At midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017, I had my head in the toilet – not from indulging in one too many champagnes, but because I was pregnant and going through a particuarly rough patch of morning sickness.
If you’d told me then – with nausea that felt ten times worse than sea sickness and a hangover combined – that I should ‘eat healthy during my pregnancy’, I think I would have slapped you. Unless you’ve gone through it yourself, it’s hard to truly understand how crappy morning sickness makes you feel.
For 8 weeks I went off all meat, eggs and vegetables. (Sooo most of my regular diet.) Just walking into a supermarket would make me gag. If health wasn’t a factor, I would have eaten toast and crackers the whole time. But I attempted to get some nutrients in, so I ate fruit (mostly apples and oranges), rice cakes, vegetable crisps, plain popcorn, gluten-free toast with mashed avocado or peanut butter, and carrot and celery sticks. (And a fair amount of chocolate biscuits, which are my weakness.) I felt back to my old self at 14 weeks, and now at 19 weeks have gone back to my regular diet, just with a lot more snacking.
Outside of those torturous weeks – where I thoroughly believe you just have to do what you can to survive – I believe it’s important to eat as healthily as possible. Why?
- It will make you feel better physically – good food will give you more energy and help prevent tiredness.
- You’ll do better mentally – your moods will be more stable, plus preventing getting ‘hangry’ (angry from being hungry) is good for you (and everyone around you).
- It will help with steady (rather than sudden) weight gain, helping prevent things like stretch marks.
- It will reduce your likeliness of health issues like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
- It will help you get back to a healthy weight post-pregnancy.
- Importantly, it’s better for your growing baby.
Eating well takes effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard. But it can be daunting knowing where to start – so here are my top tips.
How and what to eat
1. Start the day with a solid breakfast.
When you’re in the throes of morning sickness it’s often advised to keep crackers or biscuits next to your bed to eat first thing in the morning. While this may help temporarily, those processed grain-based foods won’t do anything for your health long-term. I always felt so much better when I dragged myself into the kitchen and had a nourishing breakfast. My favourite was (and still is) avocado toast, but even some days mashing an avocado felt like running a marathon. Those times I had my gluten-free granola with almond milk or coconut yoghurt (easy peasy), or something I’d prepped earlier (when I had the smallest burst of energy) like my chia puddings or zucchini slice.
2. Eat small snacks frequently.
Morning sickness meant I got into the routine of eating small meals and snacks every 1.5-2 hours (which helped my nausea a lot). I’m not nauseous anymore, but I still like eating every 2-3 hours. But when you’re eating so often it’s important it’s good food, otherwise that’s when the unhealthy weight gain can creep up. My favourite snacks are bliss balls, apple wedges with peanut butter, carrot sticks with hummus, and dark chocolate. For more see my list of 25 healthy snacks.
3. Increase your veggies.
During weeks 6 to 14 I couldn’t even look at a spinach leaf without feeling queasy. (Apparently it’s an evolutionary trait that many women have aversions to fresh produce!) Some days I’d go the whole day without eating any fresh veg except for half a carrot. Now that I’m out of the nausea-zone, I’m back to eating as many serves of veggies a day as I can. The best ways I do this are to replace grains with vegetables (e.g. zucchini noodles instead of regular noodles, cauliflower rice instead of white rice and using lettuce cups as wraps), snacking on carrot and celery sticks with hummus, making my own kale chips, and putting spinach in my breakfast smoothie. For more ways I’m doing this, check out my post on 20 ways to eat more vegetables.
4. Cut down on sugar.
It’s a good idea for everyone to reduce their sugar intake, but pregnant women even more so. High-sugar diets increase your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and your baby having a lower birth weight. Easy ways to cut down include reading nutritional labels and avoiding anything with 5g or more sugar per 100g, not adding it to your coffee/tea/baking, and cooking from scratch instead of buying packaged meals. For more specific strategies, see my list of 20 ways to reduce sugar and 12 ways to stop sugar cravings.
5. Make easy swaps.
Change doesn’t have to be drastic – it can be as easy as making a few simple swaps. For example, choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, homemade granola over store-bought muesli (which are full of sugar), almond milk instead of cow’s milk, dark chocolate over milk chocolate (if you don’t like dark chocolate, start with the 40‐50% cocoa and build it up to 70‐85%), gluten-free pasta over regular pasta, coconut oil over canola/rapeseed oil, and herbal tea over black tea.
Preparation = payoff
Healthy eating doesn’t just happen – we need to prepare for it. Set yourself up for success by organising your environment and planning your meals – a little prep goes a long way.
6. Plan your meals in advance.
7. Clean out your kitchen.
Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer regularly and throw out any junk. If any of it belongs to your husband or kids and they’d throw a tantrum if you binned it (speaking from personal experience…), either move it to another shelf or put it in containers where it’s harder for you to see. (Out of sight, out of mind.)
It’s also nice to actually clean your pantry and fridge shelves regularly – not the most fun job unless you’re slightly OCD like me (in which case it’s genuinely soothing… yes I’m weird like that). Do this by emptying your cupboards, wiping the shelves then putting everything back neatly. Bonus points for using old glass jars to store items like nuts and seeds!
8. Stock your kitchen with healthy staples.
When my pantry is full of healthy staples I’m more likely to cook or bake at home. I regularly stock up at bulk whole foods stores with mixed nuts, almond flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, tinned tomatoes, quinoa, coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pine nuts, cacao nibs, herbal tea and nut butters. (See my full list on how to stock a healthy pantry here.) I store everything in labelled glass jars so I can see what I’ve got easily.
(If morning sickness or tiredness means you can barely get off the couch to shower let alone trek around a supermarket, ordering online is definitely worth the cost of delivery.)
9. Wash and store fresh produce.
As well as practicing good food hygiene (essential during pregnancy), properly washing and storing your fresh fruit and veg means it’ll last longer and you won’t waste money when you find floppy carrots and soggy spinach at the back of the vegetable drawer.
Learn what to do with your fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs so they’ll never go to waste from my post here.
10. Cook in large batches and freeze.
I love the saying ‘make once, eat twice’. This means making meals in large batches, then storing individual portions of leftovers in the freezer. Choose meals that will freeze well like Shepherd’s Pie, my healthy meatloaf, lasagna, bolognaise sauce (my husband eats this with spaghetti but I have it with steamed broccoli) or my Glowing Greens Soup.
Bonus: Have the right mindset
11. Attitude is everything.
Being healthy mentally is just as important as being healthy physically.
If your diet is perfect, you drink gallons of water and take your prenatal vitamins every day without fail… but you feel restricted and pressured and scared of messing up, then that’s not healthy.
More than ever, pregnancy is a time to be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself if you slip up! We all get cravings, or want to bury a bad day with chocolate biscuits or indulge in a cheeseburger ever now and then. #TruthBomb – while writing this post, I literally ate an entire family block of chocolate. For real. Is that ideal? Nope. But it happens. I eat well most of the time, so I’m okay with it. Be okay with yourself too when you eat or do something “unhealthy”. Because life is messy, and perfection is boring, and sometimes pregnancy without wine and coffee and cheese just sucks, amiright?
P.S. I’d love to hear from you. Do the above tips resonate? How did you make it through your pregnancy?