The Best Prenatal Foods

When it comes to prenatal nutrition, there is no universal plan. It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods to nourish your body and help your baby grow. But given daily time constraints, it’s not always easy to pack your meals with all of the essential nutrients. There are, however, certain nutrient-dense foods that can help you meet nutritional needs and make-up for those that are more difficult to get through food alone. Here are registered dietitian Dr. Sheila Varshney’s five recommended foods to include in your diet that support your health and your baby’s development. 

Note: This list is not exhaustive or suitable for everyone. If you have dietary restrictions, food aversions, or nausea that prevents you from consuming some of these foods, contact your care provider or a registered dietician specializing in prenatal nutrition for an alternative list. 

EGGS

What key nutrients they provide: 

Eggs are rich in choline, which plays a role in brain and spinal cord development, placental function, and epigenetic programming. They also contain high-quality protein, lutein, zeaxanthin, Vitamin D, and B12, which tend to be nutrients that are lacking in most diets.

How often you should include them in your diet: 

We recommend one to two eggs per day for those who don’t have a history of high cholesterol in their family. 

How to incorporate them into your diet: 

Eggs can be enjoyed fried, poached, and scrambled, but we especially love hardboiled eggs, which are portable and can be made in batches in advance. We also love breakfast for dinner. 

FATTY FISH

What key nutrients they provide: 

Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and Vitamin D, which are critical nutrients during the prenatal period. 

How often you should include them in your diet: 

Aim for two to three servings, 4-ounce portions, of fish per week. 

Stick to salmon, sardines, and skipjack tuna (also called “chunk light”) and avoid fish high in mercury, a recognized neurotoxin that impairs the development of the brain and nervous system, such as yellowfin tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. 

How to incorporate them into your diet: 

Fish is versatile, easy to prepare, and very satisfying. Enjoy a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, sauteed or roasted fish with veggies for dinner, and fish tacos on nights you feel festive. 

Note: Avoid raw fish unless it is from a trusted source to minimize foodborne illness risk.

LEAFY GREENS

What key nutrients they provide: 

Leafy greens are rich in Vitamins A, folate, C, E, and K, the minerals calcium, magnesium, and in some cases iron, and phytonutrients. Leafy greens are also a good source of fiber. 

Since these foods are rich in a wide variety of nutrients, they are a great way to meet your nutritional needs efficiently. Think of them as the gymnast that can rock the all-around competition, the one you can count on no matter what. 

How often you should include them in your diet: 

Once a day or more. 

How to incorporate them into your diet: 

Add spinach to your morning omelet, greens to your smoothies and soups, or a side salad to any meal to pack veggies into your daily diet. We also love snacking on kale chips. 

BERRIES

What key nutrients they provide: 

Berries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and phytonutrients. Each phytonutrient has its own color, so eating different types of berries – strawberries, blueberries, blackberries – means you’ll be getting different phytonutrients. 

How often you should include them in your diet: 

One serving per day. 

How to incorporate them into your diet: 

Blend frozen berries into smoothies, enjoy them with greek yogurt or plain on their own!

LIVER

What key nutrients they provide: 

Liver is a rich source of folate, iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, choline, and copper. 

How often you should include them in your diet: 

Once a week, no more than 4 oz portions, the size of a deck of cards. 

Note: Organ meats are a concentrated source of nutrients. Liver in particular is packed with Vitamin A which can cause birth defects when eaten in excess. So be careful not to eat beyond the recommended portion. 

How to incorporate them into your diet: 

The taste and texture of liver is highly unpalatable to some, which is why it has fallen out of favor for home cooks. One way to address this is to incorporate liver into mixed dishes that rely on ground meats, such as chilis, meatloaf, or meatballs. Additionally, lamb and calf liver may taste better than beef liver.

Whether you are preparing for pregnancy or already pregnant, what you eat has a significant impact on how you feel and your body and mind functions. And while changing an existing diet can feel challenging, you can make it easy and even fun by taking small, manageable steps like trying new recipes, experimenting in the kitchen, and even getting your family involved. Never forget that it’s all about balance; extend yourself grace, avoid labeling foods as good or bad, and most importantly, let your body be your guide. 

Learn more about prenatal nutrition tips for before and during pregnancy here.

Last Reviewed by Dr. Sheila Varshney on January 26th, 2022

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Dr. Sheila Varshney is a registered dietitian with a doctoral degree in nutrition in public health and a mom of two young children. After spending over a decade helping individuals adopt healthier eating habits, she’s learned that making simple changes is the key to better eating. Dr. Varshney believes a healthy diet consists of whole foods and avoiding highly processed foods as much as possible. She also believes in the value of food beyond nutrition, namely its social and cultural importance, and reflects this through her work.

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