Fuel for you, the best building blocks for baby: This five-day meal plan has it all.
Waiting expectantly for the birth of a child is a magical time for moms-to-be. But the days, weeks and months of pregnancy can be difficult when fatigue gets the better of you, especially if you have a demanding job or other children to care for. "How you eat has a profound impact on your energy level at all stages of pregnancy," says Houston-area nutrition consultant and American Dietetic Assocation spokeswoman Anne Dubner, R.D.
By following some simple eating strategies and our five-day meal plan, you can energize yourself throughout your pregnancy and give your baby the best nutritional start possible, especially during the critical first trimester. "Although your baby is light as a feather during the first trimester, she needs fabulous nutrition then," says Dubner.
It's important to get enough of all the essential vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, but certain ones — those that tend to be lacking in most women's diets and are so critical to pregnancy's outcome — stand out, says Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in State College. These nutrients include folic acid, vitamin B6, protein, zinc, vitamin D, calcium and iron.
Baby Building Blocks Getting enough folic acid very early in pregnancy has been heralded as one of the most important factors in preventing spina bifida and other spinal- column birth defects. Continuing a hearty intake of folic acid through your entire pregnancy is also key to preventing low birth weight and problems near the time of delivery. (See at left, below). Critical to cell formation in your baby, B6 shuttles protein to developing cells from the bloodstream.
Protein is a critical building block of baby's tissues, and zinc helps organize developing tissues properly and helps your baby gain a healthy amount of weight before birth.
You and baby share the same need for calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for strong bones. While calcium is the most important nutrient in predicting bone strength, you can't absorb it optimally without vitamin D, and neither can your baby.
Iron is exceptionally important. For starters, gestating babies need iron to grow normally, and your iron intake has a direct impact on your baby's red blood cells. It's also a building block of muscle cells. According to the International Life Sciences Institute, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., babies born to anemic mothers don't gain as much weight as babies of iron-replete women, and iron deficiency anemia also increases the chance of premature delivery.
Fatigue Fighters Iron is important for another reason, too. "When it comes to an expectant mom's energy level, iron plays a critical role," says Dubner. Women who are deficient in iron often have that washed-out-tired-all-the-time feeling. Experts recommend an iron supplement during pregnancy. To help the body use iron maximally, though, eat foods rich in other iron-building nutrients: B6, folic acid, B12 and riboflavin.
"Fueling your body throughout the day is also key to maximizing the energy available from food," says Kathleen Zelman, M.P.H., R.D., an Atlanta nutrition consultant and American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. To begin, approach each day as if you were going to run a race: by planning meals carefully. "Eating for the demands of your day, fueling baby's growth and carrying around the extra weight of your child-to-be requires good energy- giving fuel from the moment you step out of bed in the morning," says Dubner, who adds that everyone, pregnant or not, wakes up in the morning with an empty fuel tank.
Continuous Fuel To keep your energy high but level, eat plenty of short-, medium- and long-lasting energy foods, starting with breakfast. Depend on complex carbohydrates, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables for short-term fuel and some medium-range energy. "Because complex carbs take longer to digest than simpler ones, such as white bread and sugary foods, they stay with you a little longer, which means they energize you at a steadier rate," says Zelman.
While protein is indeed necessary for your baby's optimal growth, some of it is used by your body as long-lasting fuel. "Protein-rich foods give you energy three to five hours down the road, a little at a time," Dubner says. "That's why it's good to divide up your protein throughout the day and not save it all for dinner, which is how many people eat." Spread out good-quality protein foods — milk, eggs, yogurt, lean meats, dried peas and beans. You'll come to the day's end with your battery still charged.
Speaking of spreading out your food intake — that's a good idea when it comes to calories, too. "Just as you shouldn't eat all your protein at dinner, you should distribute your calories throughout the day," Zelman says. You'll also avoid that over-stuffed feeling that happens so quickly during pregnancy and can make you feel tired. Finally, drink lots of water. "Being just slightly dehydrated also makes you feel fatigued," says Dubner, "although most people won't recognize the problem as dehydration." As always, drink six to eight glasses of water a day.
Ginger Beef Stir-Fry Serves 2 This sweet and peppery stir-fry relies on ginger for flavor — which may be a big help in settling queasy stomachs. It's also loaded with colorful, nutrient-rich vegetables and brown rice for long-lasting energy.
1 tablespoon canola oil 3 teaspoons beef bouillon granules 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 pound very thinly sliced beef, such as sirloin tip 3 green onions, chopped 2 large stalks bok choy (about 1/2 pound), chopped coarsely, including leaves 1 medium yellow zucchini (about 1/2 pound), sliced thin 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into rings; halve each ring 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 cup water and 2 teaspoons cornstarch, blended into a paste 11/2 cups steamed brown rice
Combine oil, bouillon granules and black pepper in a large nonstick pan or wok; heat at high setting. Add beef and green onions; stir-fry 2–3 minutes, until beef is slightly browned. Add bok choy and zucchini; stir-fry 3–4 minutes. Add bell pepper and ginger; stir-fry an additional 2 minutes. Pour in cornstarch paste; stir until mixture thickens slightly and turns translucent. Serve over steamed rice.
