When Mrs Ruby Sim, 30, was getting ready for the birth of her second son last year, one of the things on her to-do list was getting a confinement meal service.
She had tried to keep costs down after the birth of her first son four years ago by getting her mother to cook her post-natal meals, but that did not work out.
"My mother found it challenging to cook confinement food and I ended up eating regular meals after the first week," she says.
Mrs Sim, a parenting blogger, believes that because she did not adhere to a confinement meal diet, her milk flow was affected and that made breastfeeding difficult.
She wanted to ensure that she could enjoy a steady supply of such nourishing meals after her second son was born.
"It was so convenient to have lunch and dinner provided. And I saved money because I just ordered the meals and did away with having a confinement nanny.
I didn't have to worry about what to eat or what ingredients and herbs to buy for the nanny to cook my meals.
BLOGGER RUBY SIM (above), who ordered confinement meals when she gave birth to her second son
"I didn't have to worry about what to eat or what ingredients and herbs to buy for the nanny to cook my meals," adds Mrs Sim, who tried six different confinement meal providers last year before deciding on one of them.
Like her, many new mothers here are using home delivery services for their post-partum recovery meals, as they find it convenient and cheaper than hiring a full-time, 28-day confinement nanny.
The services of such a nanny usually costs about $3,000, which is about $1,000 more than ordering a 28-day long confinement meal service.
While the nanny's fees go towards cooking of meals and looking after the child, many mothers say they would rather do the latter themselves or have their parents or in-laws do so.
Confinement meal providers say the growth in sales in recent years shows that the popularity of such meals has increased.
Natal Essentials, one of the earliest caterers of confinement meals here, says sales have increased by more than 100 per cent since it began operations in 2003, and that sales continue to be healthy.
But with rising demand, competition has also become more heated and the providers have had to come up with different ways of getting a leg up on their rivals in the market.
A quick search shows there are currently close to 15 confinement meal providers here, compared with fewer than 10 five years ago.
Confinement food, usually consumed by mothers in the month following childbirth, when they are advised to be "confined" at home to rest, is seen as an important part of the post-partum recovery process.
Different cultures may have different ideas of the types of food best suited to new mothers.
For the Chinese, such meals usually contain ingredients known to aid digestion, expel wind and toxins, to help mothers regain energy, strengthen their joints, and support their breastfeeding needs.
Malays and Indians are said to avoid foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes and coconut milk as these are seen to be "cooling".
Confinement meal providers here generally cater more to the Chinese and do not offer halal options. But some are able to omit pork from the dishes and others are able to prepare vegetarian meals.
Confinement meals supplied by these firms usually consist of staples, proteins, herbal soups and teas, and arrive in containers ranging from tingkat to thermal tubs.
Providers of such meals also get orders from individuals who have undergone surgery or suffered a miscarriage.
However, it is not advisable for the public to consume such meals as the food tends to contain Chinese herbs, which may not suit all body constitutions.
The various vendors generally accommodate dietary requests from customers, from deboned fish to the removal of innards from dishes.
Prices start at about $400 for a seven-day lunch and dinner package and go up to about $2,000 for a 28-day double meal package.
For customers who opt for the latter, the providers usually end up repeating some of the meals.
Some companies, such as The Natal Kitchen and RichFood Catering, strive to minimise repetition by repeating only "must-have" dishes such pig trotters with vinegar.
This dish comes with copious amounts of ginger, which is said to help with the release of stomach gas and can relieve muscle aches and pains.
The Natal Kitchen, the confinement food partner of NannySOS, sets itself apart from the competition by offering confinement desserts once a week, such as snow fungus with apple longan, and ginger broth with sesame dumplings.
Others such as Kim's Kitchen vary their meals across the 28 days and also offer a ginger tea option apart from the usual red date tea with longans.
Some try to whet customers' appetites with "signature dishes".
A spokesman for Chilli Padi Confinement says its signature dishes come with ingredients vital for post-natal recovery.
Examples include Braised Sakura chicken with black fungus, in which the iron-rich black fungus is meant to help expel stale blood; and stir-fried broccoli with fish maw and abalone mushroom, in which the collagen-rich fish maw is meant to replenish nutrients.
Thomson Confinement Food Home Delivery Service prides itself on dishes such as red date chicken and stir-fried asparagus with fish maw and capsicum, all of which are developed by Thomson Medical's in-house team of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), lactation consultants, and nutrition experts.
One of the latest entrants into this niche market is Tian Wei Signature, which began its services in March last year.
It tries to differentiate its offerings from the others in terms of meal variety and options. For staples, apart from the usual white, brown or fried rice, Tian Wei Signature also offers polenta, quinoa, five-grain rice and sweet potato vermicelli.
It also tries to stand out from its competitors with its "fusion confinement meals". Instead of offering just traditional Chinese dishes that come with generous lashings of ginger and vinegar, its meals also include Western-style dishes such as seared salmon with cauliflower cream and Mediterranean-style dishes such as tomato cumin chicken stew with eggplant.
Its spokesman says: "We try not to let mothers feel like they are constantly eating the same food. We want to offer creative dishes, without compromising the nutrition that these mothers need."
Not to be outdone, some of the other companies have been experimenting with fusion food options too for their confinement meals.
Chilli Padi Confinement, for instance, is planning to roll out dishes with a Peranakan twist, such as ayam ponteh with ginger and garlic and ayam panggang infused with blue and yellow ginger.
Accountant Jolene Pang, 31, decided to order Tian Wei's food during her confinement period last year, after her friends recommended it.
She enjoyed the variety and taste of the meals, especially the pasta and fusion dishes.
"I did not feel that I was eating confinement food at all," she says.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 01, 2018, with the headline 'Mothers latch on to post-baby meal delivery'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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