Feeding the beast - part one
December 22nd, 2010
03:30 PM ET
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CNN photojournalist Jeremy Harlan is based in Washington D.C. This is his first in a two-part series on what to cook for a pregnant spouse. In this instance, beast is a loving term.

“I don’t wanna eat my steamed carrots. I want peppermint ice cream.”

“You can’t have any ice cream until you eat your carrots. They’re good for you.”

“But I don’t want them.”

I thought I’d be having this conversation four or five years down the road with our daughter. Instead, here I was last month arguing carrots vs. candy cane ice cream with my then-five months pregnant wife.

Could this be the same woman I married three years ago? I thought I had her figured out: sage and mozzarella stuffed chicken breasts, roasted sweet potato fries, steamed yellow squash and a colorful spinach salad. This was the dinner equation that won me rights to the remote control for the rest of the night.

But four months ago, it all came to a screeching halt with four simple words:

“I want a cheeseburger.”

Come again? I’m sorry, I must have had the audio up too high on the NASCAR race. Did she just say she wanted a cheeseburger? Not our standard turkey burger, but a real-life red meat, cheddar-oozing, American cheeseburger?

I didn't even have my left shoe on before I had her in the car, heading straight for the local burger joint. I love cheeseburgers (Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Exhibit A), so I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. This craving was going to be awesome.

After about our fifth visit, by which time the kid at the counter probably knew our names, I began to wonder if I should stop giving in to cravings (both hers and mine) and plan a nutritional diet for my wife and our firstborn.

Honey, I’m Home. What’s For Dinner?

The days of June and Ward are long gone. It’s no secret that more and more men are responsible for what happens between the grocery store shelves and dining room table.

My wife and I are the perfect example. I get home from work well before she does, so I’m responsible for nearly all dinners we have at home. Fortunately, I love to cook, so we eat at home an average of five or six nights per week. And those who wield the Nakiri knife wield the power of the menu. Basically, I’m responsible for what my wife eats and, consequently, for what gets funneled through that cord to our developing baby. It’s no simple task, and there were lots of things for me to learn.

So here’s my offering to all the other new-age Ward Cleavers out there. Some principles for the guys and gals who, like me, didn’t have the faintest idea what our expecting significant others should and should not eat.

Ma’am, Step Away From The Sashimi

After you see that first (or seventh) “+” sign on the home pregnancy test, spider rolls and sake bombs at your favorite sushi spot are not how you want to celebrate.

These are foods and beverages you need to avoid as soon as you know there is a little one on the way.

1. Alcohol
No real need to explain this one.

2. Deli Meats, Hot Dogs, Soft Cheese, Raw Milk, Undercooked Meat, Raw Seafood, Shellfish
Everyone repeat after me: “Listeria is very bad.” Listeria is a type of bacteria that occurs in contaminated foods that are undercooked, unpasteurized and processed. According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract listeriosis, which can be passed on to the developing baby and can cause miscarriage, birth defects, premature delivery or death shortly after birth.

This has been a difficult task because many common foods fall into this category. For example, my wife loves a Jimmy John’s #1 sub sandwich with sprouts - but the sprouts will have to wait as they're prone to bacteria (although I’ve been told that this will be the very first thing I’m to get her after delivery).

Same goes for many cheeses, including feta, goat cheese, brie, queso fresco, several blue cheese varieties and any cheese made with raw milk. If it’s soft and not made with pasteurized milk, avoid putting it on the table.

We’ve also had to pay a lot more attention to fruit juices or ciders, which are often flash-pasteurized, or not pasteurized at all. We had a problem with this at a local cider festival. My better half loves cider, but, sadly, most of it at the festival had not been pasteurized after pressing. She went home an unhappy camper - but at least a healthy one.

Also, many refrigerated smoked fishes, like salmon and whitefish, are not good unless they’re served in a hot dish.

3. High-Mercury Seafood
This one is tricky. On one hand, fish provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are very beneficial to the developing baby. On the other hand, a lot of seafood has high levels of mercury - so we’re supposed to avoid things like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. But what’s too much seafood and what’s not enough?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that pregnant women can eat up to 12 oz. of a variety of cooked seafood per week, but should avoid those predatory fish I just mentioned. You’ll have to hold off on the filet of Jaws with grilled pineapple salsa until after the delivery.

4. Bacon and Cured Meats
There’s a fair amount of debate out there regarding this  group. The reason bacon and other cured meats can be dangerous is their high levels of nitrates. Some folks argue that it’s not a substantial enough risk, and say they’ve had bacon and eggs everyday of their pregnancy. My wife chooses not to eat them. Ask your doctor and go with his/her advice.

