Adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic may add to a difficult mix of emotions that you may already be experiencing through pregnancy. Social distancing and self-isolation is causing changes to usual eating routines and we are not able to follow usual patterns of exercise. We know that lots of you may be seeing jokes and memes on social media about weight gain during lockdown and this can be worrying, especially if you are pregnant.
Please go easy on yourself and try to accept changes to your eating habits without feeling guilty. It is important to try to eat a balanced and varied diet to make sure you have all the nutrients you and your baby need during your pregnancy. But this should not be accompanied by feelings of guilt, or add to any of the emotional pressures of staying home. Food can be a comfort and treat when we need a pick-me-up, but it's also important to try to keep balance and moderation as much as possible.
This page has been designed to help you with your nutrition during the COVID outbreak, with a focus on thinking flexibly and not putting too much pressure on yourself. It is has been written by Charlotte Stirling-Reed of SR Nutrition, who is a mum herself and a registered nutritionist. You can follow Charlotte on Instagram for lots more about nutrition in pregnancy.
How coronavirus can affect eating habits
There’s no need to panic buy, but there are plenty of staples you can still get from the supermarket. You may still have some hanging around at the back of your cupboards. Try to think about getting experimental with some of those ingredients you don’t use that often. For example, you can swap pasta for couscous or serve your bolognaise on top of potatoes instead of pasta.
Tinned foods are also brilliant at this time too – fish, vegetables and beans are always staples in my cupboard as they help to bulk out meals with fibre and plenty of nutrients. They also last a long time!
People are often worried about frozen foods, but frozen fruits and veggies can be just as nutritious as fresh versions and can be a quick and convenient options to add to your shopping list.
Here's a list of some go-to staples that will last longer and can be used for lots of meals. Please check guidelines around eating certain foods, like eggs and cheese, during pregnancy.
When you’re forced to stay at home, it can be easy to eat for reasons other than hunger. Being bored, feeling stressed or even being lonely can often cause us to eat more foods than we actually need or want. This is a natural response to what is going on at the moment and try not to be too hard on yourself. This isn’t necessarily a problem in the short term, but it can lead to less positive eating habits. If you are struggling with disordered eating and you feel concerned about how you are coping with this disruption to your routine, please seek help from your midwife or GP. They won't judge you and will work with you to find the best way of keep you and your baby nourished.
During this pandemic, one of the things I’ve been recommending, is to try to stick to a structure around eating at home. For example have a rough routine around meal and snack times so that you aren’t simply grazing all day. This also helps ensure that you never have too long to go before your next meal. Let’s face it, food is an enjoyable part of the day and it still SHOULD be, for everyone! But not paying attention to your body's food intake can take the pleasure out of mealtimes and eating in general.
Eating with kids
For simplicity and ease, some of us may be eating foods that we are preparing for children and paying less attention to your own diet. If you're finding this, try to get yourself involved in mealtimes with the kids, rather than setting down a bowl and leaving them too it. You can try to use this time at home to eat together and share the same meals. This can make a really big difference to how much you and your little ones enjoy mealtimes. Young babies and toddlers learn a lot about eating from watching you eat, so being a part of the mealtime with them is really key. You also don’t need to make separate meals for the whole family – try and eat similar things together and even get older kids involved in cooking with you if possible too. It can take some time out of the long days we’re experiencing at the moment and simply be another fun activity to do together.
Snacking is absolutely fine to do during pregnancy, in fact, later on in your pregnancy it’s a really good way to ensure you’re topping up on some of the extra nutrients and energy your body needs. This is especially true if you are experiencing morning sickness. You need around 200 extra calories in your third trimester, so don’t be afraid of snacking, particularly as you get closer to your due date. However, I often recommend making snacks into “mini meals”, to ensure they are still super balanced and nutrient rich. For example – oatcakes with nut butter and some veggie sticks or or a little cheese, some fruit and a cracker, for example.
Try to make snacks a part of your daily routine and have them at vaguely similar times each day, rather than just grazing on them as and when. This allows you to be more aware of what and how much you’re are eating, and will help you acknowledge signs of hunger and fullness during the day.
Here are some snack ideas you could try:
Tips for taking care of yourself during this time
- Try having a tick sheet of things you need to do and eat each day e.g. try to make sure you are having some vegetables with each meal.
- Try to have a structure around meal and snack times.
- Focus snacks on energy and nutrients, creating “mini meals”.
- Keep hydrated and try to drink BEFORE you feel super thirsty.
- Spend some time resting and distracting yourself. Do something for you like, listening to meditation or hypnobirthing apps, or just having a bath.
- Get some exercise in (taking care around social distancing rules).
