I was surprised at how stressful restaurant meals became once I was pregnant -- and I'm a nutritionist! When you're constantly looking over your shoulder for sneaky sources of bacteria and mercury while also thinking about the best ways to nourish your baby-to-be, ordering off a menu can feel like navigating a food minefield. The fact is, pregnant women are indeed more likely to contract foodborne illness -- and when they do the stakes are higher. This cheat sheet to restaurant fare will help you figure out whether to stop, go, or proceed with caution when it comes to popular menu items. From now on, you can eat out with confidence. Bon appetit!
Red Light: Chef's salad with iceburg lettuce, vegetables, ham, turkey, hard boiled egg, and swiss cheese
"Avoid this salad," says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., mother of three and author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy. It's unlikely the restaurant has heated the cold cuts until steaming, as the FDA recommends you do during pregnancy to cut the risk of listeria infection, which can infect the placenta and the baby, and result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
Green Light: Mesclun greens with grilled vegetables and chicken
A salad topped with a freshly cooked meat is a much better choice than cold cuts, says Ward. Plus, unlike wimpy iceberg lettuce, dark leafy greens are rich in vitamins, such as A and K, as well as all-important folate.
Yellow Light: Caesar salad
Traditional Caesar dressing is made with uncooked eggs, a pregnancy don't. Many places no longer prepare it that way, and some use the pre-made bottled kind, which is safe. But always check with your server, says Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D., mom of two, and author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide. If the restaurant can't give you a firm answer, swap dressings to say, balsamic vinaigrette, or change your order altogether.
Green Light: Tuna sandwich
"The FDA recommends up to six ounces of canned white albacore tuna a week," says Ward, due to the mercury content in the fish. Chunk light tuna is a bit lower in the toxin, so you can have up to 12 ounces per week, roughly equal to three regular-sized sandwiches. If you're within this amount, "I say go for it," says Largeman-Roth. Pregnant women tend not to get enough omega-3s which are important for Baby's brain and vision development, so if you're craving tuna, don't overthink it.
Yellow Light: Greek omelet with feta cheese, spinach, and tomato
First ask your server if the feta is made with pasteurized milk. If so, eat up. Most cheese sold in the U.S. is safe, but some soft cheeses -- such as feta, queso fresco, queso blanco, blue cheese, and gorgonzola -- may be made from unpasteurized milk which puts you at risk for listeria infection, says Ward. The eggs (as long as they're thoroughly cooked) and veggies in this dish are both top pregnancy nutrition picks.