Eating plays a big role in postpartum recovery, but even though you may be craving it, a plate of nachos is the last thing your body needs right now.
Inspired by the Chinese period of postpartum rest and recovery called zuo yuezi, I developed 60 recipes that support the specific needs of new mothers. Each dish or drink subscribes to some fairly specific guidelines around eating during the first weeks after birth (cold and crunchy foods are no-nos, dishes that are protein dense and/or packed with vibrant greens are ideal), but as I discovered during my own postpartum experiences, healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult or tasteless.
These three recipes support lactation, help to maintain your energy reserves, and promote recovery from birth— and they're big on yum-factor.
Oats & Chia Congee
Traditional oatmeal can be dull and gummy, so I gave mine an upgrade that’s ideal for new mothers, but that’s also a delicious meal option for the whole family.
Oats provide a steady stream of energy while also boosting lactation and chia gives a necessary shot of protein. Make a big batch of congee and freeze individual portions in muffin tins for a quick, hearty meal whenever you need it.
2 cups (180 g) rolled oats
11⁄2 cup (235 g) steel-cut oats
1-inch (2.5-cm) knob of fresh ginger, peeled and halved
Pinch of sea salt
1⁄4 cup (40 g) chia seeds
1⁄2 cup (50 g) quinoa flakes (optional; add another 1⁄2 cup/120 ml water if using)
For the toppings:
1 cup (240 ml) milk (or cream, coconut milk, or nut milk of your choice)
2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) maple syrup, or to taste
Fresh or frozen fruit or berries, for serving (optional)
Chopped almonds or other nuts, for serving (optional)
In a medium pot, bring 41⁄2 cups (1 L) water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the rolled and steel-cut oats, the ginger, and salt. Reduce the heat to medium and let cook—three-quarters of the way covered— for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for another 15 minutes; add more water if needed, keeping an eye on the pot so it doesn’t boil over. Add the chia seeds and quinoa flakes, if using, during the last 15 minutes of cooking, stirring occasionally so the seeds and flakes separate and incorporate into the mixture. Once the grains are soft and creamy, and most of the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat.
When you are ready to eat, serve warm with the milk, coconut oil or butter, maple syrup to taste, plus fresh fruit and almonds, if you like.
Portion-freezing option: After the congee is cooked (and the chia seeds and quinoa have been added), let it cool on the stovetop. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Portion the congee into 1⁄2 cup (115 g) servings in the cups of the muffin tin. Flash-freeze for 4 to 5 hours, or until firm. Twist or tap out each serving and place them in large zip-tight plastic bags. When you are ready to eat, add one or two to a saucepan with some milk or water and reheat over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, uncovered.
Asian Mother’s Bowl
Simplicity is at the heart of postpartum eating. Mother’s Bowls infuse postpartum eating with flexibility and versatility. All you need are few scoops of cooked grains, leftover cooked veggies, and some protein and you’re ready to mix and match as you like —they are a great way to clean out the fridge! I also love these dishes because they are a quick way to consume a hearty meal; you get all of the essential nutritional elements of a comprehensive lunch or dinner (or breakfast — it’s always the right time to eat well) in one neat bowl.
In a medium frying pan, over medium-low heat, combine the following and heat until warm:
Leftover congee (try the Oats & Chia Congee)
Fresh greens (arugula, chard, kale, spinach)
Pan-fried or oven-baked bacon or sausage pieces
Chili powder (optional)
Season with the chili powder if you want some extra heat and if that matches the leftover congee you’re using. Transfer to a bowl and eat warm.
Peanut Butter & Honey Rice Crispy Treats
Healthy postpartum eating doesn’t mean boring postpartum eating. If someone offers to help during the first weeks after birth, ask them to make you these chewy, sweet protein-packed bars. And then watch how hard it is to keep them for yourself!
Makes an 8-inch square pan
1 cup (240 g) peanut butter 1⁄2 cup (1 stick/115 g) salted grass-fed butter 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) honey 2 cups (30 g) organic puffed rice Pinch of sea salt
Optional add-ins: chocolate chips, peanuts, shredded coconut, dried fruit of your choice
In a small saucepan, melt the peanut butter, butter, and honey over medium heat, stirring until well combined.
Put the puffed rice in a mixing bowl with the pinch of sea salt, add the peanut butter mixture, and stir until the cereal is evenly coated. Stir in any optional ingredients you’d like. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch (20-cm) square pan and press down gently to cover the bottom. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or up to several hours. When they are hard to the touch, cut into squares and enjoy. They will soften at room temperature, so best to keep them chilled until you are ready to eat.
Heng Ou is the founder of MotherBees, a Los Angeles-based food and lifestyle brand that supports women as they step into motherhood. Heng just released "The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother" along with co-authors Amely Greevan and Marisa Belger, and she will be debuting a line of packaged foods for moms in late 2016. Follow Heng on Instagram and Facebook at @MotherBees.
Photographs by: Heng Ou