5. Caffeine
The über-trendy coffee houses and mega-cola corporations may not like this, but pregnant women should reduce their daily caffeine intakes. Our OBGYN said that a safe level of caffeine is 200 milligrams per day - about what you’d find in a cup of coffee.

Tomorrow – our brave spouse tells us what the mother-to-be CAN eat, demystifies pregnancy cravings and grills up a nutritionist-approved steak dinner.

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soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. Ross Chatriand

    A woman who has already had a baby with a neural tube defect should talk to her health care provider about whether she might need to take a different dose of folic acid. Studies have shown that taking a larger dose (up to 4,000 micrograms) at least one month before and during the first trimester may be beneficial for those women, but check with your doctor first.:;;"

    Most popular post from our new blog site <http://www.healthfitnessbook.com/index.php

    July 1, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  2. Chris

    I ate most of that and MORE when I was pregnant and wouldn't you know my kid doesn't have 4 arms and 9 legs. In fact she's a perfectly healthy 2 year old. I am not say moderation isn't key but seriously, have damn sandwich most deli meats are pretty fresh and it's RARE that there is lysteria. The only thing you really honestly need to stay away from is mercury carrying fish products (like canned tuna). Otherwise a piece of brie or a slice of goat cheese is fine! Dear lord- hell even a glass of wine A DAY is okay. Talk to your Ob and ask about that. Any pregnant woman who decided that this article was the way to go better have a conversation with her doctor first before going full force on this one.

    And one other thing daddy-to-be if your wife spent 9 months eating a cheeseburger every day it wouldn't hurt her. Let her have the ice cream you sadistic jerk. And be glad she's the one who has to carry around your kid for 9 months and NOT YOU.

    December 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  3. aly

    I ate while pregnant: brie, smoked salmon (sometimes microwaved though) 2 cups of coffee usually or soda... baby is just fine... Also ate bacon regurlarly

    December 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  4. JCizzle

    Pregnant women need to keep b!tching and expecting special treatment.

    December 26, 2010 at 5:24 am |
    • JCizzle

      Oops, I meant "quit."

      December 26, 2010 at 5:25 am |
  5. da funkee 1

    The best meal I ever had while pregnant....a large restaurant sized mixing bowl full of cut fruit. Bananas, strawberries, peaches, apples, kiwi, dusted with a 1/4 cup of sugar and a quart of milk. I probably drove my mom crazy asking her to stop by the store and drop the fruit off. Satisfied my sweet tooth, high in fiber, and good in protein and vitamin D. Dang, I can't have anymore kids but I want some now!

    December 23, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  6. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    In the two previous pregancies my wife has had, she claims that she never had any cravings. I think that there were, but they might have been something small that was quickly satisfied without me know it.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  7. HH

    What a jerk. He's treating HIS WIFE like a child instead of the adult that she is. the last thing any pregnant woman needs, or wants, is other people's parenting.

    Some of the things on that list are overly cautious. Listeria is not present in all foods, and COOK THEM WELL. Caffeine? Your baby will not die if you drink a soda.

    December 23, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • jillmarie

      He's probaly the opposite of a jerk- he's a husband playing an active role in his wife's pregnancy- which is a wonderful thing.
      Writers have to include funny details and be a bit dramatic- that's what keep us reading what they have to say! I'm sure that's why it's over-the-top for some. He certainly gave some great tips- and the reader's comments did too.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  8. Emily P

    All I wanted during my recent pregnancy was sweets and my daily lunch consisted of a BLT on a croissant with avocado and cheddar cheese from Jason's Deli. My baby girl is happy and healthy...due to the massive amounts of chocolate and bacon I'm sure.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  9. Varaz

    I think it's awesome that Jeremy is taking such an active roll in his expecting wife's diet. He is simply writing about what he and his wife are choosing to do. Some of you act like he is forcing their choices on you. Get over yourselves.

    December 23, 2010 at 3:39 am |
    • Skandalissa

      I wish more men would take an active role. Instead of arguing with me, my hubby just let me eat anything I wanted. The consequences were I got fat and he got fat right along with me. Now we are both trying to lose the baby fat!!!!

      December 23, 2010 at 7:56 am |
      • HH

        Did you want a husband, or a daddy for yourself as wel as the baby?

        December 23, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  10. laurasmithy

    I love the free sample site "123 Get Samples" search online to find their official website, that's where i get most of my samples from!!! yay i love free stuff.

    December 23, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  11. Ward

    I feed my pregnant darling sausage. Morning, day and night.

