**This post was originally written and published in July 2016, when I was pregnant with my second baby. It has been updated and republished to be a more valuable resource for those with gestational diabetes.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that I make a small commission off of purchases made through my links at no extra charge to you. All opinions are my own.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, my biggest struggle came when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Some women cry when their regular clothes don't fit anymore, I cried when my carb intake was suddenly drastically limited. I realized just how many high carb foods I enjoy and wasn’t sure what I was going to eat every day. I knew going into that pregnancy that I was at risk for GD because I was pre-diabetic, a little overweight and have a family history of Type II diabetes, but getting that confirmation that I indeed had it was rough for me. I'm here to tell you that I survived my very low carb diet and that six weeks postpartum, I was healthier than I'd been when I first got pregnant!
My diagnosis came the week of Valentine's Day, so my loving husband changed his plans for our celebration. Instead of going to our favorite pasta restaurant, stuffing ourselves silly, and then coming home to lounge on the couch in front of a movie, he planned and prepared a low carb dinner at home and then we went for a walk. The perfect date for his gestationally diabetic wife! It meant a lot to me because I knew how much time and effort he'd put into researching and preparing our meal, and also how much of a sacrifice it was for him to eat the same thing that I was eating and nothing more. He told me later that he was hungry within a couple of hours because the meal just wasn't filling enough for him.
During those last two months of my pregnancy, I learned to love vegetables and eat foods that I never would have even considered trying in the past. After a few weeks of testing my blood sugar levels before and after each meal, I learned what I needed to eat and do to keep them level throughout the day. Some days were better than others, but I was diligent and it paid off. My baby didn't weigh 11 pounds like the doctor kept threatening and six weeks postpartum, I weighed 20 pounds less than I had when I got pregnant, my A1c number was the lowest it had been in years and I wasn’t in the pre-diabetic range anymore!
I'm disappointed with myself because in the nine or ten months between giving birth to to my first and getting pregnant with our second, I lost those good habits and gained back all of the weight that I'd lost. I haven't taken my blood glucose yet this pregnancy (that happens this weekend), but I'm assuming I will get the same diagnosis, so I'm trying to follow these same guidelines already. Being pregnant and knowing that my own health affects the health of our baby has been the motivation that I needed to get back on track. I'm hoping that not having the crazy schedule and workload that I had in the year following Bensen's birth will help me keep these habits up after this little one is born so that I can continue to stay healthy and manage my risk for diabetes.
Author’s note (08/2019): When they do your gestational diabetes screening, they want your numbers to be between 41 and 139. When I was tested during my first pregnancy in 2015, mine was really high, 202. My second pregnancy, I tried really hard to stick to the diet and exercise habits that helped me manage my diabetes the first time around. I felt like I hadn’t done well but when I had my screening, my number was 176. I was still diagnosed with gestational diabetes but not as severe and my doctor was happy with what I was doing to manage it and told me to keep it up!
If you have gestational diabetes, you should talk to your doctor and meet with a diabetic educator to find out what specifically they suggest for you. These are just the things that helped me personally.
Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy with Gestational Diabetes
Make breakfast a priority. I've always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I've also heard that you should eat 30g of protein within an hour of waking up. Both of these things help me get my blood sugar levels up to where they need to be first thing in the morning, since I just went all night without eating anything.
Eat something small every two or three hours. The guys at work are always concerned about the size of my meal when I'm getting food during lunch hour. To them, it's not even big enough for a snack, but because I eat every few hours, it's the perfect amount of food for me. Eating continuously throughout the day keeps my blood sugar levels more consistent. If I were to eat three large meals instead, those levels would drop and climb throughout the day and that's not as healthy.
Include protein every time you eat. Protein has become my best friend! I quickly learned that if I paired a carb with a protein, my blood sugar levels would remain steady. This was great news for a pregnant woman who craved breakfast foods full of carbs. Even if it's just some cheese, I make sure to include some sort of protein with every snack and meal.
