The Definitive Guide on How to Create a Pregnancy Meal Plan
You’re moody. Stressed. Hungry. And if you’re like many women, probably worried about gaining too much weight.
The trials and tribulations of pregnancy.
What’s more, you’re also overwhelmed by myriad conflicting opinions over what, how much, and when you should eat to maintain a healthy weight, stay satisfied, and nourish your growing baby.
A simple solution to most of these problems is to create a pregnancy meal plan. Not only does this make it easier to eat healthily during pregnancy, it also helps you avoid the postpartum weight gain that torments many new mothers.
In this article you’ll learn what a healthy pregnancy meal plan is, why you should follow one, what to include in a meal plan for pregnant women, and an example of a weekly pregnancy meal plan.
- Table of Contents
- What Is a Pregnancy Meal Plan?
- Why Should I Follow a Healthy Pregnancy Meal Plan?
- The Best Meal Plan for Pregnant Women
- An Example Weekly Pregnancy Meal Plan
- FAQ #1: How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
- FAQ #2: Can I follow a vegetarian pregnancy meal plan?
- FAQ #3: Can I follow a vegan pregnancy meal plan?
- FAQ #4: Should I follow a pregnancy diet meal plan?
- FAQ #5: Can I start dieting after giving birth?
What Is a Pregnancy Meal Plan?
A “meal plan” is a document that tells you exactly what and how much you’ll eat for every meal over a period of time, usually a single day.
A “pregnancy meal plan” is similar to a regular meal plan except that the food choices and amounts are optimized for a pregnant mother. That is, a pregnancy meal plan closely regulates the number of calories, quantity of each macronutrient, and types of foods you consume to ensure you and your child are as healthy as possible.
Pregnancy meal plans are useful because many women find that the stress and cravings accompanying pregnancy drive them to overeat and make unhealthy food choices, especially when they have to decide what to eat on the fly.
A pregnancy meal plan allows you to plan and prep your meals ahead of time, which minimizes the temptation to pig out on junk food and guarantees that you eat well-balanced meals to promote a healthy pregnancy.
How many calories should you eat? What about “macros?” What foods should you eat? Take our 60-second quiz to get science-based answers to these questions and more.
Why Should I Follow a Healthy Pregnancy Meal Plan?
However, excessive “gestational weight gain” (weight gain during pregnancy) increases your risk of experiencing pregnancy- and labor-related complications, including hypertension, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and C-section.
It can also make returning to a healthy weight after you give birth more challenging. Research shows that women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy often find it difficult to shake the extra weight even years after they give birth.
Following a pregnancy meal plan helps you sidestep the health woes and weight struggles associated with excessive gestational weight gain because it makes regulating the number of calories and types of foods you eat easier. It also ensures that you consume sufficient vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients, which research shows is a boon to the health of your baby.
In other words, following a pregnancy meal plan is an effective way to guarantee you and your baby stay as healthy as possible during and after the birth.
The Best Meal Plan for Pregnant Women
Every woman’s nutritional needs during pregnancy are different, which is why it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor or registered dietician before you commit to any pregnancy meal plan. That said, here are some solid “first principles” that work well for most people.
(And if you’d like even more specific advice about how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach a healthy weight before you get pregnant or maintain a healthy weight while you’re pregnant, take the Legion Diet Quiz.)
You don’t need to increase your calorie intake during the first trimester of pregnancy (the first 12 weeks). During the second and third trimesters, however, you’ll have to eat slightly more to meet your growing baby’s needs.
(Note: It’s best to avoid a calorie deficit during pregnancy because there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that it isn’t a risk to your baby. It might be fine or it might not, so it’s better to play it safe and eat enough to maintain your weight.)
To determine how many calories you should eat during each trimester, you first have to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which is a mathematical estimate of how many total calories you burn throughout the day based on your weight, height, age, and activity level.
The best way to calculate your TDEE is to use the calculator here.
Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and supporting fetal development, and your body’s demand for protein increases when you’re pregnant (especially during the last two trimesters).
Eating a moderate- to high-protein diet during pregnancy is a double-edged sword, though: while eating enough protein is healthy for you and your baby, eating too much may impair fetal development.
Thus, the “sweet spot” for most pregnant women is to get approximately 20% of their daily calories from protein, which works out to around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight for most people.
Some healthy high-protein foods to include in your meal plan while pregnant are . . .
- Lean meats, such as sirloin steak, chicken breast, and pork loin
- Low-mercury fish, such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tilapia, trout, and char
- Plant-based protein sources, such as beans and legumes, soy, and seitan
- Dairy products, such as Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, and milk
Your body breaks down the carbs you eat into glucose (blood sugar), which is your body’s primary source of energy.
To support the rapid growth of your child during pregnancy, your body’s demand for energy increases, which means you have to increase the amount of carbs you eat, too.
To ensure you hit your body’s energy demands during pregnancy, research shows that you should aim to get 45-to-60% of your daily calories from carbs.
Where possible, opt for low-GI, high-fiber carbs such as oats, rice, and grains; whole wheat bread and pasta; non-starchy vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, and eggplant; and seeds, lentils, beans, and legumes.
There are four broad categories of dietary fat: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.