    Oh yes, gin to wash it all down. – She loves it.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  12. CO-Voter

    This is such a funny, American-based list. Every doctor I spoke to during my pregnancies said it was fine to drink some alcohol. But this is the US, and if they say, "It's fine to have a drink," someone will drink 5 and sue their doctor. So it's no alcohol. Bacon–if you need protein during pregnancy and you enjoy the smell of bacon, here's an idea–get bacon (and all cold cuts!!!) without nitrates. Many groceries carry nitrate-free meats now. Japanese women eat sushi throughout their pregnancies, but their bodies have adjusted in a way ours haven't. My theory is, when a woman is pregnant, if she is craving something (healthy, that is–ice cream: good, McDonald's french fries: bad), it's her body telling her what she and baby need. I had two children and with the first, I couldn't eat meat for 4 months. With the 2nd, the smell bothered me a little, but I was fine. We need to trust our bodies more.

    December 23, 2010 at 1:10 am |
    • MN in GA

      You're right, when you're pregnant it seems your body will let you know what you need to eat by making you crave it. I craved some very healthy foods with my three pregnancies, and cheesecake. ;-) I ate pretty much whatever I craved and tried to take it easy on the cheesecake. That is also why OBs will tell you to let them know if you crave things like dirt or ashes – strange as it may sound, that's your body telling you that you need certain nutrients!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • SCM

      I'm 8 months along and have been craving McDonald's french fries for the past couple months (I'm not a McDonald's fan). Come to find out....my blood pressure has been extremely low so my body wanted the salt.

      I'm not one for carving all these "rules" that some doctors give out in stone. Luckily, my doctors aren't alarmists like my sister's was. She wouldn't even touch cream cheese because "it was soft". No one explained to her that it was the unpasteurized part she was supposed to be watching out for.

      December 29, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  13. LEB

    Pregnant women can continue to enjoy wine, beer, and spirits in reduced quantities. A glass of wine with dinner a few nights a week is not going to cause fetal alcohol syndrome... if you go through a bottle of wine a day by yourself, however, THEN you've got a problem.

    There are some moms who just don't want to take the risk with what they eat and drink, and that's a perfectly fine choice that they are allowed to make for themselves. But if your wife wants a little sashimi, a small glass of red wine, and peppermint ice cream for dessert, then for crissake let her eat what her body wants her to eat! Those cravings exist for good reasons.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:59 am |
    • HH

      Entirely true.....in fact, my doc okayed a glass of wine a week for the high iron content. Vitamins nauseate and constipate so many women.

      In the U.S., we have a "let's protect every last person, even if it's just a few who actually suffer. If it saves just one life it's worth it....."

      December 23, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • Judy

      Amen! I had the occasional glass of wine throughout my twin pregnancy. You know why? Because it calmed my stomach and because I was puking violently up until the day of the C-section. At one point, I was losing weight at the rate of a pound per day. Eat whatever the hell you can keep down! Maybe the "standard" pregnancy can keep to these rules, but my rule was eat what you can keep down (admittedly, I already didn't eat alot of lunch meats or seafood of any variety). Prenatal vitamins? Wasn't keeping those down. Diet coke? occasionally went down and stayed there. If puking were an olympic event, I'd be an all-time gold medalist.

      December 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  14. stew22

    I've had three kids and I'm pregnant with my fourth now. From one pregnant women to a first time expectant dad let me tell you, you can relax with the food a little. Most of the issues above are very rare. I've eaten all cheeses listed above while pregnant (in fact, I had blue cheese on my salad tonight!) and have had three healthy children. Subway sandwiches were almost a daily ritual with two of my pregnancies (with extra banana peppers of course!). Bacon is fine. I did shy away from shell fish just because it grossed me out. Eggs and bacon are a excellent source of protein for mother and baby and I've never been told to avoid bacon. Just give the women what she's craving! With the exception of alcohol and excessive caffeine. Good luck with the baby and relax, everything will be fine.

    December 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
    • HH

      True. Lysteria Hysteria started when a dozen women lobbied the FDA to put the warning on it. It's another of those "low risk, but just one accident is too many...." things.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  15. AT

    I...don't even know where to start reacting to this article. I know it's supposed to be humorous, but the paternalism just creeps me out. Also, newsflash, unless you're trying hard, the brie and feta you're going to find in the US is pasteurized. The limit is one cup of coffee per day *during the first trimester* and more like 2-3 per day after that. Given the food safety standards around sushi in the US, it isn't clear that there's really a major risk there. Oh, and the latest study on drinking during pregnancy shows absolutely no negative effect from light drinking: http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2010/09/13/jech.2009.103002.abstract.

