Fast food generally isn’t the best food choice for pregnant moms. It’s high in fat and carbs, and the grease can trigger waves of nausea. But if you need to eat it—because you’re taking your kids out for a family meal, or you’re hit by a huge craving for pizza—you can find “the healthier options.”
The best fast food for pregnant moms have healthy proteins and vegetables, and a small amount of complex carbs and healthy oils. The worst fast food is mostly carbohydrates and fat, and has a lot of hidden calories in the sauces and fixings.
In this article, we’ll look at the best and worst things to order at a fast food chain when you’re pregnant, and give you tips on how to make any restaurant dish healthier in case you don’t have a choice about where you will eat.
Table of Contents
- Mexican fast food
- Asian fast food
- Coffee shops
- Make healthier choices for yourself and your baby
Whether it’s McDonald’s, Burger King, or your local neighborhood burger joint, the best choice will always be a classic, single patty burger. Aside from the protein boost, you get some vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce.
Avoid add-ons like extra cheese or bacon strips, and any heavy sauces. For example, that spoonful of sauce that McDonald’s uses for its Big Mac already has 74 calories from fat.
If you can, order the chicken burger or plant-based burgers, which will have less calories and saturated fat and cholesterol. (Several big food chains have Applebees, Shake Shack, and Burger King have these options.)
The worst choice is fried chicken nuggets. You may think you’re getting “pure protein” but it’s actually got a lot of carbs from the batter and breading, and it’s deep fried. Plus, you can’t eat a nugget without dunking it in sauce, which is high in sugar and salt.
There are two sandwich fillings that you need to watch out for when you’re pregnant: tuna and cold cuts.
Tuna is a healthy protein that’s full of omega-3 fatty acids that can help build your baby’s brain, but because of possible mercury content you need to limit it to two or three servings a week. So a tuna sandwich is a best choice as long as you watch your total weekly intake.
Cold cuts are dangerous during pregnancy.According to the American Pregnancy Association, uncooked meat brings the risk of Listeria. It is rare, but if you get it during pregnancy, it can cause severe complications or even fetal death.
If you do eat any processed meat, make sure that it has been steamed or heated before serving. So, the worst choice is a place like Subway where the meats just sit on the counter the whole day and are served cold. The best choice would be any sandwich with a cooked healthy protein, such as roast beef, grilled chicken, or fish.
When you pick a pizza, consider three things: the thickness of the crust, what the crust is made of, and how much cheese it has.
The best choice would be a thin-crust pizza, ideally made of wholewheat flour. It should also have less cheese, to reduce calories and fat. One example is Domino’s Thin Crust with Light Cheese with Veggies, which has 270 calories per slice versus Pizza Hut’s Meat Lovers which has 470 calories.
As for toppings, go for grilled chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, or even plain garlic (it’s good for the heart!).
The worst choice is any thick-crust, deep dish pizza that has cheese inside the crust, too. Meat toppings like pepperoni, sausage and beef are also notorious for having a lot of salt. For example, ones slice of Domino’s ExtravaganZZa already has 1,000 mg of sodium or almost half of your daily recommended intake during pregnancy.
Mexican fast food
We’re sorry to say this, but the most popular Mexican menu items are the ones you need to avoid.
Let’s start with the worst choices, because of calorie counts. A burrito or chimichanga can have as much as 900 calories, especially if it’s served with huge dollops of cheese and sour cream. Even taco salads are a no-no, because the shell alone can have as much as 600 calories.
Other things to skip: the cheese dips, refried beans, and quesadilla (especially if you eat it with sour cream and guacamole). These are all high in fat.
But don’t worry, there are plenty of Mexican dishes that are actually really great food to eat during pregnancy. This includes enchiladas with red sauce, fajitas, and soft tacos. They’re usually filled with vegetables and grilled meat, and you can control the amount of cheese.
Soups, a salad with tortilla strips instead of a tortilla shell, or slow-cooked black beans are also healthy picks.
Asian fast food
Asian restaurant items often have a lot of vegetable dishes and lean proteins, so you’re in luck. The best options would be anything with tofu and mushrooms, sauteed or blanched vegetables, and steamed chicken or seafood.
The worst option is deep-fried food. For example, Korean chicken has batter and breading, and is often double-fried to make it extra crispy. Even Japanese tempura—even if it’s technically made of nutritious shrimp and vegetables—is loaded with calories.
You should also stay away from sashimi and sushi until after you give birth, because of possible exposure to mercury and harmful parasites and bacteria.
Contrary to popular belief, you can have coffee when you’re pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say you can have up to 200 mg of caffeine a day, or the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup.
But coffees are not created equal. The best choice is a single 8-ounce cup of drip coffee, which has about 137 mg of caffeine, and is less than 5 calories. The worst choice is a sweet coffee with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and other additions. For example, a Grande Caramel Frappuccino is 370 calories with 130 calories from fat.
Make healthier choices for yourself and your baby
You always have a choice. Even if you can’t avoid going to a fast food restaurant, you can decide what to order.