Don’t let your prenatal diet bore you—or your taste buds. Sushi and deli meat might be off the menu, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat the same tuna salad every day for lunch. Introducing new dishes can thwart feelings of frustration about the laundry list of off-limits eats for moms-to-be, and a gastronomic adventure around the globe is just the ticket for finding culinary inspiration. Turn to recipes rooted in international cuisines and cultures, and start piling your plate with a variety of flavorful, healthful foods.
Let’s get one thing straight: Authentic Chinese food should not be confused with greasy fried rice and MSG-laden lo mein. Fresh fish, nourishing greens and verdant herbs are found in many popular dishes.
Halibut, tilapia, salmon and cod are all lean sources of protein that are low in mercury and packed with healthy oils that lubricate your joints and help secure a strong immune system. Fish oils and leafy greens are essential during pregnancy and supply your budding babe with DHA and calcium. So head to your local Chinese market to pick up fresh bok choy, napa cabbage and Chinese broccoli.
Don’t think you have to go out to enjoy an ethnic feast. “Prepare it yourself,” advises Sally Berry, RD, owner of Bodyfuel in Overland Park, Kansas. Learning to make new recipes at home not only allows you to keep tabs on what you’re eating, but also provides an entertaining challenge in your own kitchen.
For an easy after-work meal that also reheats well for lunch the next day, throw together a stir-fry. It’s a perfect dish to load with veggies (snow peas, broccoli, string beans, carrots), as well as the protein of your choice (beef, chicken, shrimp, tofu, tempeh). Plus, it’s one of the easiest ways to use up whatever produce you have in your fridge. (Half a head of cauliflower, a handful of spinach and an on-its-last-day red pepper? Toss them in!) There are endless veggie-and-protein combinations to try, and when you switch up your seasonings and sauces—lemon, Sichaun, sweet and sour—it’s unlikely you’ll tire of it any time soon.
As much as we love a good siesta, Mexican cuisine is anything but a snooze. Even an inconspicuous side of beans and rice brings something special to the balanced-diet party.
Beans supply your body with fiber, protein, iron, calcium and folate (the naturally occurring form of folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects in the brain and spinal cord). Pair them with rice to form a complete protein that boasts all nine essential amino acids. For mamas opting out of meat, the dynamic duo is especially valuable.
Of course, there’s more than just beans and rice south of the border. Lentil soup with carrots, chayote squash, pico de gallo, guacamole and stuffed poblano peppers are all delicious and nutritious eats.
The generous inclusion of tomatoes, avocados and peppers across many Mexican dishes provides plenty of benefits for moms-to-be. Tomatoes are a good source of potassium and fiber, and they offer a major boost of vitamins A and C. Avocados—jam-packed with healthy fats—have plenty of vitamin B5 to help oxidize fats and carbohydrates in the body.
If you like to turn up the heat in the kitchen, jalapeño and poblano peppers are excellent sources of fiber. And with constipation ranking high on the list of pregnancy discomforts, anything that helps keep things moving is a plus. Worried about heartburn? Sidestep the jalapeños and poblanos, and opt for a classic green bell pepper instead. Eating smaller meals more frequently can also help prevent indigestion.
You don’t have to love olives to enjoy Greek food (though a passion for the pitted fruit doesn’t hurt). Greek cuisine has become a worldwide delight because of its heavy use of fresh ingredients like leafy greens, coldwater fish, whole grains and healthy fats such as olive oil.
Olives have been cultivated in the region for centuries, so it’s little wonder why they’re a staple at the Greek dinner table. They might not carry much weight when it comes to vitamins and minerals, but they are a prime source of good-for-you monounsaturated fat, which studies suggest could help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
In the Mediterranean diet, you’re likely to spot spinach and white fish as main ingredients. As long as the seafood is low in mercury, it’s both safe and highly beneficial for your babe-to-be. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are crucial during pregnancy because they’re the building blocks of your baby’s brain and eye development.
Dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, are a common finger food in Greek cuisine that provide a variety of nutrients in one neat package. Traditionally, the leaves are wrapped around a flavorful blend of rice, onions and spices. Sometimes you’ll find them with ground beef or lamb and added veggies like tomato or eggplant.
If you’re looking for an easy snack, stock up on Greek yogurt, a strained yogurt used in dishes like tzatziki sauce. Greek yogurt contains more calcium than milk, which both baby’s bones and yours will be grateful for, and it packs twice the protein of regular yogurt. The creamy delight also boasts good bacteria to aid in digestion.