    December 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • MEPC

      You took the words right out of my mouth. This advice is pretty outdated and condescending. Double whammy.

      December 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
    • LEB

      No kidding. His wife is a grown woman and perfectly capable of deciding what she wants to eat for herself. If they both AGREE to committing to a healthy diet and he helps hold her accountable, that's one thing. But treating her like a child by saying she can't have dessert until she finishes her vegetables is not a respectful way to treat one's romantic partner. Did it occur to him that perhaps she craves ice cream because the baby wants protein, calcium, and some calories for a growth spurt?

      December 23, 2010 at 1:04 am |
      • HH

        That's not a good way to treat their child, either. Mealtimes should never become a battleground, and kids shouldn't be force-fed. That "clean plate club" is a great way to raise a fat kid. Don't make a big deal about food unless you want to deal with eating disorders down the road. Pick your battles. Withholding dessert because "you didn't eat all your carrots" is just asinine. If the kid is getting a balanced diet, LEAVE IT ALONE.

        December 23, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  16. Krull

    Make sure to eat enough that you get nice and fat. And then do nothing about it later. Just blame childbirth. Proceed to hate mothers who are fitter than you. The circle of life. Or just eat 25 extra grams of protein and nutrient rich food while continuing to exercise, and be the mom everyone hates.

    December 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  17. b.allen

    I ate a turkey and cheese sandwich every day for lunch when I was pregnant and my pregnancy was the most healthy and problem-free out of everyone I know. I think it really depends on your body.

    December 22, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  18. BoBo

    I was 7 months pregnant with my first child and we were eating out. I didn't have room for a large meal and wanted something sweet. I ordered apple pie a la mode as my meal. Said to the server I wanted ICE CREAM on the side, not whipped cream. SO it comes back with cream and I ask the server to remove the cream and replace it with ice cream. He said "why don't you want the cream? Are you watching your weight?" I could have killed him. Dude I'm eating dessert for dinner!

    December 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  19. Sporky

    A normal cup of coffee has FAR less than 200 mg of caffeine! It's around 80 mg, actually, so 2.5 cups is the limit.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
    • HH

      There is no actual proof that caffeine is harmful. It's a "maybe, so let's err on the side of caution" thing.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  20. Christine Lee

    I couldn't agree more that fish is an incredibly important part of a healthy diet for both women and men, and is crucial for young children and developing fetuses. Omega 3 fatty acids have very well-known cardiovascular benefits and fish are also an excellent sources of proteins. Unfortunately mercury accumulates in the water naturally and through anthropogenic sources, mainly cement plants, chlorine factories (and the biggest culprit) coal-burning power plants. The mercury molecules are released into the air and fall into the water where bacteria and other micro-organisms change the mercury into methyl mercury, the form most dangerous to humans. Fish in-turn consume the micro-organisms and accumulate the methyl mercury in their tissue. Predatory fish bioaccumulate much more elevated mercury levels in comparison to non-predatory fish, so even land-locked fresh water fish such as bass can bioaccumulate potentially dangerous levels of methyl mercury even though they never reach the ocean. Another thing to note is that ALL SEAFOOD CONTAINS SOME LEVEL OF MERCURY! Don't for one second believe that something is safe simply because the FDA or EPA tell you that species doesn't accumulate mercury. Its just not true. All seafood has mercury in it, it really depends on HOW MUCH that particular fish has acuumulated...

    On a different note, check out this company: http://www.safeharborfoods.com... They test all fish bearing their seal for mercury levels so consumers know exactly what mercury level is in the fish being eaten. WHY HAVEN’T MORE STORES AND RESTAURANTS ADOPTED THIS????

    December 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  21. Zoe

    I never liked any spicy until I got pregnant. One day I found myself eating pickled jalapenos right out the can and I thought "Hmmm... may be I'm preggers." BINGO! Couldn't eat anything not doused in hot sauce after that.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  22. erin

    My appetite seriously diminished when I was pregnant (24-hour nausea probably had something to do with that). The LAST thing I wanted to see was red meat – made me sick just to look at it. All I wanted to eat was fruit. Now, post-baby was another story. Breast-feeding gave me a voracious appetite, and increased my sweet tooth 10-fold. Oy.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • Lynn

      The same thing happened to me. I wanted to eat and I even had dreams about eating but I was forced to eat a bland diet due to severe indigestion and nausea. The few times I ate red meat during my pregnancy resulted in stomach churning indigestion and acid reflux that lasted for the entire day. I quickly learned that eating meat while pregnant was a really bad idea. Now I'm nursing a 10 week old and I've ditched the bottled water (which used to be my favorite drink) for Cran-Grape juice which I drink all day long. Prior to nursing I couldn't stand Grape juice of any kind, now I can't get enough of the stuff.

