Hello, baby bump—and hello to morning sickness and food cravings, too. As a pregnant woman, the first trimester can feel a little—or even a lot—physically jarring. To ease this transition, it may be time to prioritize a pregnancy-friendly diet.
But the newness of pregnancy can sometimes leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about your diet. Suddenly everything from broccoli and deli meats to ginger and sushi can make you stop and wonder about their impact on your growing child. As a general rule of thumb, focus on a balanced diet with nutrient-dense, healthy food, and you’ll start your pregnancy and your little one off on a healthy foot.
If you’re ready to jot down a grocery list, let’s explore the best foods to eat when pregnant first-trimester edition.
What are my Nutritional Needs in the First Trimester?
Thanks to soaring hormones, your body begins to enter a baby-ready mode in the first trimester—and that means a few new nutritional needs.
Unlike most times in life, pregnancy requires a diet that nourishes two bodies. You may not necessarily need a second dinner in the first trimester, but you should adjust your pregnancy diet to optimize these top nutritional components:
- Macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates)
- Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)
Many describe pregnancy as “eating for two.” However, that’s not really the case—at least for the first trimester.
The more calories you eat, the more energy your body has to function (or support your growing baby’s weight gain). While pregnant women do need more calories for fetal growth, that usually can wait until the second trimester. During the first 12 weeks, medical experts actually suggest eating the same number of calories as pre-pregnancy times.1
So, what’s a good calorie estimate for your first trimester?
The average recommended intake is 2,000 calories per day for women—but keep in mind that everyone has individual energy needs. Your non-pregnant and first trimester calories could shift based on certain factors such as:2<7/sup>
- Metabolic rate
- Exercise level
- Hormonal shifts
- Dieting behaviors
Above all? Listen to your physical hunger cues. Even if you think you’ve eaten “too much” or “too little”, your body tends to know best. If you have trouble estimating your hunger or fullness—or if morning sickness is getting in the way—consult a dietician to help you structure a meal plan that works for your individual needs.
During pregnancy, you could eat a proportioned diet of chips and pastries. However, that wouldn’t exactly nourish you or your baby.
To support a healthy first trimester, every mom-to-be needs the three macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats. On average, nutritional experts recommend these macronutrient levels during the first trimester:3,4,
- Protein – Like the bricks of a house, protein forms your body’s (and your baby’s) tissues. During the first trimester, about 20% or more of your calories should come from protein, with a minimum of 40 grams per day. Many women struggle to fit enough protein into their diet, so it’s best to focus on this macronutrient first.
- Carbohydrate – If proteins are the home’s brick walls, carbohydrates are the electricity and heat. This energizing macronutrient supports your activity levels and organ growth. During the first trimester, women need at least 50-60% of their calories to come from carbohydrates. By focusing on complex carbs that deliver the 35mg of daily fiber you need, you can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia.5
- Fat – To round out the visual, fats are like the plaster and mortar that hold a house together. Without fats, your body can’t produce the hormones or brain activity to support yourself or a baby. Pregnant bodies particularly need more fats to maintain critical hormones, increasing from 20% of calories to 25% or higher. Doctors recommend keeping saturated fats to half or less of this fat intake.
Your parents were right (and you may find yourself telling your own child this someday too)—you need to eat your vitamins and minerals. When pregnant, these micronutrients matter even more. In addition to healthy eating, supplementing your diet with a prenatal vitamin can help fill in micronutrient gaps.
Every human needs the same essential 13 vitamins and 15 minerals, but a few of these micronutrients take a higher priority for moms-to-be. Try to incorporate these specific nutrients in your diet during the first three months:5,6,
- Folic acid (or vitamin B9) – Known as the pregnancy vitamin, your folic acid needs greatly increase during pregnancy. This B vitamin develops your baby’s neural tube, protecting it against defects and damage. Many pregnant women require supplements to reach the recommended 600mg per day. Alternatively, you can find it in kidney beans, leafy greens, strawberries, oranges, fortified cereals, and oranges.
- Calcium – When it’s time to grown your bones big and strong, calcium will support both your and your baby’s skeletal systems during pregnancy. Most balanced diets include enough calcium through dairy, leafy greens, tofu, and almonds. However, you can always take a supplement to reach the recommended daily intake of 1,000 mg.
- Iron – The farther along your pregnancy, the more iron your body needs to support circulation and oxygen levels. Without 27mg of iron per day, you could be at risk of suffering prenatal anemia. Boost your iron intake with foods like beef, chicken, tofu, eggs, and spinach.
- Vitamin C – A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C supports the immune, skeletal, and neural systems of your body. During pregnancy, you need about 85mg of vitamin C per day through sources like citrus fruit, strawberries, broccoli, and bell peppers.
- Vitamin D – Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D supports your baby’s bones, eyesight, and skin. Your body produces vitamin D through sunlight exposure, but you can also absorb it via milk, fatty fish, and fortified cereals. Most pregnant women need a supplement to reach the recommended 600mg per day.
- Potassium – The potassium-sodium system in your body keeps everything balanced and hydrated. However, 90% of Americans consume above the recommended daily intake of sodium (2,300mg).7 To correct this imbalance, focus on limiting your salt and on eating potassium-rich foods like bananas, apricots, and apricots to reach 2,900mg per day.
