. Cut the gingerbread into 15 squares and top with a dollop of molasses cream.

Nutritional information per 1 square of gingerbread and 2 tablespoons molasses cream: 268 calories, 13 percent fat (4 grams), 78 percent carbohydrate, 9 percent protein, 3 grams fiber, 6 grams iron, 238 milligrams calcium, .5 milligram zinc, .1 milligram B6, .2 microgram B12, 11 micrograms folate.

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