Healthy eating during pregnancy

We ran a great session this week with expectant mothers on eating healthily during pregnancy and time-saving cooking tips for once the baby arrives. We planned a quick, but tasty, lunch incorporating lots of vegetables, and packing fibre and protein as well as other nutrients. Having pre-roasted the veggies, (in 20 minutes) we whipped up a spiced roasted vegetable salad with chickpeas and herbs, and a butterbean, mint and lemon dip. We used wholegrain couscous and roasted sweet potatoes in the salad, both of which are a great source of fibre – particularly important during pregnancy as it aids digestion. Sweet potatoes are also very rich in beta-carotene, which converts vitamin A in the body: particularly important for healthy fetal development.

Some of the group were surprised by how quick and easy couscous is to make – it needs no cooking, just soak it in boiling water for 10 minutes. Then simply add lots of fresh herbs, veggies and lemon juice. Fresh herbs are great because they not only pack in lots of flavour, they have lots of healing and restorative properties. Another expectant mother, who’d never used fresh herbs before, said she would be adding these to her dishes from now on. Although the government guidance is ‘5 a day’, for ‘optimal health’, we spoke about aiming for at least 10 portions. And did you know, you can count pulses as a portion?

Here are some of Zoe’s top healthy cooking and time-saving tips:

1. Have a well-stocked cupboard/freezer, especially of things that can be thrown together quickly when you’re not able to get to the shops, such as tinned pulses (full of protein and iron), dried lentils, frozen veg, wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal couscous, pasta etc), tinned tomatoes.

2. If you have a blender or food processor you can make a delicious pasta sauce in minutes, by blending up any greens.

3. Turn leftovers into a new meal, such as pre-cooked veggies in a soup.

4. Do some advance preparation so that you can put something together quickly, such as having jars of crushed garlic and ginger in your freezer or fridge (ice cube trays are good for this). Similarly, extra herbs you’re not going to use, chop them and place them in the freezer in bags or ice cube trays.

5. If you have leftover herbs, blend them and add them to oil – they will keep in your fridge for a few weeks, and work as a delicious dressing for salads or stir-fried vegetables. See Anna Jones’ recipe suggestion:

6. Add dark leafy greens to your dishes for extra nutrients. Not only are they one of the healthiest things we can eat, they are also cheap and quick to cook (e.g. a handful of spinach or kale added towards the end of cooking a curry).

7. Dried spices and fresh herbs are cheap and add extra flavour. They are a great way of getting in more anti-oxidants and nutrients meaning you don’t need to use so much salt or sugar.

8. Bulk cook a soup/stew or curry using whatever veg you have in the fridge, freeze into smaller portions.

9. Add vitamin C to foods rich in iron – such as lemon juice with spinach – this will help your body absorb more iron. 

10. Chop and roast a load of vegetables in advance (180c oven for between 20 to 40 minutes – the tougher the veg the longer the time) with olive oil and your favourite spices or herbs, store in the fridge and then add them to your meals throughout the week.

11. Don’t bother to peel your carrots, potatoes etc: not only will it save you time, but much of the goodness is in the peel. Just make sure you wash them properly first!

12. For a healthy alternative to crisps, toast some sunflower seeds (full of healthy omega fats) in a dry frying pan for a few minutes, and then stir through a teaspoon of soy sauce. Do a large batch and store in a jar for a few weeks. Can also add them to salads.

13. Start the day by getting some of your ‘9 a day’ (for optimum health lots of health experts recommend 9 portions of fruit and veg), by for example adding grated apples or carrots to porridge. You can make it the night before – a bowl of oats and then add some seeds such as flaxseed, sunflower, chia, sesame (which are super good for you), some grated fruit or veg (carrots, apple), some nuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon and milk or water. Leave it in the fridge and in the morning you can have it as it is or heat it up as porridge.