- DHA – Often found in healthy fat sources such as anchovies, salmon, and other fatty fish, DHA is a powerhouse molecule. This omega 3 fatty acid supports heart health, brain development, and eyesight. If the thought of consuming oily fishmakes you a bit queasy, a supplement can cover the job instead.
Essential Foods to Support You in Your First Trimester
Before filling your plate, just remember—there is no “right” pregnancy diet.
Your first trimester should contain foods that make you feel good and, for every mom-to-be, that look a little different. To gently shape (but not limit) a nutritious and delicious grocery list, focus on foods that are:
- Naturally sourced
- Balanced in macronutrients
- Easy on the stomach
Need a few examples? Start with these pregnancy-friendly foods to build your weekly menus:
- Lean meat – For protein needs, you can’t beat lean meat. Low-fat meats and poultry contain just about every amino acid (the building blocks of protein), alongside iron. Try to pick organic meats, sticking with lean cuts like chicken breasts, ground turkey, pork tenderloin, and sirloin or flank steak.
- Dairy – Vegetarians know the power of dairy. This food group offers protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other crucial micronutrients. With dairy, it’s best to stick with low-fat options like greek yogurt and skim milk to reduce saturated fat intake. However, full-fat choices are okay in moderation.
- Leafy greens – Eat your greens—and then eat some more. Leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses, delivering tons of micronutrients in a low-calorie form. Enjoy a kale salad for a boost of vitamin C, or a spinach-based smoothie for extra vitamin A and iron.
- Fresh fruit – When you need something sweet but not stomach-churning, choose nature’s candy. Fruits like bananas, strawberries, and raspberries deliver intense flavor, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates.
- Cruciferous vegetables – Filling and packed with fiber, cruciferous vegetables are some of the best produce items to buy. Even better? Options like broccoli and brussels sprouts contain pregnancy-boosting folate. Try roasting these vegetables for a crispy and delicious side dish.
- Beans + legumes – From kidney to garbanzo, beans pack a mean nutritional punch. Get your protein, fiber, iron, and folate from these starchy superheros. In particular, high protein beans like lentils and edamame can benefit growing pregnant bodies.
What to Avoid During the First Trimester
So, wondering what to avoid during the first trimester when it comes to food? “Eat the rainbow” is often an ideal mantra for your diet. However, pregnant women may need to skip a few hues to protect their growing baby.
Whether you have an iron stomach or tumultuous tummy, future mommies should avoid certain foods and beverages due to their bacterial risks or harmful fetal effects.8 Start by eliminating these items during pregnancy:
- Raw meat, raw shellfish, or unpasteurized foods
- High mercury fish
- Organ meat
- Unwashed produce
- Cold deli meat
- Processed foods (in moderation)
Morning Sickness—Tips & Tricks
If the first trimester has any reputation, it’s the dreaded morning sickness. About three-quarters of pregnant women experience this hormonal syndrome, with debilitating symptoms like nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and a lack of appetite.9 So, where does that leave your diet?
Eating anything, yet alone a nutritious meal, can feel like a challenge when you wake up feeling nauseous. Luckily, there are a few ways to nourish your body and soothe symptoms through morning sickness, including:
- Eating small + frequent meals
- Avoiding spicy, high fat, and high sodium meals
- Choosing bland foods (bananas, toast, rice, cottage cheese, etc.)
- Opting for liquid meals
- Sipping on anti-nausea ginger tea
Start Planning Now with Monica + Andy
Morning sickness aside, the first trimester is an exciting time. You finally get to experience the first glimpses of motherhood while nourishing your budding babe with every ounce of love (and nutrition) possible. Start with a whole foods diet, and you’ll set a healthy path for you and your future child.
Curious to learn more about what to expect in the first trimester? Monica + Andy delivers top-tier classes to mothers across the country. Join our community to cover all of your mom-to-be topics, from perinatal yoga to potty training 101. With our quality education and organic baby clothes, Monica + Andy will support your motherhood journey from day one.
- Mousa, Aya et al. “Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake during Pregnancy: An Overview of Recent Evidence.” Nutrients vol. 11,2 443. 20 Feb. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11020443
- "What should my daily intake of calories be?." NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/
- Elango, Rajavel, and Ronald O Ball. “Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 7,4 839S-44S. 15 Jul. 2016, doi:10.3945/an.115.011817
- "Eating Right Before and During Pregnancy." UCSF Health. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/eating-right-before-and-during-pregnancy
- Sinrich, Jenn. "Pregnancy Nutrition Chart: 33 Essential Nutrients for Pregnant Women." What To Expect. 5 June, 2020. https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/diet/pregnancy-nutrition-chart/
- "Nutrition During Pregnancy." ACOG. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
- "Sodium." CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/sodium.htm
- Bjarnadottir, Adda. "11 Foods and Beverages to Avoid During Pregnancy - What Not to Eat." Healthline. Updated 13 August, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy
- Bellefonds, Colleen. "Morning Sickness and Nausea During Pregnancy." What To Expect. 25 June, 2021. https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/morning-sickness/