Nutrition information per serving (3/4 cup brown rice and 1/2 of beef mixture): 449 calories, 30 percent fat (15 grams), 42 percent carbohydrate, 28 percent protein, 178 milligrams calcium, 7 grams fiber, 136 micrograms folic acid, 5 milligrams iron, 7.4 milligrams zinc.
Dinner Quiche Serves 4 This easy dish can be made the evening or morning before. I've substituted nutritionally powerful whole-grain bread for the typically nutrient-poor and fat-laden crust. It's great eaten cold for breakfast or the next day's lunch.
Vegetable oil spray 3 large whole-grain bagels (about 3 ounces each) 1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped 2 cups chopped broccoli (about 1 large stalk; slice stems into 1/2-inch slices) 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup) 3 eggs 2 cups nonfat milk 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
Coat a 9-by-9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Cut bagels into 1/2 inch cubes; place in baking dish. Add vegetables; toss with bread to mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and black pepper. Pour milk/egg mixture over bread/vegetable mixture. Using a large spoon, press bread/vegetable mixture down into milk/egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake quiche uncovered 1 hour. Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese evenly over the top. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese bubbles. Remove from oven and allow to stand 15 minutes before cutting. Nutrition information per serving (1/4 of recipe): 419 calories, 31 percent fat (14.5 grams), 47 percent carbohydrate, 22 percent protein, 424 milligrams calcium, 8.7 grams fiber, 126 micrograms folic acid, 3.5 milligrams iron, 3.6 milligrams zinc.
Chicken Pot Pie (Without the Pie) Serves 2 Love old-fashioned chicken pot pie, but hate the fatty crust and the work it takes? Try this easy, nutritionally power-packed and so-very-rich-tasting version. You'll make it again and again.
2 tablespoons canola oil 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks (quick tip: buy chicken cut for stir-fry) 3 tablespoons all-purpose white flour 5–6 small new, red potatoes (about 1/2 pound), scrubbed and quartered 2 large carrots, peeled andsliced thick 4 teaspoons reduced-sodium chicken bouillon granules 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 11/2 cup water 1 cup frozen green peas
Heat oil in a large nonstick pan over high heat. Add chicken and flour and stir to mix. Brown 2–3 minutes (add 1–2 tablespoons of water if more moisture is needed). Add potatoes, carrots, bouillon granules, garlic powder, black pepper and water. Mix well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add peas and simmer 5 more minutes, or until peas are warmed through. Nutrition information per serving (1/2 of recipe): 533 calories, 29 percent fat (17 grams), 45 percent carbohydrate, 26 percent protein, 70 milligrams calcium, 9.7 grams fiber, 76 micrograms folic acid, 4.7 milligrams iron, 2.3 milligrams zinc. Black Bean Lentil Soup Serves 6 This thick and rich version uses a little balsamic vinegar that adds a slightly tangy flavor and helps make the beans more digestible. Freeze the extra in individual-size portions for fast, easy lunches.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 small onion, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup) 1 cup raw black beans 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes 1 tablespoon regular or low-sodium beef bouillon granules 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 6 cups water 2–3 parsnips (1/2 pound), peeled, sliced thick 1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced thick 1 cup raw lentils Black pepper, to taste 2 teaspoons sugar 1 pound fresh spinach, chopped
Heat oil and onion in a large stockpot over medium-low for 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, bouillon granules, cumin, balsamic vinegar and 4 cups water. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add parsnips, carrots, lentils, black pepper, sugar and remaining 2 cups water. Cover and simmer 40 minutes. Stir in spinach; cover and let steam 5 minutes.Nutrition information per serving (2 cups): 407 calories, 13 percent fat (6 grams), 67 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, 214 milligrams calcium, 24 grams fiber, 484 micrograms folic acid, 9.1 milligrams iron, 3.5 milligrams zinc.
Pork and Sweet Potatoes in a Rich Pear Sauce Serves 2 This gourmet meal takes just minutes to prepare. The slightly sweet taste may help settle an upset stomach — as well as satisfy pregnancy-induced cravings. Another advantage: It's a whole meal in one, complete with fruit!
1 teaspoon canola oil 1/2 cup chopped red onion 1/2 pound very lean pork cut for stir-fry (such as sirloin) 1 teaspoon salt 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 12–14 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices 1 cup pear nectar 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 large red pear, quartered and seeded; cut each quarter in half
Heat oil and red onion over medium-high. Add pork chunks and salt; stir-fry 2–3 minutes, or until meat is slightly browned. Add sweet potatoes, pear nectar, black pepper and thyme; mix well. Cover and let simmer (mixture should bubble gently) 30 minutes. Gently fold in pear chunks. Simmer uncovered 15 minutes, or until liquid reduces by about half in volume thickens. Nutrition information per serving (1/2 of recipe): 497 calories, 16 percent fat (9 grams), 60 percent carbohydrate, 24 percent protein, 88 milligrams calcium, 8 grams fiber, 40 micrograms folic acid, 3.5 milligrams iron, 3 milligrams zinc.