Meal Plan: Nutritional Guidelines for Pregnancy

Experts offer strategies for getting all of the vitamins and nutrients that you need from the foods that you eat.

pregnant woman eating strawberries StockByte/ Veer

If you're like many pregnant women, you vowed to eat organic, load up on veggies, and drink lots of milk. Then reality set in and you realized that it's tougher than you thought it would be to eat well with a baby on the way. You may be so queasy that you can't manage more than a few bites of plain bread at a time, or so hungry that you're polishing off pints of ice cream in one sitting. No need to stress -- you can overcome these challenges with our pointers from the pros.

Learn the Facts

Some pregnant moms literally eat for two, doubling portion sizes and filling up on high-cal foods. In fact, you only need to consume an additional 300 to 500 extra calories a day, which is the equivalent of one or two well-balanced snacks. You should gain weight gradually -- a few pounds in your first trimester and then roughly a pound per week for the rest of your pregnancy. If your weight is normal, plan to gain 25 to 35 pounds. Underweight women should put on 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should add 15 to 25 pounds, according to the latest guidelines from the Institute of Medicine.

Get Your Vitamins and Minerals

Your prenatal supplement delivers nutrients to your baby, but you also need the right balance of vitamins and minerals from your food, says Kimberly A. Tessmer, R.D., author of Tell Me What to Eat If I Am Trying to Conceive.

Taking at least 600mcg of folic acid (most prescribed prenatal vitamins contain at least 800mcg) early, and getting it from foods such as peas, beans, and leafy greens like kale, helps prevent spina bifida and other serious neural-tube defects. Filling your diet with iron-rich foods such as lean meats, spinach, and fortified wholegrain cereals may prevent anemia, which is a common problem during pregnancy because your body is producing extra blood to support your baby. (An iron supplement isn't necessary unless you've been diagnosed with anemia.) Getting enough calcium is essential too. As your baby's bones develop, she will take calcium from you, which can leave you depleted and at risk for osteoporosis later in life. You should be getting about 1,000mg of calcium per day from the foods you eat (think low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt); you can ask your doctor about taking a supplement, if necessary.

How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Making a Healthy Breakfast

Make Smart Choices

Avoid processed foods such as microwave meals and canned pastas, which lack important nutrients. "Lean proteins, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruits, and veggies are better for you and your baby, and they'll fill you up for longer," says Jennifer Wider, M.D., author of The New Mom's Survival Guide. Choose leaner cuts of beef and pork, as well as chicken, turkey, and fish, over beef burgers. Eat wild salmon and canned light tuna for DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that's crucial to the development of your baby's brain, eyes, and nervous system. If you're a vegetarian, get protein from beans, lentils, and tofu. Instead of simple carbs such as bagels and regular pasta, opt for whole-grain breads and pasta, and brown rice. Fill your plate with colorful foods (think bright-red apples, dark-green spinach, and yellow squash) to ensure that you're getting all of the antioxidants your baby needs to build healthy bones and organs, suggests Melinda Johnson, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You should skip raw eggs and fish, unpasteurized cheeses, cold cuts (unless they're cooked to steaming), fish with high mercury levels (tuna steaks, swordfish, orange roughy), and alcohol.

Indulge in Moderation

Enjoy that piece of cake, side of fries, or ice-cream sundae -- just don't do it every day. "Pregnancy is not a time to deprive yourself, but it's not an excuse to splurge like crazy either," says Dr. Chescheir. Before you turn to rich foods, try healthier alternatives first. If you're craving a chocolate bar or a doughnut, drink a low-fat chocolate milk or have a fat-free Popsicle. For a salt fix, enjoy a handful of nuts or whole-wheat crackers. Still not satisfied? Treat yourself to that bag of peanut M&M's, but instead of eating the whole thing, count out half and stick the rest in the fridge for another day. Then go ahead and enjoy your treat guilt-free. You deserve it!

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