My beliefs behind child rearing, especially baby care, were based on western television, movies, and media. I thought it would be pretty easy: if I had diapers, formula, baby powder, and jars of baby food, I would be ready to take care of my child. Boy, was I wrong. What I learned from my own daughter is that babies need a lot more care and nutrients. I also found the Korean conceptions of baby care quite different from other parts of the world and enlightening.
I thought I would be going to baby classes where my wife would learn to breathe and I would learn to hold the baby and such. Nope. After a woman gives birth in Korea, she usually stays at a joriwon (a baby care center) to recover from the trauma of child birth and the nurses there help educate the parents on baby care. My wife was in a joriwon for two weeks in a private suite—something unheard of in most western countries. As for feeding the baby, she first breastfed and later used formula along with breast milk. My wife told me that the formula was to help add weight and that the breast milk would give the baby nutrients and help her fight sickness. My daughter, Hazell, was born one month premature and underweight but she quickly caught up and gained weight just like other babies her age.
To help her in this process, my wife would add glutinous rice to the water. She first soaked rice in water and then laboriously ground it until it was fine. The rice powder was then added to water before putting formula in it. Hazell really enjoyed this milk and it made her a plump, chubby baby over time. My wife still uses this method whenever Hazell has an upset stomach or digestion problems.
As Hazell got older (4 months–1 year), my wife started to cook. She didn’t buy any tiny jars of baby food that I see overseas. She made rice porridge with different ingredients—one or two vegetables and beef. Over time, she added more exotic ingredients such as avocado, pumpkin, chicken, fish, and tomato. By carefully differentiating the food from meal to meal, she made sure my daughter wouldn’t get bored of her meals. All the vegetables, fruits, and meat we bought for Hazell were organic or pesticide free. Luckily, these types of products are now mainstream in Korea and conveniently labeled so they are easy to find in most grocery stores. My wife also orders a lot of food online. The one problem I have is that any product labeled “for babies,” is double if not three times the price of others.
Now, my wife has a pretty easy-to-follow process for making the food for the baby. Even I can do it. She usually soaks the rice overnight in filtered water. If she is adding grains like oats or barley, she boils those first to make them soft. She usually soaks beef in water to pull the blood out and later throws away the liquid. The vegetables, such as pumpkin, carrots, avocado, and bok choy, are prepared in advance. She blanches, finely chops them, portions them into cubes, and freezes them. She boils the rice until it is soft and then adds one cube of up to three different vegetables and meat and cooks them until soft. She feeds one to the baby and freezes the rest so she can alternate the food on different days. We never add salt to the food since it could be bad for the baby’s health.
Hazell likes snacks as well. Korea has great snacks that are not so sugary: for example, seaweed (gim), baby cheese, and puffed rice snacks. Hazell doesn’t have teeth yet so she will hold them in her mouth until they are soft and then eat them. My daughter also loves fruit such as bananas, tomatoes, and avocados. My wife and I mush them up first and then feed them to her.
Food Feeding Tricks
Most of the time Hazell loves to eat but sometimes she is irritable and refuses. We always have toys and distractions for her to play with. It could be a book or a rattle or a spoon. She likes to hold things in her hands. We make eating a game and play “peek-a-boo” or sing songs while she eats. If she is really irritated, we wrap the rice in seaweed or put a piece of baby cheese on top of the food. If she doesn’t like a particular food, we hold a piece of cheese close to her mouth and when she opens her mouth to eat the cheese, we’ll put a spoon of rice in her mouth instead!
All cultures have different philosophies on feeding and raising children. I don’t know if the Korean way is the best or not. However, I feel that the foundation of feeding our baby is sound. She is growing well and learning to enjoy a variety of natural foods. I am grateful to my wife for doing the research and the care she puts into making each dish. I think this approach to food will make Hazell a healthy, happy baby that will appreciate quality food.
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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