How to Beat Winter Weight Gain

Nutrition tips that'll keep your pregnancy weight gain on track--and your growing baby strong and healthy.

Pregnancy weight gain Getty Images: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Developing borderline gestational diabetes turned out to be a blessing for Beth Bader. Though she had to pass on her favorite Christmas gingerbread cookies and limit herself to a bite of cake at her baby shower, monitoring her blood sugar taught her a healthier, more satisfying way of pregnancy eating.

"I was amazed at just how much food I could eat when virtually all the foods were nutritious," says Bader, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and is co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love (Storey Publishing). "My lunchbox was the size of Herman Munster's and I was never left hungry, even in winter. Protecting my baby's health and having more energy became better treats than any comfort food."

Though the "eating for two" mentality has long prevailed, in reality pregnant women need no additional calories in the first trimester, only 300 or so more in the second and about 450 more in the third trimester.

"A lot of women think, 'I'm pregnant, so I've got free rein to eat whatever I want,' " says Tara Gidus, M.S., R.D., author of Pregnancy Cooking and Nutrition for Dummies (Wiley & Sons). "It's not true." The tendency to use food for comfort and reward when the days are short and the weather is dreary only adds to the problem of eating too much of the wrong things.

Instead, try these tips for nourishing yourself and your developing baby while controlling cravings and keeping your weight in check:

Think about what you really need "Sometimes, seeking out comfort foods means you're really trying to feed an unmet need," says Debi Silber, a mother of four in Long Island, N.Y. "When I was pregnant, I'd ask myself, 'What am I really hungry for?' Often the answer would be sleep, support or downtime. Once you feed the real need, the need for comfort food often disappears."

Make comfort foods healthier Throw peppers and spinach into your lasagna, a bag of mixed veggies (frozen ones are as nutritious as fresh) into a chicken rice casserole and roasted cauliflower into your mac and cheese. (For a slimmed-down recipe for this and other favorite comfort foods, click here.)

Satisfy a sweet tooth smartly Baked apples and pears are a delicious treat. You can bake hot fruit crumbles, crisps and cobblers using whole-grain oats, nuts and minimal sugar.

Other nutritious sweet treats: Greek yogurt drizzled with honey, whole-grain toast with Nutella or peanut butter and honey, and homemade trail mix with a lower chocolate-to-nuts ratio than commercial brands. Or, try these Sweet and Salty Recipes to Satisfy Your Pregnancy Cravings

Don't deny cravings If you have a hankering for chocolate, go for it; just be mindful of the portion size and opt for dark chocolate, which has more antioxidants. If you try 10 different foods instead and deprive yourself of what you crave, you may end up downing the chocolate anyway, and will have consumed all those extra calories, too. Minimize trips to the sugar-free and "diet" aisle, advises Paola Mora, R.D., C.D.N., a counseling registered dietitian for the division of maternal fetal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. "I often suggest that people eat a smaller amount of the real thing in order to satisfy the actual craving," she says.

Nibble on protein every three hours Eating a piece of cheese before you indulge in chocolate will help blunt the blood-sugar surges and crashes that can leave you feeling down and craving even more sugar.