You might need to study the menu closely and think ahead but pregnancy doesn’t rule out too many yummy meals. Here’s what to think about when eating out.
If you’re eating out for the first time since you realised you were pregnant, you might be wondering what to do differently. Well, not too much, don’t worry. Here are some tips on what to study the menu for and how else to make sure you get the right foods.
Tips for eating out:
- Check out the menu online beforehand and choose a restaurant with plenty of different meals on offer.
- Tell the waiter you’re pregnant when you’re choosing your food so they can let you know the ingredients.
- If the waiter seems unsure about the ingredients and umms and urrs too much, ask them to check with the chef.
- You could go for a couple of starters instead of one large meal if you’re finding it difficult to eat big.
- If your meal includes rice, check it’s been freshly prepared. Rice that hasn’t been stored properly might give you food poisoning, and nobody wants that.
- If you are prone to heartburn, just remember that fatty or super spicy food could make it worse, unfortunately.
You might also be wondering which foods you can actually eat. Doesn’t pregnancy mean loads of different foods are off the menu? You will need to rule out some foods and have a little less of others. Here’s the important stuff.
Unpasteurised milk and soft cheese
Check any milk you’re getting is pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT) (long-life) when you’re eating out. If you’re somewhere off the beaten path where you can only get raw (unpasteurised) milk, make sure they boil it before you drink it (NHS, 2017a).
Unpasteurised goats' or sheep's milk is not considered safe during pregnancy because it could contain listeria. So don’t drink those milks or eat foods made from them, e.g. soft goats' cheese or mould-ripened soft cheese like brie or camembert. It might also include soft blue-veined cheese like Roquefort or Danish blue.
Listeria can cause a rare infection called listeriosis, which might lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness in newborn babies (American Pregnancy Association, 2017).
Call your midwife if you're pregnant and think you have listeriosis. The symptoms of listeriosis include:
- a high temperature of 38°C or above,
- aches and pains,
- feeling sick or vomiting and
Liver and pâté
Don't choose anything with liver or products containing liver, such as liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis, as they might contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby (Rothman et al, 1995; NHS, 2017a).
Paté wise, it’s not just the liver you’re avoiding either: avoid any paté, including the vegetarian kind. It too can contain listeria. What’s more, some vegetarian pâté contains raw eggs, which might carry a risk of salmonella (NHS, 2018).
You can tuck in to soft-boiled eggs, that delicious chocolate mousse, soufflés and fresh mayonnaise as long as they’re made with Lion Code eggs. You could ask the café or restaurant to check whether the dish you’ve ordered was made with Lion Code eggs. These eggs will have a red lion logo on their shell and are thought to be safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked (NHS, 2017a).
If the dish you ordered contains eggs without the Lion Code stamp, make sure they’re thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. That should prevent the risk of salmonella (NHS, 2017a).
Stay away from any dishes that contain raw or undercooked meat because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis. This is an infection caused by a parasite (NHS, 2017a,d).
Check that any meat or poultry you’re served is thoroughly cooked so it's steaming hot and there's no trace of pink or blood. Be especially careful with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers (NHS, 2017a).
A lot of cold meats like salami, prosciutto, chorizo and pepperoni, which you might find in a salad or sandwich, are cured and fermented rather than cooked. So they might have parasites that cause toxoplasmosis too (NHS, 2017a).
In the UK, pre-packed meats like ham and corned beef are considered safe to eat in pregnancy (NHS, 2017a).
You might need to quiz the cook about this one. You need to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you're pregnant, as it may contain high levels of lead (NHS, 2017a). Yet game that has been farmed should contain little or no lead so you’re fine with that (NHS, 2017a).
The Food Standards Agency advises pregnant women not to eat ready-to-eat, cold smoked or cured fish products, including smoked salmon, gravlax and raw fish in sushi, because of the risk of listeria. To make it safe to eat, cook the fish and make sure it's steaming hot all the way through (Food Standards Agency, 2023).
You’ll need to avoid any shark, swordfish or marlin that you spot on the menu (NHS, 2017a). You also need to limit the amount of tuna you eat to two steaks a week as it contains more mercury than other fish. Mercury could affect your baby's nervous system (NHS, 2017a).
As well as that, make sure your meal out doesn’t take you over the limit of two portions of oily fish a week. That’s because oily fish can contain pollutants (NHS, 2017a). Oily fish includes fresh tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring.
Tinned tuna doesn't count as oily fish so tuna mayo is still fine. You’re allowed to eat up to four medium-sized cans a week on top of two portions of oily fish (as long as that’s not fresh tuna) (NHS, 2017a).
If you choose something with shellfish (e.g. mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams), check it’s cooked because you should avoid raw shellfish. Raw shellfish can cause food poisoning because it might harbour harmful bacteria and viruses. You can still eat cold pre-cooked prawns though (NHS, 2017a).
Ready-to-eat cold-smoked and cured fish, including that found in sushi, can pose a risk of listeria if you're pregnant. So choose a vegetarian or cooked alternative (Food Standards Agency, 2023).
Help yourself to peanuts or food containing peanuts unless you're allergic or a health professional advises you not to (NHS, 2012, 2017a).
So to that after-dinner coffee. Too much caffeine can lead to miscarriage or babies having a low birth weight, which can cause health problems in later life (Kuczkowski, 2009; NHS, 2017a). You should have less than 200mg a day but remember caffeine is not just in tea and coffee.
The amount of caffeine in food and drinks is roughly as follows:
- mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- mug of tea: 75mg
- can of cola: 40mg
- 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg
- 50g dark chocolate chocolate: less than 25mg
- 50g milk chocolate bar: less than 10mg.
Herbal and green teas
You’ll even need to be cautious with herbal teas because nobody knows much about their safety. So aim for no more than four cups a day (NHS, 2017a). Oh, and bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine and you should avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root (Räikkönen et al, 2011; NHS, 2017a).
Ask your GP or midwife about specific herbal products.
This page was last reviewed in March 2018, information about listeria in ready-to-eat cold smoked fish updated July 2023.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
The Department of Health in England publishes ‘The pregnancy book’ containing lots of information and tips about your pregnancy.
Check out ‘your health in pregnancy’ which has more in depth information on nutrition in pregnancy.
Health Scotland provides information on pregnancy in its website Ready Steady Baby!
American Pregnancy Association. (2017) Listeria. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/listeria/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
Food Standards Agency, 2023 https://www.food.gov.uk/listeria
Kuczkowski KM. (2009) Caffeine in pregnancy. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics. 280(5):695. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19238414 [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2012) Nut consumption in pregnancy linked to ‘reduced child allergy risk’. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/nut-consumption-in-pregnancy-linked-to-reduced-child-allergy-risk/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2017a) Foods to avoid in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2017b) Listeriosis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/listeriosis/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2017c) Vitamin A. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-a/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2017d) Toxoplasmosis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/toxoplasmosis/ [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
NHS. (2018) Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be/Foods to avoid when pregnant. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Vegetarianhealth/Pages/Pregnancyandchildren.aspx [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
Räikkönen K, Seckl JR, Pesonen AK, Simons A, Van den Bergh BRH. (2011). Stress, glucocorticoids and liquorice in human pregnancy: programmers of the offspring brain. Stress, 14(6):590-603. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21875300 [Accessed: 18th March 2019]
Rothman KJ, Moore LL, Singer MR, Nguyen USD, Mannino S, Milunsky A. (1995). Teratogenicity of high vitamin A intake. New England Journal of Medicine. 333(21):1369-1373. Available from: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199511233332101 [Accessed: 18th March 2019]