With the emotional roller coaster that pregnancy brings, it can be daunting for pregnant women to take on the additional pressure of eating the "perfect" pregnancy diet. The good news: There is no single perfect diet for pregnancy. The best way for expectant mothers to meet their nutritional needs is to focus on consuming an overall healthy diet, with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats or meat substitutes, and low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes.
Here's a sample meal plan for moms-to-be, one that meets their needs for all of the food groups and provides about 2,000 calories:
Breakfast: 1 cup of regular oatmeal cooked with skim milk rather than water; add in 1/2 cup of frozen unsweetened raspberries, 1 ounce of chopped walnuts (about 14 nuts), and a drizzle of honey for sweetness. Enjoy a decaf latte made with skim or soy milk.
Provides: 2 ounces of whole grains, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, 1 3/4 cups low-fat dairy, and 2 ounces of protein. With this breakfast, Mom will get plenty of fiber to help prevent pregnancy constipation and hemorrhoids, as well as protein, calcium, and potassium.
Morning snack: 1/2 cup of pineapple chunks with 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese.
Provides: 1/2 cup of fresh fruit and 1/4 cup of dairy. Pineapple offers vitamin C as well as the trace mineral manganese, while cottage cheese gives a great boost of protein.
Lunch: A bowl of lentil soup with about five whole-grain crackers; a whole-wheat pita filled with low-fat cream cheese and tomato and cucumber slices; and 1/2 cup of frozen yogurt for dessert.
Provides: 1 1/4 cups vegetables, 3 ounces of whole grains, and 1/2 cup of dairy. Legumes like lentils are great for pregnant women because they deliver a dose of fiber as well as protein. The frozen yogurt will satisfy a sweet tooth, while also supplying some more calcium.
Afternoon snack: Hummus with jicama and carrot slices.
Provides: 1 1/4 cups vegetables. Hummus is a great alternative to meat, as it's considered a complete protein. The veggies provide a source of water, helping with hydration, as well as vitamin A.
Dinner: Small filet of baked salmon, 3/4 cup of wild rice, and 1 cup of roasted cauliflower. For dessert, one baked apple drizzled with warmed low-fat vanilla yogurt. Sparkling mocktail to drink: Mix 1/2 cup 100 percent fruit juice with 1 cup sparkling water.
Provides: 1 cup of vegetables, 1 1/2 cups whole grains, 4 ounces of protein, 1 cup of fruit, and 1/4 cup of dairy. Giving up the girly cocktail can be hard for some moms-to-be, so why not substitute a little sparkling mocktail to have some fun? This dinner provides healthy omega-3 fatty acids from the fish, choline from the cauliflower, and loads of fiber and protein.
Nighttime snack: 1 cup of Greek yogurt mixed with 1/2 oz. chocolate chips
Provides: 1 cup of dairy and chocolate! Greek yogurt is a bit higher in protein than regular yogurt, and chocolate used strategically can meet the chocoholic's needs while still delivering a dose of nutrition.
One of the best (free!) food-tracking tools out there is the USDA's SuperTracker, available at choosemyplate.gov. It allows you to track what you're eating throughout the day, and shows you how much you've eaten from each of the food groups, using nice bright bars to illustrate. The site offers loads of other helpful tools, too.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.