Full Belly

Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy


By Tara Mataraza Desmond

By Shirley Fan, RD

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For the Most Delicious — and Healthiest — Pregnancy Fuel!

As a trained chef, Tara Mataraza Desmond knows how to cook — and eat. But when she became pregnant, all bets were off, and seemingly all food was suspect. Deli meat, raw milk cheese, and alcohol were out, but what is in? Lists of “verboten” foods were easy to find, but healthful, doable meals that would appeal to a pregnant woman’s finicky appetite and also feed her baby in the best way were not. Relying on prenatal vitamins didn’t sound very satisfying for this ambitious cook, who is most at ease in front of the stove. So with registered dietitian Shirley Fan, Desmond put together delicious, healthy recipes with the baby bump in mind.

Sections include “What to Eat When You Don’t Want to Eat,” for that queasy and crucial first trimester, while the six chapters of recipes are accompanied by nutritional facts and bonus info to take you through all nine months (and beyond). An Iced Coffee Thickshake and a slice of Nectarine Pecan Baked Oatmeal can start the morning off right, while the Trail Mix Bars are perfect for a pick-me-up snack. Options like Cranberry Pistachio Salad with Chive Vinaigrette, Pork and Peanut Noodles, and Butternut Ragùagna (which does double-duty as a great freezer-friendly meal for after the baby arrives) fill out lunch and dinner. All of the recipes even benefit the post-pregnancy bod (and feed the rest of the family) by focusing on whole foods that deliver flavor without too much fat, sugar, and empty calories that make baby weight hard to shed. Full Belly is a cookbook designed to foster a healthy, happy pregnancy — but you’ll be coming back to the delicious recipes long after baby arrives!



When the infamous pink plus sign showed up, confirming my first pregnancy, I was immediately nervous about a lot of things. Parenthood and its complexities scared me. Picking out a paint color for the baby’s room overwhelmed me. The thought of walking into a baby superstore exhausted me. Stretch marks, split abdominal muscles, ever-expanding boobs, and baby weight made me cringe. I started worrying about modern-day kid issues—the stuff of morning show interviews with child psychologists. “Sexting,” bullying, and ’tween angst were all years away, but they rushed my brand-new mom-to-be brain.

The one thing I figured I had in the bag was nutrition for pregnancy. I cook and write about food for a living, with an emphasis on eating for wellness. I eat consciously, make healthy, from-scratch meals for my family almost every day, and thought I wouldn’t have to think much about eating for two, save for battles with inexplicable cravings and aversions that everyone talks about. I’m a professional, and that was one thing pregnancy wasn’t going to challenge.

I was wrong.

During that first pregnancy, I was part of the culinary crew on the set of a Food Network production. I was surrounded by food thirteen hours a day with access to some of the best ingredients in New York City. We cooked all day, turning out pots, pans, and plates of beautifully steamy, sizzling, saucy recipes that posed for the cameras with the sex appeal of a supermodel strutting down a runway. Yet there I was, feeling stuffed into my regular jeans, my growing baby belly hidden beneath an oversized chef’s coat, skeptical of every dish that went to set. I was surrounded by mouthwatering food made by pros, and I didn’t want any of it. I was anxious to be home, where I could cook what I wanted and what I knew was really good for the brand-new person for whom I was responsible.

Like most expectant mothers, I had the best intentions from the very beginning to live and eat as healthfully as possible. But even for me, a cookbook author and recipe developer, the responsibility of eating right for pregnancy felt daunting. As I listened to the celebrity chef chatter on about the virtues of his handsome meal, I thought about all of my fellow pregnant women who could use a food professional to translate prenatal nutritional requirements into meals as deliciously appealing as the ones that make great food television.

At home, my nightstand was stacked with pregnancy books filled with indispensable information about what to expect over those forty weeks. The first sections I read were the ones about nutrition. I expected they would validate my command on the topic of food for baby-growing. But the chapter was sodden with dos and don’ts and clunky with scientific measures and nutrient lists. The “guidelines” felt as constricting as the waistline of my pants against my growing midsection. Even for someone professionally fluent in the language of food, the details made me want to surrender to a sleeve of Oreos.

Most of the books offered a chapter about “diet,” including exhaustive lists of nutrients singled out as those that will foster the baby’s brain development, strong bones, and sturdy musculoskeletal system. “Be sure to get enough folate, especially in the first trimester”; “Don’t skimp on the B vitamins”; “If you’re running low on iron-rich foods, you run the risk of developing anemia.” Though I was a voracious reader of the science, I saw a significant gap between the information offered by the medical community and practical guidance on how pregnant women should translate it to breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, and, of course, dessert. Eventually I found my way, reading the nutrient lists in reference books and using the information to create appetizing recipes that delivered what’s advised.