- Raid your store cupboard and freezer and get experimental with some of your meals.
- Take it easy on yourself and remember that food is about enjoyment too.
Coping with morning sickness
It can be really hard if you are experiencing morning sickness at the moment. It is really important that you still seek support for morning sickness if you are struggling to cope. Maternity services are still open and you can call at any time. If you are unable to keep food down, you may have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. You might need further treatment to make sure you stay hydrated and nourished.
Simple snacks/'mini meal' recipes from Charlotte
When it's hotter weather outside, it's a great idea to have some recipes for refreshing, but healthy, snacks.
Smoothies are a great choice to have every now and then as they are easy and cheap to prepare. This is also a great recipe frozen into lolly trays to make ice-lollies for you and the kids. You can buy a lot of fruit pre-frozen. This works really well for smoothies and allows you to keep the fruit for longer.
- 2 handfuls of strawberries
- One large slice of watermelon (or replace with fruit of choice).
- 125mls of milk or plain yoghurt (non-dairy, if you are vegan)
- A teaspoon of plain yoghurt
- Wash the strawberries and take out the stems
- Remove pips from the watermelon and cut into chunks
- Pop the fruit into the blender and add the milk or yoghurt on top
- Blend all together until fully mixed
- Pour into a glass and add extra yoghurt to the top if you wish!
Everyone's baking banana bread (if you can get hold of flour!). There are so many ways to make banana bread – you can add in chocolate pieces, fruits or peanut butter. It’s also easy to make a vegan version of it too, if you just switch the butter for soya spread.
This recipe uses less than half the sugar that is in some recipes you can find online. To do this, you need to use super ripe bananas, which end up very sweet when baking! If you can't find flour, try whizzing up some oats to make an oat flour substitute.
- 140g unsalted butter
- 60g of caster sugar
- 2 free range eggs
- 140g self raising flour (or food-processed oats)
- 1tsp baking powder
- 3 very ripe bananas, mashed well
- 40g sultanas (can soak in water for 20 minutes before hand to make them more juicy).
- Grease a loaf tin and heat the oven to 180 degree celcius
- Cream butter and sugar together until fairly fluffy
- Use a blender or a whisk to add the eggs a little at a time – add a large pinch of the flour to stop the mixture separating
- Once blended, fold in the flour and the baking powder until the ingredients are mixed well
- Add the mashed bananas and whisk or stir together
- Finally add the sultanas
- Add the mixture to the loaf tin and pop in the middle shelf of the oven for around 30minutes
Getting energy without caffeine
When we’re social distancing and doing a little less in the day, it’s really hard to get energy and motivation to do much. It’s really easy for energy levels to dip – add to that pregnancy and you can see how you might be tempted to reach for the caffeine. However it’s recommended not to have too much caffeine during pregnancy. 200mg a day is the recommended maximum, which is around 1 cup of coffee or 2 cups of tea. However, there are other ways you can make sure you’re getting enough energy to motivate you through the day.
Even if it’s some online stretching, a walk once a day (whilst social distancing) and or keeping moving with the kids at home, exercise makes a really big difference to our energy levels. If your energy keeps dipping, try to kick your day off with a little activity. You might find it makes all the difference.
Try to make sure you’re eating at regular times and not skipping meals at all. Food gives us energy and whilst stuck at home (and growing a baby!). You need to make sure you’re keeping energy and nutrient levels up.
Healthy snacks in-between meals
This is especially useful if you’re feeling that your energy levels dip. Pick a time of day that suits and try to include a snack into your routine. If you can focus on nutrient AND energy dense foods for snack times such as oats, yogurt, toast, nut butters, veg sticks and dips etc, it’ll help to give you a nice lift in between those meals. Find lots more information about healthy snacks on the SR Nutrition website.
Rest where you can
Sometimes a cat nap or a lie down with your feet up is all you need. So take some care for yourself, even if it’s 10 minutes here and there, to rest and practice some mindfulness or just to think about your new baby!
Choose herbal teas
Sometimes all we need is something to replace the habit that is tea or coffee drinking. Have some herbal teas to fill the gap but remember to vary them and stick to no more than 4 a day. A little warm milk, cocoa, or honey and lemon can be a nice soothing tea option too. There are a few (less common) herbal teas that should be avoided in pregnancy. If you are unsure, please check with your midwife.
Making sure you stay hydrated is essential during pregnancy at anytime, but whilst we’re at home a lot and have easy access to free drinking water it’s still critical that you’re making sure you’re getting enough. Take a bottle with you around the house, especially when you’re going to bed or having a rest and try to sip on fluids gradually throughout the day.