6 Holiday Food Rules to Follow When Pregnant

The holidays tend to center around food, but there are things to keep in mind before bringing your bump up to that buffet.
ByErin van Vuuren and Lauren A. Greene
November 23, 2020
place setting for one with gold accents
Image: Shutterstock

The holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry—but when you’re pregnant, you’ve got to consider your meal selections a little more carefully. Thankfully, the handful of food safety guidelines during pregnancy don’t have to take all the merriment out of your seasonal celebrations. Here’s what you need to know before chowing down.

Watch the Temp

Follow this basic rule: If a dish is generally eaten hot, be sure you’re eating it hot. And if it should be served cold, eat it cold. Steer clear of anything that’s been sitting out long enough to waver toward room temperature, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, owner of RMW Nutrition in New York. For hot foods, that means anything that’s been out for more than an hour; for dishes that are supposed to be served cold, anything that’s been sitting for more than two hours.

“The truth is your odds of contracting a food-borne illness are fairly low, but the possible repercussions during pregnancy are more serious, so it’s best to be on the safe side,” Meltzer Warren says. To prevent any problems, stick any cold foods in the fridge after guests make their rounds at the buffet. If you feel the urge to dig into hot foods that have cooled, just pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to zap any bacteria that may be hanging around.

Avoid Raw and Undercooked Food

Sushi, steak tartare, raw oysters—these are all no-nos that might turn up at a holiday party. Some bacteria can only killed by heat, meaning uncooked meats and fish should be off the menu. Also steer clear of homemade eggnog (spiked or not), since it usually contains raw eggs.

In addition to holiday fare that’s served raw, try to keep an eye out for undercooked meats. “The best way to know if poultry or meat is cooked enough is, of course, to test it with a thermometer, but since that’s usually not an option, there are some visual and tactile cues you can use,” Meltzer Warren says. “Chicken should feel firm with juices that run clear, not pink, while fish is done when it turns opaque.” Don’t trust your own judgment? Meltzer Warren suggests picking an outside slice—they’re always the most well done. “In general, you’d rather have your meat a bit dry and overdone than risk it being not cooked enough.”

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Approach the Appetizers with Caution

’Tis the season for lavish hors d’oeuvres—and what’s a party without a meat and cheese plate? But before you dig in, know what’s fair game and what’s a bad idea. Prosciutto, salami, chorizo and other deli meats pose a risk of listeria and should be avoided (unless you heat them to steaming hot, in which case, go ahead and enjoy). Meat spreads and pate are off the table for the same reasons, as are any refrigerated smoked seafood (we’re looking at you, lox).

But here’s the good news: Chances are, cheeses are perfectly fine, even that soft, gooey Brie—as long as it’s made from pasteurized milk (which most cheeses in the US are). Always check the cheese label to confirm, and steer clear of any unpasteurized dairy products.

Lose the Booze

We know the holidays just aren’t quite the same without a hot toddy or a celebratory glass of champagne in hand, but Meltzer Warren suggests putting alcohol on hold this year if you’re pregnant (or trying for baby). Because any booze you enjoy crosses the placenta and into baby’s delicate system, no amount of alcohol is known to be safe to consume during pregnancy. Always try to ask about the drink ingredients beforehand, but if you’re surprised by the taste of liquor mid-sip, just keep your cool and switch to something that isn’t spiked.

Cut Back on Caffeine

What to do when the coffeepot starts making its rounds? Consider decaf. But if you seriously need a pick-me-up, a cup won’t hurt. “I recommend keeping it to no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, around the amount in one 12-ounce coffee,” Meltzer Warren says, pointing out that you might be consuming caffeine from other sources as well, like chocolate and tea. So be mindful of what you’re taking in throughout the day. And don’t forget that those fun holiday coffee drinks, like peppermint ice blended frappes or gingerbread lattes, are packed with caffeine too (not to mention sugar), so drink sparingly.

Image: Smart Up Visuals

Choose Your Tea Carefully

If you choose to drink tea, it’s important to know what you’re getting, says Meltzer Warren, who drank a small cup of black tea throughout her pregnancy. Non-herbal teas, like black, green, white, oolong and mate, all contain caffeine, so you’ll want to limit your dose and avoid going over that 200 mg mark.

Though many herbal teas are decaffeinated, they’re generally not regulated in the same way food is. “In fact, certain herbs can actually be unsafe depending on the stage of pregnancy you’re at,” she cautions. Black cohosh, for example, is a uterine stimulant, which you’d want to avoid for most of pregnancy (though some doctors and midwives will recommend it to help induce contractions when a woman is at term). But some herbal teas, like Wild Berry Zinger and others from Celestial Seasonings, are safe and can help you get through the hectic holiday season when you’re craving a cup of something warm. If you’re unsure about a particular brand or type of tea, check with your OB before brewing.

Updated September 2017

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