When my second pregnancy proved to be twins, however, the confidence gained from navigating and cooking through my first pregnancy evaporated. Aside from the news of twins being a complete game changer across life’s board, I was writhing with life-sucking nausea nearly all day every day for two months. The sickness made it close to impossible to eat the way I knew how, and I subsisted on a diet that made me question my identity, eating quirky things I had abandoned after childhood. During the rare and unpredictable windows of appetite revival, I desperately tried to consume something with redeeming qualities to save the twins and me from my one-dimensional diet of things such as Cheerios and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I worried constantly about getting enough to sustain the growth of two babies when all I wanted to do was sleep until the misery lifted.

If I felt intimidated by all the rules about what to eat, I was certain that women who don’t cook and eat for hire must be especially tentative. The ones I talked to admitted to glazing over while reading nutrition advice and daydreaming about glazed donuts instead. While most understood the importance of eating well for baby’s sake, the clinical bent of much of the advice didn’t translate into practical direction in the kitchen. The tendency for information to center on what pregnant women shouldn’t eat frustrated moms-to-be, who were already quietly worried enough about other things. Women I surveyed told me they would buy a book that goes easy on the academic and medical details and offers quick, approachable recipes that are good for them, their baby, and their family. Most admitted that they just want to be told what to eat and how to prepare it so they could enjoy it, knowing they’re doing right by their baby, and then get on with managing the registry and decorating the nursery.

Full Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy translates recommendations by experts in the medical and nutrition science communities into a cookbook full of approachable and appealing recipes that deliver the nutrients pregnant women need. I collaborated with nutrition expert Shirley Fan, MS, RD, to take the guesswork out of cooking for pregnancy, so you can rest assured knowing the recipes will keep you covered nutritionally. Full Belly is a cookbook for a generation of mothers who are concerned with and participating in discussions about food safety, child nutrition, and food and cooking as drivers of good health. It pays heed to scientific research that proves that smart food choices throughout pregnancy foster the well-being of mother and baby. It is written with the ideas put forth by the fetal origins hypothesis, which asserts that maternal lifestyle during pregnancy, including diet, has a direct impact on development long after birth.

Though my principal goal in writing this book is to foster healthy, happy pregnancies by promoting eating well, I must admit an ulterior motive: I am using you to access and influence a new generation of better, more balanced eaters. If I can encourage you to cook well for yourself now (or have someone else do the cooking for you), during these precious, critical months when you are acutely aware that your choices have such important implications, then you are more likely to continue living and eating this way after your baby is born. If your child is born to a mother who cooks and eats mindfully, the odds are much better that she will grow up to be a good eater and a healthier person. Training yourself to tune into food and its tremendous impact on health while your motivation to take good care is at an all-time high means you will probably be determined to teach your family the same. You’ll also be fit to endure the fickle palate of toddlerhood that may be up ahead, and to remain steadfast against the fallacy of “kid food” like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and hoards of brightly packaged, strategically marketed processed products that aren’t doing our kids any favors. If you relish your food, mealtime will become an important fixture in your family’s life and memories, and your child will likely pass that on to his own someday.

This book is for women who have every intention of eating well throughout pregnancy without obsessing over the details, counting calories, feeling deprived, or misinterpreting the real meaning of “eating for two.” It’s for those who believe that good food is strong medicine. It’s for mothers-to-be who know that one of the easiest ways to give babies a healthy leg up on life is by choosing great food during all three trimesters. Full Belly isn’t intended for that stack of reference books on every pregnant woman’s nightstand. It is meant to stay in the kitchen, with the food, where every pregnant woman spends plenty of time!

Full Belly is written with the belief that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and a healthy pregnancy is one of life’s biggest joys. Here’s to enjoying both.

Full Kitchen: Stocking Up for a Pregnancy Appetite

The first step toward eating well for pregnancy (and life) is to stock your kitchen (and purse, car, desk, and nightstand) with nutritious food that ensures something good, fast. Pick nutrient-dense foods that appeal to you in an effort to make more bites count. If there’s a period of many weeks when you can’t even stand to look at the words that make up this list (see “The Misery of Morning Sickness and NVP” on page 24 and “What to Eat When You Don’t Want to Eat” on page 27), try not to worry too deeply and assume that you will feel better and will be able to eat better in the days ahead.