Research shows that consuming adequate levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (particularly omega-3 fatty acids) during pregnancy is essential for fetal development and minimizing the risk of birth complications. Specifically, it . . .
- Supports fetal brain, eye, and nervous system development
- Supports the development of the placenta
- Reduces the risk of preterm birth
- Reduces the risk of the child being born small for their gestational age
- Reduces the risk of pre- and postnatal depression
- May reduce the risk of preeclampsia
On the other hand, consuming large amounts of saturated fat and trans fat during pregnancy is associated with complications both before and after the birth, including an increased risk of . . .
- Gestational diabetes
- Mental health and behavioral disorders
- Metabolic diseases later in the baby’s life
- Enlarged birth weight for the baby’s gestational age
For these reasons, research shows that you should get the remaining 20-to-35% of your daily calories from fat, but that less than 10% should come from saturated or trans fat.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids to include in your pregnancy meal plan are low-mercury fatty fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, char, Atlantic mackerel, and sardines.
And if you’re not fond of eating fish, get at least 400 mg of EPA and DHA per day from a supplement such as fish oil instead. (If you’re looking for a source of 100% natural, high-potency, molecularly distilled fish oil, check out Triton).
An Example Weekly Pregnancy Meal Plan
Here’s an example of a healthy weekly pregnancy meal plan. Keep in mind that this is an example and that your calorie and macronutrient requirements will likely differ.
(And again, if you’d like specific advice about how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach a healthy weight before you’re pregnant or maintain a healthy weight while you’re pregnant, take the Legion Diet Quiz.)
- Breakfast: Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa
- Lunch: Korean Beef Bowl
- Snack: Maple Roasted Red Lentil Granola and Yogurt
- Dinner: Chicken Breasts with Black Bean Rice Pilaf and Roasted Asparagus
- Breakfast: Vegan Breakfast Sandwich
- Lunch: Sweet Potato Bowl with Greens and Lentils
- Snack: Oatmeal and Berries
- Dinner: Tahini Turmeric and Tempeh Wrap with Sauteed Bok Choy
- Breakfast: Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash
- Lunch: Chicken Tikka Kebabs and Steamed Broccoli
- Snack: Cottage Cheese and Pineapple
- Dinner: Lemony Lentil & Chickpea Salad
- Breakfast: Greek Yogurt Goji Cereal Parfait
- Lunch: Roasted Vegetable and Balsamic Chicken Wrap
- Snack: Toast with Chocolate Hummus
- Dinner: 15-Minute Fish Tacos
- Breakfast: Cinnamon Bun Overnight Oats
- Lunch: Crockpot Chicken Caesar salad
- Snack: Apple and Peanut Butter
- Dinner: Salmon Quinoa Salad
- Breakfast: Breakfast Pita with Egg, Feta, and Spinach
- Lunch: Deconstructed California Roll Salad
- Snack: Greek Yogurt and Berries
- Dinner: Fast & Healthy Chicken Parmesan
- Breakfast: Mexican Breakfast Casserole
- Lunch: Mediterranean Hummus Tuna Sandwich
- Snack: Nuts and Cheese Stick
- Dinner: 4-Ingredient Chicken & Rice Bowl with Steamed Veggies
FAQ #1: How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
The amount of weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on which trimester you’re in and your starting BMI. Here are some guidelines that work for most people:
Specifically, researchers propose the following weight gain targets for women who are obese:
- 30-to-34.9 BMI = 5.5-to-15 pounds of weight gain
- 35-to-39.9 BMI = 9.9 pounds or less of weight gain
- 40 BMI or higher = no weight gain
FAQ #2: Can I follow a vegetarian pregnancy meal plan?
Yes, you can follow a vegetarian pregnancy meal plan.
While not necessarily optimal, you can have a perfectly healthy pregnancy as a vegetarian as long as you ensure you meet your nutritional requirements for protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
Here are some tips that’ll help you do just that:
- Protein: Plant-based protein sources are less well-absorbed by the body and have weaker amino acid profiles than animal protein sources. You can largely overcome these shortcomings by combining plant-based protein sources in your meals (rice and beans, for example) and using a quality vegan protein powder (such as Plant+).
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: While some fatty acids are found in plants, they’re not easily converted into the types of fatty acids that confer health benefits in pregnant women. The easiest way to get around this is by supplementing with fish or algae oil. If you want a high-potency, molecularly distilled fish oil, try Triton.
- Zinc: Zinc is abundant in foods such as legumes, soy, nuts, seeds, and grains, so be sure to include plenty of these in your pregnancy meal plan. (If you’d like to keep your zinc levels topped off, try Triumph for women. It’s a 100% natural sport multivitamin that contains 30 mg of zinc along with 32 other ingredients to enhance health, performance, and mood; and reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety.)
- Iodine: To increase your iodine intake, add seaweed to recipes like omelets, stir-fry dishes, and soups, season your meals with iodized salt instead of regular table salt, or take Triumph for women, which contains 225 mcg of iodine.
- Calcium: There are many vegetarian-friendly low-fat dairy products that’ll help you hit your calcium target, such as skyr, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese made from pasteurized milk.