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Is it true I can 'eat for two' while pregnant?

Monday 14 August 2017

A young pregnant woman sits on the couch, eating yoghurt.
You should aim to eat twice as well, but not twice as much, during pregnancy.

First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! This is an exciting time, as your body grows and changes to support the development of your baby. What you eat and drink during this time is important, and will impact on your health and your baby’s during pregnancy and after birth.

As we examined in ‘How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?’, gaining too much or too little weight while pregnant can be unhealthy for mum and bub. This can be directly impacted by your diet: while the old adage about ‘eating for two’ is cute, healthy pregnant women should not aim to double their food intake while carrying their baby. But while there is no need to ‘eat for two’ during pregnancy, you do need to eat twice as well.

Because your body is using energy and nutrients from the food you eat to grow a baby, you will need to eat a bit more than normal during pregnancy. If morning sickness hasn’t quashed your hunger, you may feel your appetite grow to encompass this need. Below, find tips and links with information about what foods and drinks should make up your diet and how much you should aim to eat every day.

What should I eat while pregnant?

Pregnancy is a great time to focus on developing healthy eating habits. If you feel like your diet hasn’t been crash hot in the past, use this opportunity to really nurture yourself and your growing baby. It’s even better if you make healthy changes before you start trying to fall pregnant.

Your baby needs a wide array of nutrients to grow and develop. In this case, the ‘eating for two’ saying is true: the quality of foods you put in your body will affect both you and bub. While pregnant, aim to eat mostly nutrient rich foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods, lean protein and calcium containing foods.

Processed foods, what most of us call ‘junk food’, like donuts, lollies and chips, contain a lot of sugar, fat and salt, but not many nutrients. Try to limit your intake of these foods while pregnant.

If you’re looking for inspiration for healthy meals, check out the Healthier. Happier. website, which has a variety of easy, healthy recipes for every meal as well as snacks, and advice on eating healthily when eating out.

During pregnancy, you should aim to eat a variety of food from each of the five food groups. These groups are:

  • vegetables, legumes and beans
  • fruit
  • grain foods, including wholegrain and/or high fibre cereals, rice, breads and pasta
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or dairy alternatives like soy or rice milk.

We’ll talk about how much of each food group you should aim to eat every day below.

It’s important to drink plenty of water while you are pregnant, which helps prevent dehydration. Most tap water also contains fluoride, which will help your baby’s teeth develop strong enamel. Try to limit sugary drinks like soft drinks and fruit juices, and acidic drinks, like diet soft drinks and sports drinks. There is no safe level of alcohol to drink while pregnant, so it’s best to avoid it altogether. You should also limit or avoid caffeinated drinks, like coffee or energy drinks.

There are some supplements that pregnant women should take, to help ensure their baby’s health. You can read more about these in our blog post, 'What supplements should I take during pregnancy?'.

Lastly, there are some foods you should definitely avoid eating while pregnant. When pregnant, normal hormonal changes can weaken your immune system. This makes it harder to fight off infection, including infections from food that cause foodborne illnesses. You can refer to this list of foods to avoid or limit your intake of while you are pregnant, provided by the Queensland Government.

A pregnant woman cooks in the kitchen, the bench filled with vegetables. She chews on a slice of cucumber.

How much should I eat while pregnant?

Eating too much food, even healthy food, can make you gain excess weight. This is because your body stores the energy from excess food as fat. While you’ll need to eat a bit more while pregnant than normal, you don’t need to dramatically up your intake.

Much more accurate than the ‘eating for two’ saying, Eat for Health’s healthy eating guidelines for pregnant women provide a guide for how many serves of each food group you should aim to eat each day during pregnancy. You can download their pamphlet here: Healthy eating during pregnancy – advice for eating for you and your baby (PDF 2.23MB).

The table below shows how much of different types of foods makes a serve, and how many serves you should aim to eat from each food group per day.

Food Group What is a serve? Recommended daily serves for pregnant women Recommended daily serves for women who aren't pregnant
Vegetables and legumes/beans

½ cup frozen veges

½ cup carrots

½ medium potato or sweet potato

1 cup leafy salad

½ canned tomato

5 5

1 apple

1 banana (medium)

1 cup canned fruit

2 small stone fruits

2 2
Grain (cereal) foods

1 slice wholegrain bread

½ cup cooked noodles or rice

2/3 cup high fibre cereal

½ cup cooked pasta

8 ½ (8 if you’re 18 or under) 6 (7 if you’re 18 or under)
Lean meats and proteins

65g beef steak

80g chicken breast

100g canned tuna

2 large eggs

1 cup baked beans

3 ½ 2 ½
Dairy or dairy alternatives

1 cup milk

2 slices cheese

¾ cup unsweetened yoghurt

1 cup soy or rice milk

2 ½ (3 ½ if you’re 18 or under) 2 ½ (3 ½ if you’re 18 or under)

As you can see, you don’t need to eat a lot of extra food while pregnant, just a few more serves of some food groups each day.

Extra tips for eating well while pregnant

Follow these tips to help you maintain a healthy diet while you’re pregnant.

Eat a nutritious breakfast each day – this can stop you from reaching for unhealthy snacks.

Check your serving sizes. Rather than cutting out your favourites, you might just need to change the amounts of different foods you eat.

Instead of junk food, try healthy snacks like:

  • sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, grilled chicken, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines and salad
  • salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
  • low-fat yoghurt hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
  • ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
  • milky drinks or unsweetened fruit juices
  • fresh fruit
  • baked beans on toast or a baked potato.
Last updated: 9 April 2019