3 min

The Smash Cake Debate

Something happens inside me when there’s a recent cultural norm that everybody abides by: I immediately reject it. 

Everybody has a wedding cake. Everybody has a baby shower. Everybody does a gender reveal. All boys wear blue and all girls wear pink and massive bows on their heads that look insane. 

And then everyone started to ask the same question about my son’s first birthday party: “Are you doing a smash cake??” 

But with the smash cake there’s a deeper reason for my rejection, and that’s the introduction of sugary foods to a baby. 

I struggled with my relationship with food from age 17 until my early 30s when I finally began my journey to a healthy body image with the help of the book, Intuitive Eating. It taught me to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. It taught me to sit with my feelings and emotions rather than cover them up by binge-eating or drinking. It taught me to be more in touch with how food actually made my body feel afterwards. 

They might seem like simple, obvious things, but after years of trying to control my weight it was an excruciatingly slow, one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. And now I enjoy food without obsessing over every morsel that goes into my mouth. I don’t use food as a reward or punishment. I don’t plan out my meals every day. I just eat. And that gives me the freedom to expend all that energy into things that actually deserve my time. 

I don’t want my son to waste years of his life obsessing over food. I also don’t want to overcompensate and be weird about it so it still becomes an issue for him. Which is why I want to be deliberate about learning how to raise an intuitive eater from the beginning. 

From the book, I learned that all humans are born intuitive eaters. We just get messed up along the way. One thing the authors suggest is to wait to introduce sugary, dessert-like foods until babies are closer to 2 years old, because, “If your child has been oriented to a wide variety of foods when he or she begins to eat solid foods, the [junk] food will not become overvalued.” 

George loves eating real food. He eats vegetables and fruit and bread and shrimp and peanut butter. And by “eats” I mean he chews the food and spits most of it out, but he definitely enjoys the act of eating. If I put a bowl of yogurt and watermelon in front of him on his birthday, he’ll be thrilled. There’s no point in giving him a sugary cake just because it’s the current trend.

I was having dinner with my extended family and there was a discussion with my 8-year-old nephew about “healthy” food. All the adults explained why it was important to eat healthy food to make you feel strong. 

A good point. But it was clear my nephew was motivated to eat healthy food because the adults were patting him on the back for it. He didn’t necessarily like it or want to eat it but he liked the approval. 

What was missing from the conversation was the enjoyment of eating all kinds of foods and how the foods made his body feel afterwards. And not making it a moral issue by calling foods “good” and “bad.” As the authors explain, “There are some foods that don’t necessarily help the body, but exist, just to taste good.”

And that’s okay! When babies and kids are learning about food and nutrition, it’s most important they enjoy eating all kinds of foods with the understanding that some foods make them feel better than others. 

I’m not keeping sugar away from George because I’m a health nut. I eat ice cream and chocolate on a regular basis. My husband and I are just waiting until he’s a little older to introduce it. And when we do, it won’t be as a reward or for a special event. It will be introduced the same way every food is introduced: as something yummy to eat. 

So no, we are not doing a smash cake. I’m going to make zucchini bread and spread cream cheese on top. Which still has sugar in it, but it at least won’t be a cascade of glucose and fructose in George’s face.