In early pregnancy, many moms-to-be find that they have no desire to eat some of the healthy foods they used to love, such as fresh veggies or lean meats. (Don't worry — for many pregnant women, appetite comes back in the second trimester.)
For now, don’t sweat it too much if you’re not in the mood to load up a full plate for every meal. Instead, focus on these good-for-you foods in the first trimester to cover your nutritional bases.
How many extra calories do you need during the first trimester?
During the first trimester, your baby’s energy needs — like your baby! — are still quite small. You should aim to eat about 2,000 calories a day in the first trimester, though your practitioner may recommend more depending on your activity level. This number is pretty on par with typical adult nutrition recommendations.
Aim to eat three meals a day, plus one or two snacks. If you're having trouble with portion sizes, concentrate on quality — making sure that the food you do manage to get down is both nutritious and tastes good to you at that moment. (We get it: Sometimes what you’re craving or what you can stomach changes during pregnancy hour by hour.)
Stick to whatever healthful foods you find comforting and provide solid first trimester nutrition.
What nutrients do you need during the first trimester?
Aim to fill up on essential pregnancy nutrients throughout the next nine months, but in the first trimester, focus in particular on:
- Folic acid. This is the most essential micronutrient in terms of first trimester nutrition — and prenatal nutrition in general. That’s because folic acid (also known as vitamin B9 or folate, when it’s in food form) plays a key role in preventing neural tube defects. To get the recommended 600 micrograms per day, take a prenatal vitamin daily and eat oranges, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, kidney beans, nuts, cauliflower and beets.
- Protein. It’s key for muscle development for both you and your baby, and supports uterine tissue growth. Aim for about 75 grams per day. Good sources include eggs, Greek yogurt and chicken.
- Calcium. It's critical for your baby’s developing teeth and bones. Since your growing baby will take calcium from your own stores, too little calcium in your diet can result in brittle bones (osteoporosis) later on. You can generally get the recommended 1,000 milligrams per day through a well-balanced diet including milk, cheese, yogurt and dark leafy greens, but if you're worried you might be falling short, ask your OB/GYN if you should take a supplement.
- Iron. Iron is increasingly important as your blood supply ramps up to meet the demands of your growing baby. The goal of 27 milligrams per day can be a challenge to reach through food alone, so make sure you’re getting a solid dose of iron in your prenatal vitamin to reduce risk for pregnancy anemia. Work good sources like beef, chicken, eggs, tofu and spinach into your meal plan too.
- Vitamin C. C-rich foods like oranges, broccoli and strawberries promote bone and tissue development in your growing baby and boost the absorption of iron. You should aim for 85 milligrams per day.
- Potassium. It teams up with sodium to help your body maintain proper fluid balance and also regulates blood pressure. Aim to get 2,900 milligrams per day through your prenatal vitamin and foods like bananas, apricots and avocados.
- DHA. A key omega-3 fatty acid, DHA is found in low-mercury fish like anchovies, herring and sardines. You may be too queasy for seafood these days, so ask your doctor about taking a DHA supplement.
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Best Foods to Eat While Pregnant
Best foods for the first trimester
Nutrition pros recommend the following foods in particular since they’re rich sources of the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients your body (and your baby’s developing body) needs to thrive.
- Lean meat. A good source of iron and protein, thoroughly-cooked lean meats like sirloin or chuck steak, pork tenderloin, turkey and chicken offer all of the amino acids that act as the building blocks for cells.
- Yogurt. The calcium and protein in each cup supports bone structure. Opt for a variety with a short ingredient list and few added sugars.
- Edamame. These soybean pods are packed with vegetarian protein, plus some calcium, iron and folate.
- Kale. This dark leafy green offers a combo platter of nutrients, including fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K.
- Bananas. Bland enough to be palatable for queasy stomachs, bananas are among the best dietary sources of potassium.
- Beans and lentils. Iron, folate, protein and fiber are all hiding inside these small-but-mighty powerhouses.
- Ginger tea. Ginger products, like ginger tea or ginger chews, may help combat nausea.
What should you eat if you’re struggling with morning sickness and nausea?
About 75 percent of expecting moms experience nausea, upset stomach or other morning sickness symptoms during the first three months of pregnancy. To try to ease the quease:
- Fuel up with frequent mini meals every few hours instead of trying to force three big meals a day. Going too long without eating may actually make nausea worse, as can eating large portions.
- Avoid spicy and very high fat foods, as these can lead to heartburn or stomach discomfort.
- Stick with cold or room-temperature bland foods when you're feeling most nauseous, such as yogurt with fruit, string cheese with nuts or a mini bagel with nut butter. Hot foods are more likely to emit odors that may make nausea worse.
- Try liquid or softly-textured meals. You may have an easier time tolerating a homemade smoothie, oatmeal or pasta when your stomach feels upset.
- Keep dry, easy-to-eat snacks on hand, like on your nightstand and in your purse or work bag. Graham crackers, pretzels and low-sugar dry cereal are prime grab-and-go picks.
First trimester healthy eating tips
Ultimately, while it's important to eat well in the first trimester, try not to worry too much about what you're putting on your plate, as this can add unnecessary stress during a time that is likely already filled with plenty of anxiety.
Although variety is important, you'll likely have an easier time filling your plate with a wider range of foods once your nausea and morning sickness subsides in the second trimester. So for now, take it easy on yourself — and your stomach. Don't forget to:
- Stay hydrated. Fill up a glass with water and place it on your nightstand before bed, then wake up and drink it before starting your day. If plain water doesn’t sound appetizing, add a slice of lemon, cucumber or fresh berries.
- Snack well. A common symptom early in pregnancy is the quick onset of hunger with a simultaneous feeling of nausea and even fullness. Keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day by eating healthy snacks, such as a small handful of nuts, a few whole grain crackers with cheese, a piece of fresh fruit or a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter.
- Pop that prenatal. No one eats perfectly every single day, which is one reason why taking your prenatal vitamin is so important. Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to take your vitamin each day.
When in doubt, consult your OB/GYN. He or she can advise you about the foods and drinks to completely avoid during the first trimester, such as alcohol, unpasteurized dairy and undercooked meats.