Discover What to Eat During Pregnancy: USDA Recommendations, and the Personal Modification Process
A lot of pregnant women I work with wonder what to eat during pregnancy. I believe that the optimal pregnancy diet is a bit different for each woman, and that figuring out what diet works best for you and your baby is a process of trial and conscious observation. That being said, we need to start somewhere. It’s far easier to modify a diet than to create one.
The USDA puts out detailed recommendations for nutrition during pregnancy. It suggests what to eat during pregnancy based on research regarding the nutrient and energy requirements of pregnancy. It is a good solid diet plan, and following it offers a strong nutritional foundation from which you can make personal beneficial modifications.
Using a Pregnancy Food Log
I have created a printable pregnancy food log which you can use to track what you eat during pregnancy according to the USDA recommendations. This is different than a typical food log in which you group your foods by meal.
Most people don’t actually enjoy tracking what they eat. I’m a big believer that life-style change works best when we use strategies we like. That being said, temporarily keeping a food log packs so many benefits I believe it’s worth it! You will learn a lot about what you are overeating, under-eating, and eating well, and that knowledge will help you be on track with your efforts to improve your diet. Keeping the pregnancy food log is often necessary for only a short time when making adjustments to your eating patterns.
Using this log according to my instructions below will help you quickly learn the recommendations for food to eat when pregnant, and will also help you initiate your process of modifying the diet to suit you. The recommended number of servings on this log are based on the USDA recommendations for the first and second trimester of pregnancy for a 5’4” woman who weighed 135 pounds before pregnancy and who exercises 30-60 minutes per day. You may calculate your own USDA recommended daily intake here.
Instructions for using the Pregnancy Food Log
- Under each food category on the pregnancy food log, write the foods you eat each day, paying attention to serving size. Serving size examples for each category are provided. For example: 1 cup of cold cereal provides one serving of grain. If I ate a large bowl of about 2 cups of cereal and one cup of milk I would put “cereal – 2” under whole grains, and “milk – 1” under dairy, indicating 2 servings of grain and one dairy serving.
(*Tip: Place each food in one category only. For example, if I count milk as a dairy, I do not also count it as a protein.)
- At the end of the day write down the total number of servings in each category and compare it with the recommendations.
- In the notes section write your reflections on the day. Allow the USDA recommendations serve as a baseline from which to explore the optimal nutrition for you personally.
- Notice foods for which you ate more or less than the recommended servings. What is your sense about your personal intake vs the recommendations? Do you feel that moving towards the recommendations would improve your health and energy, or do you feel that you are making choices better for your personal situation and needs?
- Highlight food choices that were particularly positive, and plan to continue including those foods as you buy groceries and eat.
- Think about the activities that affected your diet, and make note of the obstacles or supports you experienced.
- Note nausea, heart burn, constipation, or low energy so that in the future you may be able to figure out what triggers or prevents these discomforts.
This process of tracking your current food intake, and then comparing it to the USDA recommendations will quickly teach you the recommendations for what to eat during pregnancy. This is the easy part, and it is also the foundational education necessary to make informed variations.
The true gift of this exercise, for many, is in step three. Your conscious observation of your diet, its impacts on you, and the factors that make it possible or difficult will reveal insights that you can put to use! You will soon have a personal answer to the question about what to eat during pregnancy. And if you continuously take one small step toward a better diet, you will eventually be eating foods that support you for a lifetime! The rewards are amazing and innumerable. You’re worth it! You can also take the pregnancy food log with you to appointments with your doctor or midwife for their help with additional personal suggestions.
Get Ready! Look at the Pregnancy Food Log Planning Guide.