A version of this post originally appeared on August 26, 2023, in Stephanie Wu’s newsletter, “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world. Read the archives and subscribe now.
After giving birth, the thing I most looked forward to was going to the doctor. That’s because I spent a month in postpartum confinement, and the only time I left the house in those first 30 days was for a pediatrician or OB-GYN appointment. This practice is part of a Chinese tradition called zuo yue zi, which translates literally to “sitting the month.” The idea is that after giving birth, mothers’ bodies are very vulnerable, given all the changes they’ve gone through in the past 30-plus weeks, and the first postpartum month should be dedicated to healing the body and bonding with the baby. In ancient times, this meant not leaving your house, not getting the body cold or wet, not receiving any visitors, and a strict diet of warming and nourishing foods. These traditions are, of course, very restrictive and not realistic for most. Those who want to follow these rituals tend to stay at a dedicated postpartum center or pick and choose what makes sense for them.
With both my pregnancies, I was able to implement some of these practices — and as with most Chinese traditions, there is a large food component. My mother-in-law, who is Cantonese, cooked meals that included the recommended foods, such as pork knuckle (high in calcium and collagen), lots and lots of ginger (to boost the immune system), and papaya (said to stimulate milk production). I largely avoided cold foods (I missed ice cream a lot). And I did manage to mostly stay indoors, aside from doctors’ visits, and focus on resting and healing by napping whenever possible.
For many people, giving birth comes with the freedom of going back to foods that doctors often recommend avoiding during pregnancy — sushi, cured meats, soft cheese, raw egg, and more. And don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of those things once I got home, in addition to a drink or two. But we balanced these out with nourishing traditional Chinese foods, as well as the thoughtful food deliveries that we received from friends and family.
With two children and untold amounts of baby-related things in my house, I’ve become a huge proponent of celebrating a new family member with a ready-to-eat food delivery instead of yet another (adorable) onesie. When you’re sleep deprived and covered in spit-up, feeding yourself somehow shoots to the bottom of the priority list. Thankfully, there are so many no-prep food delivery services now that it’s easy to send a meaningful gift — or buy something for yourself in advance. Aside from the more general services — Purple Carrot, Territory Foods, CookUnity, and Ipsa Provisions — these are are some of the postpartum-specific ones on my radar.
This nationwide food delivery service is based on the principles of zuo yue zi, with meal plans dedicated to fertility, prenatal, and postpartum needs. Choose from a one-day trial or multiple deliveries a week, and personalize the plans based on needs like nausea, fatigue, and other symptoms. The dishes tend to be based in Asian cuisines, such as tofu seaweed soup, coconut-braised mushroom stew with chicken, and Thai basil tofu with gochujang mustard sauce. Tonics and broths are included in the postpartum plan and the ingredients vary based on how many weeks it’s been since giving birth — ginger root in week one to alleviate lower abdominal pain, hawthorn berry in week two to promote blood circulation. From $95 for a one-day trial, local delivery to New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut and nationwide shipping.
Brooklyn-based Welcome Home prepares food that is postpartum nutritionist-approved, but also designed to feed the whole family. The meals are frozen for easy reheating, and everything is dairy-free and gluten-free. Sample dishes include chickpea curry, baked oatmeal, and meatballs with tomato sauce. From $325 for a one-week plan, delivery to New York City and New Jersey.
Chen Mommy Kitchen
If you’re looking to adhere to zuo yue zi traditions as closely as possible, Chen Mommy has been providing the New York area with Taiwanese-style postpartum meals since 2011. A friend had these meals delivered after she had her son, and raved about the convenience of not having to plan meals and knowing her family had nutritious food on hand. The portions easily feed two, and dishes include pork liver with sesame oil, fish soup with ginseng and other Chinese herbs, and black chicken with wood ear mushrooms. Dessert options include sweet congee, taro soup, and tangyuan (sweet rice flour balls). Tastings available for $20, delivery to New York City and New Jersey.
The family-run Mama Meals has a variety of package sizes, from smaller gift boxes to enough food to last multiple weeks. Their foods come frozen and are easily reheated, and are largely designed based on Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Dishes include berry date oatmeal, sausage stew, and sweet potato curry soup, the latter two of which are fortified with organ meat to up the amount of nutrients. From $185 for a gift box, nationwide delivery.