An eating guide for the urgently nauseous pregnant woman

Bollocks to the official guidelines – if you’re expecting, and also expecting to vomit at any moment pretty much all the time, try these 10 handy hints.

My first pregnancy, I was basically Paleo Pete. I ate great piles of silverbeet and broccoli. All of the poached eggs. Sometimes a bit of parmesan on top, or a dollop of chilli beans. The odd canned-tuna sandwich. My days kicked off with peppermint tea and ended with kiwifruit for pudding. And that was pretty much it. I didn’t feel sick, not really, but through that first trimester I’d no appetite for anything greasy or sweet, salty, caffeinated or, you know, actually tasty.

What I was doing, without knowing it, was following official public health advice for pregnant women, Eating for Healthy Pregnant Women/Ngā Kai Totika mā te Wahine Hapū. The guidelines are what you’d expect. Briefly: every day, eat bushels of fruit and veg and certain amounts of wholegrains, dairy, lean meat or legumes. Minimise junk food (and alcohol, duh).

Five years later, after quite the marathon medical adventure, I’m pregnant again, just past the first trimester. I only stumbled across the healthy-eating resource above a few weeks ago. I read it in a guilty disbelief. I’d known there was a “naughty list” for pregnancy, of course – hummus, sushi, cream donuts, delicious cured meats, mayo and aioli, uncooked meringue, oh it goes on and on – but what I somehow did not know is that there is an equally challenging “nice list”. And it seems there is a vast gulf, an abyss, between what I should’ve been eating during this pregnancy and what, as it turns out, I could actually stomach.

For the first three months I had a hot, urgent sort of nausea, the kind I remembered from being a kid on the Interislander and smelling everyone else’s barf and knowing I was next. This time, I never vomited but it didn’t let up. Nights were the worst. Any movement set my tum roiling. I’d lie there for hours weighing my need to wee against my need to not feel even sicker. Crackers did not help.

So bollocks to the list. Of course I’m grateful to be pregnant, and I’m very clear that on the spectrum of morning sickness, I had it easy, but it is still hard.

For me eating became joyless, strategic. I thought about it nonstop, and as the weeks crawled by I came up with my own guidelines that I followed zealously. Here they are, for all those women who, like me, take one look at that healthy-eating list and despair. Hopefully they make you feel a bit less shit.

Don’t even think about it (Photo: Getty Images)

Eat at least every two hours

Cheds. Nuts. Grapes. Krispie bikkies. Corn chips. Licorice allsorts. Le Snaks. Whatever. Establish caches all over the house, car, office, Playcentre, under the pillow, so you can scoff solidly at a moment’s notice. You know this.

Get protein in early in the day or the next 12 hours will go all to hell

It’s very difficult to think of proteins that are not disgusting, right? Eggs: blerch. Meat: double blerch. Kaimoana: oh no. Tofu, tempeh, all those meat substitutes: I need to stop thinking about them now. Beans? Sure, but you have to eat a lot of them to really tick this box, and eating a lot of anything in one go is also problematic. Protein shakes, also gross, became the only option I could contemplate.

Maintain a preponderance of salt and carbs

Our second child looks set to be at least two-thirds hot chip. Once, I ate a plate of crinkle-cut oven fries at 9am, then another lot at lunch. By lunch I mean 10.30am.

TipTop SuperSoft became my staple (Photo: Getty Images)

Brown bread is great but white bread is better

For the 18 months before this pregnancy I baked a wholemeal sourdough loaf every few days and we didn’t buy bread. LOL. TipTop SuperSoft became my staple and my sourdough starter took an extended hiatus in the fridge. This is fine.

Avoid food prep

It’s harder than just delegating because you need your food to be precisely right while avoiding all involvement. You won’t want to plan the meals or shop for the ingredients or explain exactly how you’d like it cooked, or – horrors – smell the smells.

Hello Fresh, cooked by my husband, was a great (but expensive) option during my worst week.

Failing that, give yourself a decent buffer between planning/delegating/explaining and the time you’ll actually be faced with the plate of food. And abandon ship during the cooking-smells stage.

Takeaways will sometimes (frequently) be your only sensible option

Three times now I’ve been waiting outside the Burger Fuel doors when they opened at 11.30am. My doctor called when I was parked up on a bench in Glenfield Mall, demolishing a burger called an American Muscle.

“Are you OK?” he asked. “You sound a bit… odd.”

“OH YES,” I said. “You see, I have this great burger.”

Contrary to the healthy-eating advice to avoid spicy food, early in pregnancy chilli is your friend

I carry chilli flakes in my handbag because they make everything slightly more edible.

Also I got a speeding ticket because I bought 20 pork dumplings to go and they were calling to me from the passenger seat in their terrible polystyrene container with their little pottle of chilli vinegar and I needed to get home so I could nom them good.

Still water is revolting

Reader, I went through a SodaStream gas canister in six days.

While we’re on liquids: anything warmer than fridge-cold is a no. Just abandon the idea of tea or coffee, or smoothies that haven’t been loaded up with ice. Tell people to please stop offering you cuppas. Pin a label along those lines to your chest, if needs must.

No re-runs

No, you can’t eat that leftover pasta the next day and no, that’s not because of worries about food poisoning. It’s just unbearably sick-making to eat the same meal* twice, without a gap of say four weeks.

Join us and help us hire new
political & climate reporters
Find Out More

Get through

When we had our first baby we were super concerned about whether it was okay for him to snooze in his capsule after a drive. We’d read it was a SIDs risk, I think.

Our midwife was like, “Honey. You need to survive this bit. Do what you need to. Get through.”

And lo, it appears that I did! The chunder cloud has lifted. The mould has been scraped off the sourdough starter. A few weeks ago I made a fish pie and then ate it, and then ate a bit more of it the next day. Plus I had a cup of tea last night. (Still going out for burgers tonight, natch.)

*Hot chips excluded, obvs


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.