The old myth of “eating for two” was busted long ago, but it can still be challenging to know exactly how much—and what—you’re supposed to eat while expecting. Gaining weight is a hard concept for some women to embrace, but as Aftann Taijeron, nutritionist and ISSA-certified personal trainer (aftannfit.com), notes: “Weight gain is a very important part of pregnancy.”
Beginning in the second trimester, moms-to-be should consume an additional 300 to 350 calories per day. “These extra calories should come from nutritious foods, so they can contribute to your baby’s growth and development,” advises Taijeron. Rather than simply adding an extra 300 calories to one of your meals, she suggests spreading your total calorie count across your day. Doing so will not only help you keep your hunger in check, but also ease a myriad of common pregnancy complaints. “Eating five to six nutrient-dense meals every three to four hours will help maintain blood sugar levels, [prevent] you from feeling sick and lightheaded, and keep you energized all day,” Taijeron says.
Here are a few handy tips to help you optimize your nutrition and gain weight healthfully during your second and third trimesters.
Find your number
First things first: You need to figure out how many calories you should ingest each day. Your doctor or midwife will need to give her opinion on this because the recommendation isn’t always the same for every woman. Your care provider is familiar with your personal history and can take into account a number of factors that aren’t included in across-the-board recommendations, such as your weight prior to pregnancy, whether your pregnancy has any risk factors associated with it, and any health conditions you might have or be prone to.
For healthy moms carrying a low-risk singleton, Taijeron recommends the following mathematical approach to finding your calorie count:
- STEP 1: Take your current weight and multiply it by:
- 12, if you are sedentary (get minimal exercise)
- 14, if you are moderately active (work out 3 to 4 times per week)
- 16, if you are very active (work out 5 to 7 times per week)
- STEP 2: add 300 to the total number found in step one.
The number you finish with is your target amount. For example, a healthy, 140-pound expectant mom who is moderately active would shoot for 2,260 calories per day based on this formula. That’s because 140 (mom’s weight) times 14 (moderately active) is 1,960, and adding 300 gives you 2,260.
Plan your day
The best way to avoid overeating is to plan ahead. Once you’ve figured out about how many calories you should eat on average, divide that number in the way that makes the most sense with your schedule. Remember: Eating five to six small meals rather than three large ones is preferable.
To give you an idea of what your typical intake might look like, Taijeron offers a day’s worth of meals that would fall into the target calorie zone for many moms-to-be.
“The perfect breakfast includes protein, high fiber and healthy fats,” says Taijeron. “This combination will give you sustained energy throughout the day.” You might be tempted to skip this meal, especially if you’re tired from the night before, but don’t. Eating in the a.m. is vital to revving up your metabolism and getting your day off to a good start. Plus, if you’re starving by lunch, you’re more likely to blow your whole day’s calories by indulging unhealthy cravings and overeating.
Ideal meal: Oatmeal + eggs
1/2 cup oatmeal (dry)
1/4 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons walnuts
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
1 cup orange juice
Plan to grab a snack a few hours after breakfast. It’ll not only tide you over until
lunch but also give you an excuse to get up and move a little bit if your job requires sitting at a desk much of the day. As a bonus: “Having a snack before lunch will help keep you focused,” Taijeron adds.
Ideal Meal: Fruit smoothie
1 scoop vanilla protein powder 1 cup low-fat milk
1 small banana, or 1 cup berries
You’ll need another dose of protein at lunch, along with more healthy fats and some nutrient-rich bites. “Choose brightly colored fruits and veggies,” suggests Taijeron. “They are rich in antioxidants and nutrients.”
Ideal meal: Burrito bowl
4 ounces chopped chicken breast
1⁄4 cup black beans
1⁄2 cup brown rice
2 tablespoons low-fat shredded cheese
2 ounces avocado
2 tablespoons salsa
1 cup chopped lettuce
Bell peppers or other veggies of your choice
It’s 4 p.m. and your energy level just took a nosedive—but you’ve got to make it through the rest of the day. (Why can’t afternoon naps at work be a thing?) “Eat an apple to help get you over your late afternoon crash,” recommends Taijeron. “The process of digesting the natural sugars helps wake up your body.”
Ideal Meal: Apple + nut butter
1 medium apple
2 tablespoons nut butter
Taijeron suggests that the ideal dinner for moms-to-be is a mix of protein, complex carbs and vegetables. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend that pregnant women eat between 8 and 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood each week, which is about two to three servings. Substitute another lean meat here if you’ve already met your weekly quota.
Ideal meal: Fish + veggies
4 ounces baked salmon or white fish
4 ounces sweet potato 1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steamed veggie of your choice
“Eating a snack before bedtime will help you fall and stay asleep,” Taijeron says. However, moms suffering from indigestion might opt out of munching late at night because it can aggravate the condition. If you fall into that category, add these calories in earlier in the day— as a sweet treat to finish off your lunch or dinner, perhaps.
Ideal meal: Greek yogurt
6 ounces plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon almonds
Drizzle of honey
Ideal meals total:
Calorie count for the day : 2,228
Delicious meals are some of life’s greatest pleasures, so even if you’re watching your diet, don’t deprive yourself of all the good stuff. Sure, that hot fudge sundae isn’t going to bring many benefits to the table, but if you’re craving one like crazy, go for it. It isn’t going to ruin your life, your baby’s life or your waistline. (As long as it’s only the occasional indulgence, that is—an everyday habit would definitely have some repercussions!) You should try to give your little one the healthiest environment possible in which to grow, but you’re only human, so you’re not going to have a perfect day every day.
It is important, however, to avoid foods that could be dangerous to your wee one. Unpasteurized milk or cheese, uncooked fish or meat, and alcohol are all off-limits until your newbie has arrived, no matter how tempting they are.
Planning your meals in advance and spacing your calories throughout the day will do more than ensure you don’t under- or overeat. It also gives you a chance to evaluate your diet and be sure you’re getting plenty of protein, calcium, and other essential baby-growing vitamins and nutrients. After delivery, continue with your healthy ways through the post- partum and nursing periods. Pregnancy is a great time to make positive changes that last a lifetime.