Stage-by-stage nutrition

In her books, Dr. Avena has dozens of recipes designed for new moms, including what to eat when you’re trying to conceive and what to eat after your baby has been born. It’s important to be aware of exactly what’s happening to your body in every stage and to understand what foods are beneficial for you and your baby. Below are some examples of stage-specific recipes from Dr. Avena, complete with detailed information about what your nutritional needs are at every stage.

Stage: Trying to Conceive?
Topic: Early Pregnancy and Brain Health

What’s Happening?: Whether you are thinking about it, just starting out “trying,” or if you have been at it for a while, good nutrition makes a big difference for you and your baby! Remember, you won’t know if you are pregnant until you are a few weeks along, and a lot of the development of the brain and spinal cord happens in these early weeks. That is why it is important to make sure you are taking good care of yourself, which means eating right, reducing stress (including stressing about getting pregnant), and staying active.

Your Nutritional Needs: Folic acid, or folate (vitamin B9), is important in early pregnancy. You want to make sure that you are getting enough of it to ensure healthy development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord, which is one of the first things to develop in the early weeks of pregnancy (before you even know you are expecting!). When pregnant, you need 600 mcg per day of dietary folate equivalents, which is why it is often found in prenatal supplements. To get more folate in your diet, opt for foods such as steamed spinach or kidney beans. Dark, leafy green vegetables, like kale or collard greens, are also great sources. If you aren’t a huge fan of greens, try adding some nuts, eggs, grains, or seafood to your diet.

Roasted or Raw Beet Salad
Serves 2
Roasted or Raw Beet Salad



This salad is simple and gives you the option to roast your beets or eat them raw. Either way, beets are a great source of folate, potassium, magnesium, and other important vitamins that are essential in very early pregnancy. You can turn this dish into a complete meal by adding some grilled chicken and goat cheese, or try adding some crushed walnuts or pumpkin seeds to give it some added crunch. Note: If you don’t feel like having to prepare beets, you can use canned or prepackaged ones as well.

1 baseball-sized beet, scrubbed
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups finely chopped raw kale (tough stems removed)
Salt and pepper to taste

If you are eating your beets raw, be sure to peel off the skin and cut them with a potato or julienne peeler into long, thin strips (like “noodles”).

If you are roasting your beets, you can leave the skin on if you like. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut beets in ½ inch cubes, and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place on baking sheet. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until slightly tender. Allow to cool for 10 min.

Combine beets with kale in a large bowl and toss to coat with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a salad, or add toppings of your choice to complete your meal.

*Adapted from Dr. Avena’s book, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.

Stage: Pregnant?
Topic: Combating Nausea With Food

What’s Happening?: Feeling nauseous? You aren’t alone. In the first trimester, many women combat nausea. This tends to peak around weeks 7-8 of your pregnancy and, for most women, subsides shortly thereafter. For some women, it can linger, and, for a few, it can become severe enough to warrant the need for medical attention. So, be sure to keep in close touch with your OB if you are experiencing pregnancy nausea, and if you aren’t able to keep any food down or feel that your nausea is impeding your day-to-day activities, talk with your doctor to make sure you aren’t getting dehydrated.

Your Nutritional Needs: Vitamin B6 can become your best friend when you are feeling nauseous. And the good news is that you can get this vitamin from a variety of foods. When pregnant, you need 2.0 mg of vitamin B6 each day. There are many food options out there that not only contain vitamin B6, but are also easy on your belly and not known to aggravate nausea. Try avocado, baked potato, brown rice, chickpeas, salmon (smoked has less of an odor, if you are sensitive to smells), or spinach.

Hard Boiled Egg, Toast, and Melon Plate
Serves 1
Hard Boiled Egg, Toast, and Melon Plate



This quick and easy meal is gentle on your stomach, but will give you a steady dose of energy to help you through your first trimester. Try this low-odor, easy-to-digest meal first thing in the morning to give you a balance of healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat, along with a replenishing dose of potassium. And breakfast isn’t just for breakfast anymore; try this dish for dinner one night to change things up a bit.

2 eggs
2 slices whole grain bread
1 cup cut melon (honeydew or cantaloupe)

Place uncracked eggs in a single layer in the bottom of a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer for 12 minutes. Drain, keeping the eggs in the pot, and then immediately refill the pot with cold water (this temperature shock will make them much easier to peel). Let sit for another minute before draining.

Peel the eggs and toast the bread. Serve eggs sliced on top of the toast, with the cut melon on the side.

*Adapted from Dr. Avena’s book, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.

Stage: New Mom?
Topic: What You Can Eat to Beat Post-Baby Exhaustion

What’s Happening?: Congratulations on your new baby! This is a crazy, exciting, exhausting time in your life, and it’s a time when you need to have as much energy as you can get. You want to be healthy about it, though, and loading up on coffee or caffeinated energy drinks (which are loaded with sugars and chemicals) is not the way to go, especially if you are nursing. There are healthier ways to get your energy stores up so you can keep up with your new baby all day (and night!) long.

Your Nutritional Needs: Healthy carbohydrates can be your savior when it comes to trying to eat well post-baby and keeping your energy stores up. Avoid “simple carbs,” like candies, cakes, and other processed foods. Instead, opt for “complex” carbohydrates that will slowly release sugar into your bloodstream. This means that you will be able to feel more sustained energy levels, without the crash. Some great sources of complex carbohydrates that are post-baby friendly include bananas, whole grains (like oatmeal), pastas (try chickpea pasta for a lower-calorie, higher-protein swap), or yogurt. Remember, carbohydrates are a macronutrient, which means you need more of them in your diet than other nutrients. You should aim for 210 g of healthy carbs each day if you are breastfeeding.

Banana and Almond Butter Roll Up
Serves 1
Banana and Almond Butter Roll Up



Only have a minute to make lunch for yourself? We got you! You can whip up this wholesome, satisfying wrap in no time. And if you are making lunch for your older kids for school, swap in sunflower butter for the almond butter for a healthy, nut-free lunchbox treat that your kiddos will love.

2 tablespoons unsalted almond butter (or sunflower butter)
1 whole wheat tortilla
1 banana, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

Spread the unsalted almond or sunflower butter down the center of the tortilla. Place the two banana halves on top, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Roll up the tortilla, and enjoy right away or store in a lunchbox with an ice pack to enjoy later on.

*Adapted from Dr. Avena’s book, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, pediatrician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding diet and exercise during and after pregnancy, or other medical condition.

These meal plans were developed by Nicole Avena, PhD. Nicole Avena is a paid spokesperson for Vertical Pharmaceuticals, LLC, the maker of the OB Complete® family of prescription prenatal dietary supplements.