Have a snack before you go to bed. There are a lot of tips out there for not eating after a certain time at night, and I threw them all out the window with GD. If I eat dinner between 5pm and 7pm, then I can have a small snack between 8pm and 10pm each night. I make sure that this snack is high in protein to help me make it through until morning. The nights that I do this, my blood sugar levels aren’t quite as low when I test them first thing before I eat.
Incorporate physical activity into your day. I was a lot more active when I was pregnant with my first baby because three times a week, I would make a 15 minute trek across campus to get to class and back to my car. Fitbit always logged this as 30 "very active" total minutes. The walk back was a consistent incline and included a lot of stairs as well. It's not as easy to stay active now that I'm sitting at a desk 40 hours a week, but I try to spend two hours moving each night. Whether it's chasing my toddler around the house/yard, going on a walk or cleaning my house, I make sure that I'm doing something active.
BONUS (added 08/2019): Take a prenatal class. Gestational diabetes comes with its own set of challenges and potential complications at birth. Taking a prenatal class is one thing I wish we’d done when we were expecting, but with school and opposite hours working our full time jobs, we never had the chance. Just over a year ago, I discovered this online prenatal course for couples, put together and taught by a registered labor and delivery nurse.
I highly suggest taking Hilary's Full Deluxe Prenatal Class for Couples, but she also offers a free version to test it out before taking the full course. If you aren't sure which course would be the best fit for you, click here to check out all of the details and compare what is covered in each version of the course.
Meal and Snack Ideas for Gestational Diabetes
A Few of My Favorite Gestational Diabetes Friendly Foods
Breakfast Ideas for Gestational Diabetes
Breakfast was the hardest meal for me because so many breakfast foods are high in carbs. My biggest craving when I was pregnant with my first baby was anything that fell into that high carb breakfast food category. I knew that to get my blood sugar levels up in the morning and keep them level throughout the day, breakfast was key. But with my hectic morning schedule, getting ready and running off to class or work, it was hard to find things to eat that were quick and GD friendly.
Smoothies became my go to and my very favorite food! They didn't feel too heavy but they filled me up and they're really yummy. I throw all of the ingredients in a blender, (I used this convenient one that my mom let me borrow...until I wore it out.) and I can drink it while I do my make up, or during my commute. Below are just a few of my favorite combinations. These protein shakes are my favorite to use not only because of the taste but because they have a lot of protein (30g), are low carb (4-5g) and are low in sugar (1g). Between my husband and I, we go through an entire case of these shakes each week.
Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Protein Smoothie
- 1 Chocolate Protein Shake (I use just one of these)
- 1/2 medium Banana (yes, it's high on the glycemic index, but you're combining it with a protein and by using only half, you're cutting those carbs in half. It also helps to get your blood sugar levels up where they need to be after not eating for the hours you were sleeping.)
- 4 Tbls peanut butter (or you could use peanut butter powder, this one is my favorite.)
- 1 handful spinach leaves (optional) (I like to buy a big bag from Costco, then freeze a handful in individual freezer bags so they don't go bad in the fridge. It's a good way to add more vegetables to my diet.)
- 4 or 5 ice cubes
This smoothie is my very favorite, and the best combination of these flavors that I've found. It also makes the perfect amount for one person for breakfast. It is one of the higher carb things that I eat, but I tested my blood sugar an hour after I drank this, every single time, and it was always right where it needed to be. I usually just eat a lower carb mid-morning snack to counter act it. After the baby arrives, I'm going to substitute the chocolate protein shake for a vanilla one mixed with 2 Tbls of this because I've heard that it helps with milk supply and I'm determined to succeed in my breastfeeding journey this time around.
Update by author (08/2019) - I currently drink the same smoothie every morning for breakfast with a few changes. I combine this protein shake with 2 Tbls of this peanut butter powder, 1 Tbls of flaxseed, a handful of frozen spinach and a half or full banana. It's very filling and a great start to my day!
