We spoke to Alison Kucich, certified functional nutrition specialist and founder of Eighty Nutrition about how to smartly stock your kitchen during pregnancy, nursing and for the kids.
After dealing with asthma, allergies, headaches, fatigue, and a neuromuscular pain disorder in her twenties, New Jersey-based Alison Kucich decided to conduct an experiment on her health by completely changing the way she ate. “I gave up dairy, gluten, sugar, refined carbohydrates and fried foods, and ate mostly fresh vegetables with a lot of good fats and protein and limited fruit. Within six months, most of my symptoms had abated. This experience sent me back to school to study nutrition and health-supportive cooking so I could better understand it for myself, and then to educate others.” Her company Eighty Nutrition was born from a desire to make it easier for people to improve their health by changing their eating habits.
(Nutrition specialist Alison Kucich and her family.
Photo credit: Emily Billington Photography)
When Alison became a mom (she now has four boys), her own diet started to suffer. “Once I had babies, I realized how much more challenging it was to find time for shopping, prepping food, cooking, and even eating at regular mealtimes. I found myself skipping meals and then being tired and cranky, and overeating when I did stop to feed myself because my body needed nutrients,” she says. Alison had to retrain her eating habits yet again to accommodate for her new lifestyle with kids. We got the scoop from her on how shop for food, meal prep and snack healthfully when you’re a mom.
What are the best foods to eat while pregnant for health and energy?
“Eating for two” is a misconception. Not until the end of a pregnancy do you need many extra calories. Mamas-to-be should eat a balanced diet full of nutrients, while paying attention not to overeat comfort foods and refined sugars. Protein is the single most important macronutrient to include in a pregnancy diet, as a baby’s bones, muscles, blood, organs and connective tissue depend on protein for healthy growth. Vegetarian women should educate themselves about eating “complete” proteins (foods containing all the amino acids, for example, quinoa). Depending on what a woman can tolerate during pregnancy, I recommend a diet that includes grass-fed beef, wild salmon, dark leafy greens, avocados, broccoli, berries, winter squashes, and whole grains. For mamas feeling nauseous, I recommend sipping bone broth with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt, or smoothies made with coconut cream, banana, fresh berries, spinach and a scoop of collagen peptides. When I was pregnant, my favorite comfort food was oatmeal with blueberries, walnuts, and a small (or sometimes large!) handful of dark chocolate chips.
(Photo courtesy of @alletrejo)
What foods do you recommend for nursing moms?
Nursing moms should be sure to eat a varied, colorful diet, and enough calories to produce ample breast milk. It is not the time to skimp on meals! Many women are eager to lose the baby weight immediately, and restricting intake affects milk production. Breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, give or take, so most moms will naturally lose some baby weight through the process. I tell nursing moms to eat a rainbow of vegetables, plus proteins like eggs, grass-fed red meat, organic chicken and fish low in mercury, grains like oats and rice, and good fats from nuts and avocados. As the food a mom eats can flavor the milk a baby receives, she should be attentive to whether a spicy meal or a garlicky meal causes gastric distress for her baby and make adjustments. Some of the most common triggers for newborn distress come from dairy and soy, so I rarely recommend them. Another important part of nursing is hydration. I recommend lemon water with a pinch of sea salt, pure coconut water, or cups of bone broth, which also contains a little bit of protein.
What foods did you start feeding your kids when they were ready for solids?My children were all breast-fed for one year. The first solid foods I fed my babies were pureed fruits and vegetables. I started with pureed avocado at six months for all of them, and then moved to sweet potatoes, stewed and pureed pears, carrots and mashed bananas, because they are all highly digestible, flavorful and unlikely to cause much gas. After they were secure with those foods, I introduced plain, whole milk yogurt with active cultures, and then broths and well-cooked, pureed meats.
What are your go-to meals to make for your family during the week?
We have a very busy schedule this fall, so it’s important that our weeknight dinners are both easy and nutritious. It’s essential that I plan meals ahead of time, because we are on the go every afternoon after school. I make a lot of sheet pan and slow cooker meals that I can prep in advance and keep in a Ziploc in the fridge until ready to cook. Among the favorites in our current sheet pan rotation are roasted Greek chicken, steak fajitas, and chicken or shrimp Teriyaki. I love meals where I can put the proteins and vegetables in one place and cook them all at the same time. Occasionally we eat in shifts depending on when sports practices end, so on those nights I make chili, pork carnitas, or meatballs in the slow cooker, and serve the kids as they come home. Their favorite collective meal is tacos, so we have either simple chicken or beef tacos once a week.
(Photo courtesy of @romarealica)
Are you strictly a Whole Foods shopper? If not, where else do you shop?
I am an organic and a non-GMO shopper, when organic is not available. There are certain foods, such as meat, dairy products, and soft fruit like berries that I only buy if organic. If I can help it, I buy animal products from places where the animals have eaten foods that were optimal for their bodies, such as grass-fed organic beef, wild salmon, and eggs from pastured chickens. Luckily, there are plenty of stores and online delivery services that stock organic products at pretty reasonable prices these days. Due to my busy schedule between work and running my kids around to after-school activities, I tend to order most of my groceries, usually on Mondays when the kids leave for school. I generally get our groceries from Whole Foods through Amazon Prime delivery, which takes only two hours door to door, or Wegman’s, which has a large inventory of organic products. I love the local health food stores because they stock some hard to find products, but it is really amazing how natural foods have gone mainstream and are so accessible.
(Photo courtesy of @sulyntan)
What are your pantry and fridge staples?
Our family of six goes through a lot of food in a week! My kids eat more apples, cucumbers and colored bell peppers than I can count. Our fridge has almost an entire shelf dedicated to yogurt, because the six of us have different preferences. I prefer Lavva yogurt, made from coconut and pili nuts. Our pantry is loaded with spices and ingredients, like canned tomatoes, coconut milk, salsa, bone broth, maple syrup, alternative flours, non-dairy milks, and organic grains and pastas. One thing I cannot do without is bottles of my favorite Tessemae’s and Primal Kitchen salad dressings to use as easy marinades, because even I can’t make everything from scratch all the time. Tessemae’s Avocado Ranch salad dressing may be my secret ingredient in a number of favorite family recipes. I bulk order healthy snacks like cereals, crackers, nuts, chips and granola bars from Thrive Market, and order meat from Grass Roots Co-Op and US Wellness Meats. These are great deals if you’re looking for the highest quality foods at more affordable prices than the local health food stores, and they have so much variety! The meats arrive frozen, and I defrost whatever I plan to use in my fridge each week. Having proteins on hand makes it easy to whip up a solid meal without always having to run to the store. One of my other weekly habits is to order bags of frozen fruits and vegetables, as frozen produce has as many nutrients as fresh, but can be stored for longer and is often less expensive.
(Alison Kucich above. Photo credit: Lara Robby Photography)
Alison Kucich, certified functional nutrition specialist and founder of Eighty Nutrition, is available for consultations on how to improve your family's health and well-being through nutrition.