On a cash register receipt, eating well might look kind of expensive. Fresh, unprocessed ingredients generally cost more than processed, packaged foods. Organic options usually have a bigger price tag than their conventional counterparts (see the sidebar “Organic or Panic?” on page 154 for more on organic choices). But in the long run of life, and in the short run of creating and fostering a new life, it’s an investment that returns in spades. Plus, cooking at home is much less costly than eating out often or otherwise paying someone else to cook for you. The more familiar you become with buying and handling good ingredients, the more cost efficient you can be, too.

Take advantage of the bulk foods department of your grocery store if it includes one. You can buy only what you need and won’t pay for packaging and marketing expenses built into the cost of other products on the shelves. Farmers’ markets, buying clubs, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs give you access to reliable sources of quality food, for which you will sometimes pay less than you would for the same items in a conventional supermarket.

Stock your freezer to sustain you through the first few months after your baby arrives, when cooking is quick to drop out of the juggle of caring for a newborn. (Refer to chapter 5, “For Now and Later,” for more.)


“What’s the very first word or thought that comes to mind when you think food and pregnancy?”

Amy M: “Enjoy!”

Karin M: “Eat well!”

Adelaide L: “My relationship to food during pregnancy generally progresses like this: ‘Yuck, ugh’ (as in, do I really have to feed myself or others?), and then ‘More please.’”

Alison G: “Ugh. (I’m eight months pregnant with terrible heartburn right now!)”

Carrie S: “Be realistic, don’t throw caution to the wind.”

Cathy B: “First word: indulgence. And then second is: healthy.”

Danielle M: “Cheese. Yes, cheese.”

Dina V: “Balance (or clementines and Snickers bars)”

Grace R: “Nausea.”

Jess T: “Lots.”

Kat B: “Grilled cheese.”

Nicole R: “Was I really hungry all the time?!?!?!”

Tara H: “Comfort. I wanted my babies to be comforted in the womb, with foods that I loved and that comforted me.”

Joelle G: “Crock pot.”

Carita G: “Lifeline.”



Pregnant or not, a good breakfast is like the key to your body’s ignition. Without it, you’ll advance sluggishly through the morning, and your metabolism will idle until something finally prompts it to get going. When you’re expecting, a nutritious meal first thing is more important than ever because it’s fuel for your usual daily duties, and for your latest priority, building a baby. Breakfast recalibrates blood sugar after hours of rest, which helps ward off nausea, crankiness, headaches, and lethargy.

Some pregnant women start with breakfast in bed, and not the fancy kind complete with a tiny vase and a pretty flower on a gilded tray. I’m talking about plain crackers straight from the package that stands sentry on a bedside table, ready to squelch morning sickness as soon as it wakes. If you’re in that phase of pregnancy, hang in there until you feel better, and you can really get the morning off to an energetic start.

The recipes in this chapter range from breakfast of the hardiest kind (Seven-Grain Pancakes, page 59, and Molasses Waffles with Cinnamon Pears, page 54) to smaller servings meant to be part of a complete breakfast, or for women who go about their days eating little meals more frequently (Honey Peanut Banana Muffins, page 48, and Lemon-Berry Barley Scones, page 51). Plenty are perfectly portable for commuter or at-the-office breakfasts, too.

Whatever your strategy for starting each morning, don’t leave out the nutrients and energy that come from the most important meal of the day.


* = Good Source (10 to 19%) ** = Excellent Source (>20%)

Note: DHA is based on 200 mg recommendation

Blueberry Kefir Smoothie

Saddled with the infamous pregnancy affliction, constipation, I embraced a high-fiber diet more than ever. Still, things were slow going and terribly uncomfortable. Finally, I discovered a regimen that offered some relief. A daily dose of prune juice and probiotic-rich kefir helped give my sluggish system a nudge. Though prunes are fiber filled, their juice is virtually void of it. Prune juice’s regulating potion is actually sorbitol, a sugar, which retains water and, in turn, softens stool. Kefir, a cultured milk product similar to yogurt, contains good bacteria that help keep the digestive tract balanced and healthy.

Makes 4 servings

2 cups/473 ml plain kefir

2 cups/280 g fresh or frozen blueberries

1 cup/237 ml prune juice

Combine the kefir, blueberries, and prune juice in a blender. Blend on high speed for about 30 seconds into a smooth, purpley liquid speckled with blueberry skins. Serve immediately. Cover and refrigerate leftovers up to 3 days; stir well or quickly blend again before serving.


BELLY BONUS: In addition to the cleansing effect of prune juice, it is also a good source of potassium, an electrolyte credited with warding off muscle cramps and irregular heart rhythms. Electrolyte imbalance is fairly common during pregnancy and can be avoided with a balanced diet and healthful choices like this smoothie.



