I have very early memories of feeling comforted by food. I remember the cold, snowy December days helping to dig the car out of the driveway with a shovel twice my size then throwing my boots off in a warm house taking in the aroma of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Winter weekend lunches after a hard morning of tobogganing were often Campbell’s mushroom or tomato soup with Premium Plus crackers, Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, or grilled cheese with Kraft singles and white bread. Dinners to look forward to after school were Shepherd’s pie and pork chops with scalloped potatoes. My mom was always cooking something in my house, so I have a lot of fond memories of food mostly during childhood.
Comfort foods for me usually involved a potato or a noodle. At least until I started studying nutrition, in which case, both the potato and the noodle (and the processed/packaged food that came with them) reluctantly went into hibernation until I could love them much less. And I did. I didn’t desire these additive laden comfort foods for ages.
But then I got pregnant and a flurry of naughty thoughts involving Campbell’s and Lipton’s soups, Ramen noodles, Sheppard’s pie with the Club House mix, and sweet tarts from the 25 cent machine were holding my brain captive. I couldn’t understand it because I ate so well. But still, I would look at these items in the aisles of the grocery store like they were old friends I had carried a grudge for over many years but was sort of ready to make up with.
Suddenly during pregnancy, our need for past comfort foods can hit us like a Mack (and cheese) truck.
Although it is not certain as to why we crave comfort foods during pregnancy (and after birth), most of us can relate to taking solace through food during these exciting but unsettling times as our nostalgic appetites start to take us back down memory lane.
Comfort foods tend to include a starchy or refined carbohydrate like white flour, white bread, sugar, noodles, and potatoes. Perhaps we desire these foods because of the body’s increased need for calories and energy. Or maybe we are looking for security as expecting and new mothers. Or could it be that we have baby on the brain and are thinking about our own childhood and the foods that made us feel good?
Whatever the reasons, diet has to be impeccable both during and after pregnancy and some of our tasty and/or sentimental comfort foods are not so healthy. I’ll get back to that but first…
The results are in!
I reached out to many of you via social media, telephone, and in person to find out what your favourite comfort foods are/were. After tallying over 150 responses here are the top 3:
Macaroni and cheese
Shepherd’s pie / meat loaf and mashed potatoes
Canned/homemade soup with bread or crackers
These were overwhelmingly the most popular, but I have to say, I was surprised that chocolate and ice cream were near the bottom of the list. Did we forget or does our cold climate drive us toward warmth?
Anyway, let’s first take a look at macaroni and cheese. Several of you mentioned your mother’s homemade, but Kraft Mac and Cheese was right up there. Well, this is the scoop on Kraft Mac and Cheese, it contains Yellow # 5 (aka Tartrazine). Yellow # 5 is a dangerous, cancer causing artificial food colour that can also cause hyperactivity in children. It is banned in 9 different countries in Europe. Yikes.
As a matter of fact, when looking up the ingredients on the Kraft website, there was a voluntary recall notice (at the time of writing this) for Kraft Mac and Cheese. It appears some boxes may contain pieces of metal. Yum.
Secondly, let’s see what’s in Shepherd’s pie mixes and most packaged/canned goods. If making Shepherd’s pie from scratch, you can get a lot of great nutrients in there. However I, Iike many other people, used a powdered gravy growing up. I chose Club House because it tasted great and was easy to make. After studying nutrition and learning how to understand the ingredients, I could not succumb when I was pregnant, or anytime thereafter. Shepherd’s Pie mixes, along with most other packaged/canned gravies, soups, and soup stocks (like my favourites from Campbell’s and Lipton’s), contained the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG).
MSG is a neurotoxin that can wreak havoc on our nervous system by overexciting our cells until they are damaged or dead. Common side effects can include headaches, fatigue, obesity, depression, asthma, and eye damage (i)- nothing you want to expose to your fetus, your breastfeeding child, or yourself! MSG can also hide behind such terms as ‘hydrolyzed’, ‘autolyzed’, and ‘yeast extract’. Unfortunately, some baby foods can even contain MSG (and associated terms) so please, parents beware!
You don’t need to ditch your comfort foods pre/postnatally, but make them healthier.
Here a few ways to turn some of your processed favorites into homemade nutrient powerhouses for you and your baby.
Bypass canned soups. Making your own chicken stock doesn’t need to be difficult. Whether you have picked up a rotisserie chicken or made your own, save the bones. Simmering these in a pot of water for a couple of hours with some garlic, onions, a bay leaf, perhaps some celery and carrots gives you an amazing highly nourishing broth to keep you and your baby full of much needed minerals. Use or freeze for future use.
Forget about flavour enhancing packages. Use some of your amazing chicken soup stock to flavour your meals. Use a homemade beef stock from beef bones and herbs to make your sauce for a Shepherd’s Pie. Feeling adventurous? Substitute potatoes with cauliflower for a change. Can’t step away from the potato? Then boost your vitamin C intake and mash your spuds with the skins on. Either way, add loads of veggies!
Craving something salty? It is not uncommon during pregnancy as your need for sodium goes up. You should still buy low sodium products and just add sea salt NOT table salt to your meals. Sea salt is much higher in trace minerals that the body can use and too much table salt can raise your blood pressure.
(i) Mercola, Joseph. MSG: Is This Silent Killer Lurking in Your Kitchen Cabinets? Retrieved October 24, 2016, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/04/21/msg-is-this-silent-killer-lurking-in-your-kitchen-cabinets.aspx