Imagine if each bite of food was a Willy Wonka-like experience, with layers and layers of flavor, so that one bite seemed like an entire meal; kind of like having superhero food powers. Well, that’s almost what being pregnant is like, at least for Top Chef Nikki Cascone. She shares how she balanced pregnancy with opening a new restaurant.
How far along are you?
I’m 8 months pregnant right now and am having a boy. This is my first and I’m really at the point now where I’m just excited to meet him.
How have you found pregnancy so far?
I’ve had really distinct trimesters, which happens to everyone. But I’ve been really lucky so far and have had it easy. In the first trimester, I didn’t really have a lot of sickness but now in the third, I’m feeling fatigued and am slowing down a little. Actually, I knew right away that I was pregnant, like right away. I think because I’m really in touch with my body, so I knew instantly that I was pregnant, which I think helped understanding what I was going through.
Did you notice a shift in your palate at all?
Definitely, the whole thing about having a heightened sense of smell is true, and I also noticed that tastes became stronger. My palate is strong because of years of training, but I became more acutely aware of flavors and could taste more and better.
What kinds of flavors stood out to you?
I could taste things in food, like the salt or sugar content, and I could identify spices. We were in the middle of menu tasting for the new restaurant and I felt that I had a stronger sense of intuition of what was in dishes and being able to hone in on what they were.
Did your diet change at all during different periods of your pregnancy?
Not really, but I would get cravings like I really wanted eggs one day, and I’d eat them every day for a month. I wouldn’t get crazy cravings, but they’d be really intense. I just wanted eggs all of the time. I’m not even a big eggs person, but maybe my body needed protein. And during the third trimester, when my body needed iron, I walked into a butcher shop, and I’m not really a big meat eater, but I just saw some meat that the butcher had prepared and I had to have it. My body was telling me what I needed.
Did you change your eating habits when you became pregnant?
Yes, I did a lot. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables of course, but there are two things that I learned. One, constant liquids, you need to keep drinking while you’re pregnant. And I learned that I always had to have food in the house. It made snacking easier and creating healthier, balanced meals. It’s challenging when you’re pregnant to do that and not having food on hand makes it much more difficult. You don’t want to be ordering take out or things like that. And I usually have an apple or piece of fruit before bed because it satisfies that sweet craving but doesn’t keep me awake.
Any pantry staples that you recommend?
I do a lot of soy products, I think too much milk is upsetting on the stomach, especially because of all the added vitamins. I store a lot of bran and fiber, which I did before I was pregnant, but not as much as I do now. I buy the little soy milk boxes, and always have granola bars and healthy snacks that I can just grab. I learned early on that is really important when you’re pregnant, to have healthy things on hand otherwise it’s really easy to tank.
It also helps to make lunch boxes with soy milk, almonds and fruits for when I’m running around. In the beginning of my pregnancy, I wasn’t gaining weight, but my baby was, and I think having healthy snacks helped me avoid gaining that extra pregnancy weight.
What kind of meals do you typically cook for yourself?
I usually eat a lot of salads, and like last night I had lentils and Brussels sprouts with chicken. I eat a lot of quinoa and always have lentils on hand, so that if I have to order a take-out salad, then I can throw in healthy ingredients, like pumpkin seeds; I love adding those to a salad.
I think I’m also really educated about food and am really lucky because it’s overwhelming when you’re pregnant learning what you can and can’t eat. I read a lot of pregnancy books and began watching my sugar levels and protein. Right now I’m at a stage when anemia kicks in for a lot of women, so I’m making sure to take in a lot of iron. I also eat raw salmon too. I researched the risks and understand them, but I feel like it’s something that I want to include in my diet and feel comfortable doing that.
It’s easy to go to an extreme when you're pregnant in terms of eating, what’s your approach?
I think I’ve maintained the healthy way that I ate before, but now I’m just focusing more on eating healthy foods. I’m more aware of what my body needs and what I need to eat. I’d really like to keep up many of the habits that I have now. Because, how often do we eat two pieces of fruit a day or have a handful of almonds a day?
Do you miss having caffeine?
I never drink caffeine, but I will say that if I don’t have a decaf latte in the morning, then I get really cranky. I just love the taste and it’s my treat. But I never have any caffeine.
When you are out to dinner or at dinner parties, is there a beverage that you like to drink with your meal instead of wine or cocktails?
I’m in the stage where I crave fresh juices, so I like to have a freshly pressed lemon juice or a lime or lemon wedge in my water. I’ve been craving that a lot. I keep a lot of oranges in the house and have one of those simple citrus presses, so I do that a lot. When you’re pregnant, you’re not supposed to buy fresh juice out because it’s not pasteurized so there can be bacteria growing in it. So I make it at home a lot.
I am all about sharing and helping people, so I’m happy to share some healthy dishes that I make for myself with you!