Calories 160 | Total fat 4 g (Saturated 3 g, Poly 0 g, Omega-3 0.04 g, DHA 0.00 g, EPA 0.00 g, Mono 0 g), Cholesterol 15 mg | Protein 5 g | Sodium 72 mg | Carbohydrates 27 g | Fiber 3 g | Sugars 17 g | Vitamin A 3 mcg | Vitamin B6 0 mg | Vitamin B12 0 mcg | Vitamin C 7 mg | Vitamin D 50 IU | Choline 4 mg | Folate 4 mcg | Calcium 159 mg | Iron 1 mg


Belly Woes: Digestive Troubles during Pregnancy

DURING BOTH PREGNANCIES, BUT ESPECIALLY THE FIRST, I WAS WEIGHED DOWN HEAVILY BY CONSTIPATION, a pregnancy-induced digestive snafu. I would go days staring longingly at the toilet and watch enviously as my husband would emerge from the bathroom with a lighter lilt in his step. Accusatory fingers are most often pointed at progesterone, a hormone that plays a critical role in readying the uterus for the rigors of pregnancy. It is notorious for slowing down the works of the digestive system. You can try to override its traffic-jamming effects by drinking lots of water (which you should be doing anyway), getting plenty of fiber (again, already on your to-do list), and sneaking in substances like sorbitol, which may be helpful in loosening things up. For some women, constipation is a major problem that is especially annoying in the first trimester, when progesterone is really ruling the roost.

Tying constipation for misery points is heartburn! There are theories from every direction, including old wives’ tales about hairy babies, that attempt to explain or prevent the pain of heartburn, but the dependability of any one in particular is hit or miss. From my own personal experience I can confirm that it helps a little to avoid acidic or spicy foods that might aggravate things, but I also ate pizza on occasion with no ill effects and, later, seemingly benign things like plain rice that resulted in five-alarm fires in my chest. I tried to eat less and eat earlier before bedtime. Sometimes that helped. Sometimes it didn’t. When the heartburn was at its worst, I tried a shot of unfiltered apple cider vinegar, which I heard was a cure-all. In my experience, it stung going down and may have taken the edge off the heartburn some, but I didn’t make it a part of my regular routine for addressing the discomfort. I know I’m not the only woman who developed an intimate relationship with her bottle of antacids while pregnant. (Double-check your brand of antacid with your healthcare provider.)

I had the same inconsistent results with preventing the ever-so-ladylike gassiness of pregnancy. Beans or no beans, fiber or not, the musical stylings of pregnancy are an inevitable passing (no pun intended) phase that can be chalked up to the beautiful havoc being wreaked on your system. Laugh, embrace it, and shrug it off.

Cheddar Rye Drop Biscuits

A mix of whole grain flours tempered with a puff of all-purpose flour yields chewy little bumps of biscuits that are sharp with strips of Cheddar and pleasantly sour from buttermilk. They’re a nice savory addition to the roundup of sweeter morning breakfast breads. These also make petite sandwiches perfect for the kind of mindful midday pick-me-up pregnant women need. Try a folded-up single-egg omelet sandwiched between the top and bottom, slices of roasted turkey (page 216), and a piece of cheese; shredded chicken with apple; beef brisket (page 225); or a small scoop of salmon and quinoa salad (page 133). (Take note for future reference: little sandwiches made with these biscuits are enthusiastically welcomed in the lunch boxes of preschoolers!)

Makes 12 biscuits

¾ cup/84 g rye flour

½ cup/67 g all-purpose flour

¼ cup/28 g white whole wheat flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup/56 g shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup/237 ml regular or low-fat buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Scatter the cheese over the flours and use your fingers to disperse it throughout the mix.

Drizzle half of the buttermilk over the dry ingredients and use a large rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together, dampening the mix as you go. Drizzle the remaining buttermilk and fold gently and continuously until a sticky dough forms. Be sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl or in the moistened dough.

Scoop up a dozen heaps (about 3 tablespoons each) of the sticky dough, pushing them onto the prepared baking sheet one at a time, about 2 inches/5 cm apart. Bake the biscuits for 25 minutes, or until their tops are tanned and craggy and their bottoms are light brown. Move them to a rack to cool, but definitely enjoy one while it’s warm.

Store the biscuits in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Warm them in a 350°F/175°C/Gas 4 oven for 10 minutes, or use a toaster oven.


BELLY BONUS: Compared to a Cheddar biscuit you might find at a well-known restaurant chain, these biscuits supply half the calories and sodium and 6 fewer grams of fat, including 1.5 fewer grams of saturated fat.