      December 23, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  23. EFizzle McParachutepants

    By the way, that was about the "I can haz cheeseburger" comment.

    December 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  24. Radtech1

    The second article should deal with post pregnancy eating. My wife thought cookies made an excellent/healthy snack yesterday. As do pretzels, chips, pancakes for lunch. See the trend?

    December 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  25. derakh

    This is great information. My husband and I are trying for our first right now and if this list is accurate, our diets are going to be taking a serious turn. We both work a lot and pretty much eat lunch meat sammies and bacon/eggs all the time. Rats. Oh, and I am a total caffeine junkie.

    *sigh* Things to consider I guess...

    December 22, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • Valerie

      I'm almost done raising my three kids. Food will be the LEAST you sacrifice, trust me.

      December 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
      • jillmarie

        I certainly wouldn't argue that. With respect to the article and my own interest in the subject, I was voicing my reaction.

        December 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • livefreeordie

      The deli meats are fine- to be safe you can just pop them in the microwave until they get hot, like 20 seconds or something.
      Honestly, I'm expecting right now and a lot of stuff can be modified to be ok. Obviously not alcohol but caffeine is ok in moeration, even a couple drinks with caffeine a day are ok. You can get the nitrate-free bacon and hot dogs, etc. And most cheese and juices are pasteurized.
      Frankly this husband totally creeps me out...why is he so bossy anyway? Isn't she a grown woman?

      December 23, 2010 at 8:52 am |
      • Whorhay

        In theory yes, but she's pregnant. And being pregnant means that at times she might be controlled by raging hormones. You will note that the largest segment of the population often overcome with raging hormones is children, and a pregnant woman can often behave in similiar fashion. Which doesn't mean she needs to be treated like a child exactly but it does certainly require more patience and empathy as well as a willingness to compromise.

        December 23, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  26. jillmarie

    I loved this- good info for when I expect to be expecting. The only thing that bums me out is that I'll have to cut out soft cheeses- I love goat cheese and feta on salads, but at least now I know why.
    Also, the limit on caffeine is good to know. I don't eat the other stuff on the list anyway.

    December 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • erin

      You can eat soft cheeses as long as they're pasteurized.

      December 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
    • CO-Voter

      Goat cheese is fine as long as it's pasteurized.

      December 23, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  27. g

    Sounds like sharia law-you will eat what I say you'll eat!

    December 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  28. the_dude

    I like how you subtly insulted the middle-america simpletons with your nascar reference.

    December 22, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • ApeHanger

      Insult is in the eye of the beholder. I didn't see any insult there, just a masculine reference to something a fair number of women seem to not like.

      As for women's stranger cravings when pregnant, glad I have never had to endure that nonsense.

      December 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
      • Jeremy

        No, I was actually watching a NASCAR race on TV...I love it and probably had it too loud.

        December 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  29. Queen of Everything

    I absolutely craved grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with my first pregnancy so the no deli meat rule almost killed me. I was actually underweight with my second pregnancy so my OB gave me the okay to have a DQ Blizzard once a week and to snack on peanut M&Ms.

    December 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I recant the sweet tooth comment. I can eat Oreo Blizzards all day.

      December 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
      • EFizzle McParachutepants

        Man, my coworkers are all wondering why I'm laughing so hard right now. Thanks Jdiz!

        December 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  30. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    ".....But four months ago, it all came to a screeching halt with four simple words:

    “I want a cheeseburger.”...."

    I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?

    December 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  31. amayda

    Great article, looking forward to the second installment! Reminds me of my first pregnancy...I ate much more healthily for the second one...didn't want it to take 20 months to lose the baby weight again :)

    December 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  32. Evil Grin

    Did 5@5 come early today?

    December 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I SO don't have a sweet tooth. This part of the year makes me wonder how people can eat so many sweets. Oofda.

      December 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
      • COOKIE MONSTER

        I never used to eat sweets either... and then I got pregnant, and now all I want is COOKIES!

        December 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
      • SarahLV

        I used to live for sweets, but since I got pregnant, I find myself not wanting sweets nearly as much. It's weird!

        December 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
      • Evil Grin

        I like sweets fine, but I wouldn't want them constantly. Of course I've never been pregnant, so that's a whole different story.

        December 23, 2010 at 8:54 am |
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