Peach Banana Protein Smoothie
- 1 Vanilla Protein Shake (I use just one of these)
- 1/2 medium Banana (once again, high on the glycemic index, but this smoothie is also lower carb)
- 1 medium Peach (I have some frozen in individual bags for quick prep)
- 1 handful spinach leaves (optional)
- 4 or 5 ice cubes
My mom used to always make peach banana smoothies for us after school and they'd have milk and/or yogurt in them instead of a protein drink. You could probably substitute the protein drink for some Greek yogurt, but I like to use the drink because it's so high in protein.
Strawberries and Cream Protein Smoothie
- 1 Vanilla Protein Shake (you could use this Strawberries and Cream shake instead if you'd like)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 handful spinach leaves (optional)
- 4 or 5 ice cubes (you could leave these out if your strawberries are frozen)
Because this smoothie is lower carb and my limit for each meal/snack is 30g, I'll sometimes combine it with 1/2 cup of cereal and milk. Most of the time though, this fills me up because it's full of protein.
Eggs + Pancakes, Waffles and French Toast
These are not usually approved GD foods, I know. I honestly don't want to look up the total carbs for these either because that might make them off limits. I just know that any time I ate this for breakfast (or usually dinner), my blood sugar levels were fine an hour afterward, so I added them to my list. The key with eating these is to combine them with a protein! I always make myself two or three eggs (scrambled or fried) and eat those before I put the pancakes, waffles or French toast on my plate and then I limit myself to two max. I also make the yummy goodness with whole wheat bread or wheat flour.
You could pair one piece of French toast, one pancake or one waffle with an omelette stuffed full of spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, other yummy veggies and cheese. I shared my favorite omelette combinations below. From other meals, I know that veggies, eggs and cheese are all very low carb (2g or less each thing), so I'm sure an omelette would make the perfect addition to your breakfast!
Omelette and Toast with Jam
My favorite way to make eggs in the morning is combined with diced bell peppers, diced tomatoes, sliced deli turkey or precooked chicken and topped with cheddar cheese.
A piece of toast on its own can fill up your carb limit for a meal. I check all of the labels at the store and pick the brand/type with the lowest number of carbs (I think I've seen 24g as the lowest). I'm also sure to always go for whole grain or whole wheat bread, my mom's homemade bread is my favorite. And then a Tbls or two of your favorite jam is a delicious addition.
Update by author - 08/2019 I more recently discovered this Delightful bread that's a good source of fiber, lower in carbs and still filling and delicious.
Lunch Ideas for Gestational Diabetes
This is another hard meal because I'm not usually great at planning, preparing and packing my lunch the night before, so I'm always in a rush to get off to work. Most of the time, if I have leftovers from dinner the night before, I'll eat those, but the options below are my favorites when I'm eating at home or when I remember to pack my lunch.
Sandwiches and Veggies
During my first pregnancy, I craved turkey and cheese sandwiches (with deli turkey of course), which didn't work out as well after my diagnosis because one piece of bread was about all I could have. My mom found these sandwich thins and my lunches were saved! I also found this Delightful bread that's a good source of fiber, lower in carbs and still filling and delicious. I pair my sandwich with some veggie sticks (carrots, zucchini, peppers, etc.) and my favorite hummus for the perfect lunch.
Turkey and Cheese Sandwich
1 sandwich thin (I like multi-grain)
1 Tbls mayonnaise (surprisingly low carb)
1 Tbls mustard (I'm not a mustard fan, so I leave this off)
5 or 6 slices deli meat (personal preference) or sliced meat from dinner (see below)
2 or 3 slices of your favorite cheese (I usually choose colby jack or provolone)
your favorite sandwich toppings (lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.)
Crackers, Cheese and Deli Meat + Veggies
This is like a DIY lunchable and I love it! Pick your favorite crackers, (look at the nutrition facts to determine how many you can have and stay within your carb limit), slice up your favorite cheese and slice up your favorite deli meat into smaller pieces. Put them all together and enjoy with veggies sticks or steamed veggies.
