I almost titled this post “Pregnancy Diet When You're Dirt Poor.” It is possible to eat a healthy pregnancy diet on a budget. I know this for a fact because I went through three pregnancies and had three healthy babies while living on less than $10,000 (USD), well below the poverty line. In addition, many successful pregnancy nutrition trials happened in low-income clinics – moms had healthy babies and almost no complications.
Protein and Salting to Taste
You build a healthy pregnancy diet with adequate protein and by salting your foods to taste. Meeting these requirements means your blood volume can expand the 50-60% it needs to during pregnancy, and this will prevent most pregnancy complications. Many women are think “expensive” when they think about protein because they think about meat.
But vegetarian sources of protein are fine, and if you can combine them with a small amount of meat every day, you'll be doing well. Dairy products are also a great source of protein.
Building a healthy day with WIC
Low-income women in the United States can usually receive WIC foods to supplement their diet, so I will outline a healthy day based on a standard WIC food package for pregnancy. This list comes from the Texas WIC packages, and is similar to what a pregnant woman in any state will receive.
- 36 ounces of cereal
- 1lb whole grains
- $10 for fresh fruits and veggies
- 144oz juice
- 4.5 gallon + 1 quart milk
- 1lb cheese
- 1 dozen eggs
- 1lb dried beans
- 18oz peanut butter
Exclusively breastfeeding moms will get slightly more food than this, plus canned tuna/salmon, so you can eat this healthy diet while breastfeeding, too.
So how can a mom use these foods as the basis for good pregnancy nutrition?
Here's what to buy with WIC:
- Cereal: oatmeal (buy the kind with the most protein per packet)
- Whole grain: rice
- Fruits and veggies: Sweet potatoes and Green veggies, rest your choice
- Juice: Orange juice (with pulp, if allowed)
- Milk: whole milk, if allowed (consider asking your doctor for a note if needed – otherwise get 2%)
- Cheese: your choice
- Eggs: Largest eggs allowed
- Dried beans: your choice
- Peanut Butter: “Natural” if allowed, no corn syrup, lowest sugar brand allowed
Here's a sample menu based on those foods:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with butter and chopped fruit. 8oz of milk and 1/4 cup cooked beans with salt and butter to taste. (Around 14g protein)
Morning Snack: 2 eggs salted to taste, 4oz orange juice for Vitamin C and to aid iron absorption (12 g protein)
Lunch: Mexican beef/bean/rice dish with 1/4 cup beans and 1oz ground beef. 8oz milk and Homemade salad (Around 16g protein)
Afternoon Snack: Peanut butter sandwich with 2T peanut butter and 8oz milk (Around 20g protein if the bread is whole grain)
Supper: 3oz Roast Chicken with skin, Baked Sweet Potato with butter, salted to taste, for beta carotene, sautéed veggie or salad on the side (Around 21g protein)
Before Bed Snack: 8oz milk, piece of fruit, 1oz slice of cheese (16g protein)
Total protein: 99g! You want 80-100g daily.
You've salted to taste the entire day. You've gotten in a little red meat at lunch, and roast chicken for supper. You've gotten plenty of veggies and fruits. This is a great pregnancy diet.
You now have leftover roast chicken, so a chicken salad sandwich, or even just sliced leftover chicken can make tomorrow's lunch. I would also suggest you buy an inexpensive beef roast each month and stretch it over several meals – soups and sandwiches are great for this.
Counting the Costs
WIC paid for much of the day's foods. If you get other food help, such as food stamps, or you're stretching your budget, use that as follows:
Your WIC beans will give 26 1/4 cup servings. You can buy more bagged, dried beans very inexpensively.
You used only 1oz of ground beef, so even if you buy on a couple of pounds of beef a month, it will last you all month and you'll have iron-rich beef every day. Whole chickens are very inexpensive (often under $1 a pound) and they're easy to cook. Watch for meat sales and stock up on ground beef and whole chickens – both freeze well.
WIC buys about a week's worth of eggs – you can buy 4 dozen more eggs for less than $10 and that will last you all month long.
Your pound of cheese will last for several day's snacks, and you could buy 1-2 pounds more yourself. If buying more cheese and peanut butter isn't possible until next month, use more beans to make up for the protein.
Your WIC package has most of the milk you need, so you'll only have to buy a couple of gallons more. Splurge a little to buy a pound or two of butter each month. A container of sour cream can also help “dress up” beans and is generally inexpensive. Get a brand that's pure sour cream (no fillers).
If you can eat liver once a week it's an inexpensive nutrient powerhouse (kids love smooth pates on toast or as a veggie dip).
Fruit, Vegetables, and Grains
WIC pays for much of your oatmeal and rice, and what you buy for yourself is inexpensive. You can also buy a couple of loaves of bread inexpensively for peanut butter sandwiches.
Buy inexpensive fruits and vegetables to round out your diet. If your WIC clinic participates in Project FRESH you can shop for fresh, local produce at farmer's markets during the summer!
Feeding the Whole Family
What if you're cooking for other family members? The cost will go up, but the meals can stay the same. Keep them simple and cook from scratch. Don't rely on Ramen or hot dogs (hot dogs are actually pretty expensive). Instead, rely on beans and rice. Give growing children a similar diet – beans and rice rounded out with eggs and milk to give high-quality protein. Remember that children under 5 qualify for WIC food packages similar to your pregnancy package, too.
Avoid expensive, prepackaged snacks for your kids. A little cheese, an egg, veggies sticks/fruit slices, etc. are great for snacks. I always try to include protein in snacks for pregnant mamas and growing kids.
You can't have steaks every night (and you don't need them) and variety is hard to get – at first. But as you get used to preparing food like this, you can introduce variety and find what your family likes – the simple, inexpensive favorites you can always rely on.
A healthy pregnancy diet – and a healthy diet for the whole family – is possible when you're on a strict budget. Be creative and have fun as you expand your cooking skills. Cooking and eating wholesome meals also decreases your stress and helps you bond with your baby – which makes baby even healthier and both of you happier 🙂
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- The importance of a healthy pregnancy diet
- Outline of a balanced pregnancy diet
- Weight gain during pregnancy
Photo by Whitney