Calories 81 | Total fat 2 g (Saturated 1 g, Poly 0 g, Omega-3 0.01 g, DHA 0.00 g, EPA 0.00 g, Mono 0 g) | Cholesterol 5 mg | Protein 3 g | Sodium 183 mg | Carbohydrates 13 g | Fiber 1 g | Sugars 1 g | Vitamin A 3 mcg | Vitamin B6 0 mg | Vitamin B12 0 mcg | Vitamin C 0 mg | Vitamin D 0 IU | Choline 5 mg | Folate 14 mcg | Calcium 92 mg | Iron 1 mg

Chive Fried Egg and Bacon Sandwich

Oversized egg sandwiches from greasy spoons, oozing with cheese and piled high with bacon, are more problematic than virtuous and have earned a bad name for what could otherwise be a very sensible breakfast option. Eggs are a great source of choline (about 125 mg per egg), a vitamin that can boost your memory, assist in fetal brain development, and help prevent birth defects. Pregnant women should consume about 450 mg per day (it goes up to 550 mg if you’re lactating). If you love bacon, indulging in it a little will do no harm. This recipe aims to arrange bacon and eggs in a way that doesn’t smother the duo’s nutritious worth, including protein, which is often associated with helping keep pregnancy-induced nausea at bay.

Makes 4 sandwiches

6 strips thick-cut bacon (about 6 ounces/170 g)

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided

4 large eggs

1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

8 slices artisan whole grain bread, toasted

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the bacon slices on it, spacing them ½ inch/1.3 cm apart. Bake the bacon for 10 to 12 minutes, flipping the strips over halfway through, until they are visibly crisp. Transfer the cooked bacon to a paper towel–lined plate and let it cool slightly.

While the bacon cooks, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half of the butter and swirl it around as it melts to coat the bottom of the pan. When the pan is hot, crack two eggs into the pan. Sprinkle fresh chives around each egg white. Cook for 30 seconds, letting the translucent egg white start to set into a firm, stark white. Using a fork or a sharp knife, poke the egg yolk, letting it flatten and run a little bit out over the white. Cook an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the white is completely set and the yolk is starting to cook through. Using a spatula, flip each egg over and continue to cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes, or until the egg yolk is completely set and light yellow. Place each egg atop a piece of toast and repeat with the remaining two eggs, using the remaining teaspoon of butter for the pan before dropping in the eggs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


  • Full Belly is an oasis from the stress-inducing calorie counting and overwhelming ‘no' lists of so many prenatal eating books. Rather, it is like being in a friend's kitchen—a friend who has been there, knows the scoop on nutrition and shares deliciously do-able recipes and tips for a healthful pregnancy. I sure wish I had this book when I was pregnant!”
    —Ellie Krieger MS RD, host of Food Network's Healthy Appetite and author of Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less

    At last, a clear voice from the kitchen on the importance of eating real food when you're eating for two. Full Belly is many things at once; it's a luscious cookbook; it's a clear guide through the unnecessarily foggy territory of the prenatal diet; and perhaps most profoundly, it's a kind of Bill of Rights for a new generation — one now in diapers —of future real-foodists.”
    —Nina Planck, author of Real Food for Mother and Baby and The Real Food Cookbook

On Sale
Dec 16, 2014
Page Count
280 pages
Running Press

Tara Mataraza Desmond

About the Author

Tara Mataraza Desmond is an author and writer focused on food and cooking for wellness, pregnancy, and parenthood. She is the author of Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal (Andrews McMeel) and co-author of Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet (Ten Speed Press). Desmond’s work has appeared in Parents, Clean Eating, Better Homes and Gardens, Shape, Serious Eats, and The Kitchn. Desmond has been a guest on national radio and television shows, including Martha Stewart Omnimedia Sirius Radio programs, Everyday Food and Whole Living, NPR, and NBC 10’s The 10! Show.

Her blog, Crumbs On My Keyboard (http://crumbsonmykeyboard.com) celebrates food and life in words and pictures. She is the proud alumna of two healthy pregnancies. During the first, she ran (OK, jogged) until thirty weeks, cooked the entire nine months (with the exception of a few greenish weeks in the beginning . . .) and was back in the kitchen five days after delivery. The second pregnancy involved cooking with twins, much less exuberance and grace, two months of gripping all-day morning sickness, no running whatsoever, and frantic cookbook writing to birth a book before the two babies. Thereafter, she relied on the good graces of friends and family who brought homemade freezer-friendly food well beyond delivery. Desmond cooks and writes for work and life with three small children afoot in Philadelphia.

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