Pizza is one of the hardest foods to give up, but I found a really good cauliflower pizza brand called Caulipower! You can purchase frozen, already created pizzas that you just have to pop in the oven and cook. But if you prefer your own unique combination of sauce and toppings, they also have a pack of frozen pizza crusts that you can buy instead and top with your own toppings before cooking.
Dinner Ideas for Gestational Diabetes
One thing that I learned quickly after my GD diagnosis was just how many carbs most of my dinners contained. The frozen meals that were quick and easy, casseroles, pasta dishes, etc. were all filled with carbs. Dinner was where I had to make the biggest adjustments with my eating habits and it was tough. I had to work to find something that both my husband and I would enjoy and that would fill him up. A lot of times, I'd make slight adjustments to the overall meal, eating my meat without the rice or pasta that my husband was having, just eating the meat and veggies and leaving out my roll, etc. I had a lot of fun finding foods that I enjoyed and that still filled me up.
This is the obvious, quick and easy dinner option, but I love how versatile it is. You can sprinkle the meat with your favorite combination of seasonings or use your favorite marinade. When we had our at home Valentine dinner after my diagnosis, my husband found some already marinated herb chicken at the grocery store that was really delicious!
This recipe for barbecue turkey breast (or you can use chicken) is my very favorite. We usually make it for parties or only make a quarter of the recipe because it makes so much. But if you grilled up all of the chicken at once, you could freeze a bunch to use for future dinners, on sandwiches at lunch or in salads. The marinade is really good on its own, I can never stop eating it, but it's simple enough that it is versatile and can be used for a lot of other meals.
These were a game changer for me when I was diagnosed with GD. I've never been much of a veggie fan. I'll eat them steamed, but I don't necessarily enjoy them. Finding ways to roast vegetables and actually look forward to eating them was a big deal for me! I continue to eat more vegetables than I used to because of this. These are a few of my favorite combinations.
Bell Peppers with Mozzarella Cheese - I love orange, yellow and red peppers the best. Sometimes I'll use Italian seasoning or another combination of my favorite seasonings in place of the salt and pepper for a different flavor. I drizzle a little olive oil over the top, sprinkle them with seasoning and a little cheese them roast them in the oven or on the grill until the cheese has melted.
Roasted Cauliflower - You could also substitute the cauliflower for broccoli in any of these recipes if you want! I like garlic roasted cauliflower and Parmesan roasted cauliflower the best.
Cheesy Roasted Tomatoes - We slice beefsteak tomatoes in thick slices, sprinkle them in olive oil, add any herbs or seasonings that sound good and then cover them in shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Roast them in the oven similar to the bell peppers above and they'll be perfect!
Pasta is one of those quick meals that can be made a lot of different ways but it is also very carb filled. I love summer because there is an overabundance of zucchini that I can eat in place of my pasta noodles. I like to make lasagna with zucchini slices, but my favorite thing to do is spiralize the zucchini and replace almost any pasta noodle with it. I'll cook a regular pasta dinner for my family and eat mine with the zoodles to keep my dinner GD friendly.
1 cup spiralized zucchini
1 Tbls olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Saute the zucchini noodles in the olive oil until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with parmesan cheese sprinkled over top.
You could add grilled chicken and your favorite veggies to the dish for more flavor.
During the summer, I'll spiralize a bunch of extra zucchini, squeeze the moisture out of it and freeze it in meal size portions to use when zucchini isn't in season.
I mentioned above that I really like to grill or roast chicken and turkey. I've also learned to love ground turkey in different dishes as well. When I made pasta or zoodles, I use ground turkey instead of ground beef. I always use ground turkey in my taco soup all the time. My husband never notices and it's a lot better for us than all of that ground beef. Turkey burgers have become my go to this summer as well.
