Moms-to-be: Sushi and deli meat might be off limits, but healthy eating doesn’t mean having the same tuna salad every day for lunch. When hunger strikes, diverse cuisines are key to satisfying cravings and meeting nutritional needs in each trimester. Introducing new dishes can thwart feelings of frustration about the laundry list of unacceptable eats for pregnant women, and a gastronomic adventure around the globe is just the ticket for finding culinary inspiration. Turn to recipes and food groups rooted in international cultures, and start piling your plate with a variety of flavorful lean meats, fresh fruit, veggies, and whole grains.
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 leafy greens and verdant herbs are found in many popular dishes.
Halibut, tilapia, salmon, cooked shellfish and cod are all lean sources of protein that are low in mercury and packed with omega-3 fatty acids that lubricate your joints and help maintain a strong immune system. Fish oils, healthy fats, and leafy green vegetables are essential for a healthy pregnancy and supply your budding babe with DHA, calcium and important nutrients. 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.
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For an easy after-work meal that also reheats well for lunch the next day, throw together a low-fat stir-fry. It’s a perfect dish to load with veggies (snow peas, broccoli, string beans, carrots, sweet potatoes), as well as the protein of your choice (lean 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 from first to third trimester.
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 assist in baby’s growth and can help prevent neural tube defects and birth defects in the spinal cord). Pair them with some brown rice and legumes to form a complete protein that boasts all nine essential amino acids. For mamas opting out of red meat, poultry and fish, 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 food sources.
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 vitamin A and vitamin C. Avocados—jam-packed with healthy fats—have plenty of b vitamins to help oxidize fats and carbohydrates in the body. (Proper b vitamin supplementation is also excellent in caring for your nervous system, which is critical in feeling your best after growing baby.)
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 vegetables, 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 healthy foods 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. (Avoid options like swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel.) 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 and certain other dairy products, which both baby’s bones and yours will be grateful for, and it packs twice the protein of regular yogurt. (We know it’s tempting to opt for the frozen yogurt or ice cream more often than not (especially if you suffer from heartburn), but try to get your vitamin d elsewhere.) The creamy delight also boasts good bacteria to aid in digestion and adds to a healthy diet overall.
With so much delicious fare, you’ll have the tools you need to prioritize nutrition during pregnancy and beyond—and enjoy it!