Snacks for Gestational Diabetes
Cottage Cheese and Fruit
If you eat this for a snack, try to find fruit that is packed in water. My mom bottles peaches and pears every year and these are my favorite. I put a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese in my bowl with two halves of the fruit and just a tiny bit of the liquid that they are bottled in.
Celery and Peanut Butter
Because I'm a child at heart, I'll sometimes spread the peanut butter on the celery and sprinkle a few raisins on top (ants on a log anyone?). Most of the time, I'll put a few Tbls of peanut butter in a small tupperware container and dip the sliced celery in it for my afternoon snack.
Veggie Sticks and Cheese
I don't eat this for snacks a lot because I have a hard time eating raw veggies unless they're smothered in ranch. Carrot and bell pepper slices are vegetables that I can enjoy a few slices of without the ranch. String cheese is my go to because it's quick and easy to keep on hand at work or at home.
Author note (8/2019): I’ve learned to really enjoy raw veggies when I pair them with garlic hummus.
Yogurt and Granola
Granola can be really high in carbs I've learned. I'll grab a single serve container of yogurt (greek yogurt gets you more protein) and sprinkle just a Tbls or two of granola on the top. I haven't found a favorite, high protein/low carb granola yet, so if you have one that you love, share a link or the recipe in the comments below!
Treats for Gestational Diabetes
Nuts and Chocolate Chips
I love a little bit of sweet with my snacks every once and a while. Almonds, cashews and peanuts are my first choice for nuts. I'll also grab a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips to go with them. It's like making my own trail mix!
JoJo's Chocolate Bark
I got my package of JoJo's Chocolate Bark right before our second baby made her early arrival. The dark chocolate mixed with nuts and fruits are a great combination and I really enjoy them. I wish I'd thought to take the bag with me to the hopsital, they would have been a welcome break from all of the free cookies and snacks I was eating there. One of my biggest goals right now is to stop eating a lot of sugar and treats, maybe allowing myself one a week. But when I get that craving, it's hard to resist. I split my JoJo's bars in thirds and enjoy one in the morning, afternoon and evening each day when my cravings hit.I got my package of JoJo's right before Emmy made her arrival. The dark chocolate mixed with nuts and fruits are a great combination and I really enjoy them. I wish I'd thought to take the bag with me to the hopsital, they would have been a welcome break from all of the free cookies and snacks I was eating there.
Eating Out with Gestational Diabetes
This is the hardest for me because there are so many yummy dishes that I enjoy different places that are definitely not gestational diabetes friendly. When choosing somewhere to eat, go somewhere that you know has low carb options. Pretty much any pasta dedicated restaurant, I avoid because everything that we'd eat there would be loaded with carbs. (Author note 08/2019): Noodles and Co. has great Zoodles that I love to order in place of noodles in any of their dishes.)
I'll order turkey burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches on wheat buns and then only eating one half of the bun (this requires the use of a knife and fork). Instead of ordering fries with my meal, I'll get steamed veggies or a side salad. Ordering a thin crust or personal size pizza and only eating one slice with a side salad or veggies is another option. My meals may not be the most popular item on the menu, or what I'd really like to order, but I feel good eating them and can still enjoy going out for date night or with family and friends.
If I could give you one big tip for eating out with gestational diabetes, it would be to avoid restaurants where you won’t be able to order your favorite foods and will feel deprived. We avoided all of my favorite Italian restaurants because I knew that I wouldn’t want to order anything other than pasta!
More Favorite Gestational Diabetes Resources
My biggest tip would be to exercise self control and find what you like! For a lot of people, low carb may not be hard. For me it was difficult because I'm not a big vegetable fan and I really enjoy treats and breads. I didn't find myself loving too many new foods like quinoa. Instead, I had to look for new ways to prepare the foods that I knew I already liked to add variety and enjoy them more.
P.S. Don't forget to check out this awesome online prenatal course for couples It's one of my favorite resources for expectant parents!
What are your favorite, gestational diabetes friendly, meals and snacks?