Q&A: healthy birthday cake for 1st birthday

Miss W writes:

"My son is turning one on October 31.  I have made all of his baby food since he began solids except when we travel and then he eats only Earth's Best organic foods (jars where the ingredients list is entirely made up of the names of foods and not words that are better suited for a chemistry lab).  He was 10.5 weeks premature, so even though he's turning 1 and has 7 teeth he still doesn't like to do a lot of chewing and really doesn't want to self-feed much of the time.  I'm very careful about what foods I introduce and when.  As a rule, I follow the Super Babyfood book's schedule for introduction of foods.

Obviously for his first birthday, I want to have cake for him. And yet he has never eaten sugar.  The only sweet things he has had are fruits.  I did give him a tiny bite of cake at a gathering in his dad's office this afternoon.  He tolerated it well, but it was just one bite.

What can I do to make sure that he doesn't get sick on his birthday?  Do I throw out the "rules" that I've lived by in feeding him to this point and give him something sugared each day?  Do I bake a special organic/naturally sweetened cake for him? (And if I do, where do I find such a recipe?)  I mentioned that I might make the birthday cake that way and his paternal grandparents turned up their noses and told me the would NOT eat a cake like that and they highly doubted that anyone else would either.

So, what do I do?  How do I keep it enjoyable for my son, avoiding the chance of illness or the dreaded sugar rush, while appeasing the adults?"

I can absolutely understand your desire to give your son a healthy, sugar-free birthday cake. I did the same thing with my older son's first birthday. He also hadn't had sugar at that point (except for one incident with my dad and some Halloween candy), and it didn't make any sense to me to suddenly give him sugar in a cake he'd never remember anyway. I was lucky to have friends who were equally cautious in introducing new foods to their babies, who thought the unsweetened banana cake I made was wonderful, and relatives who pretended not to care. I felt that there was such a little window of time in which I could actually control what he ate that I should take advantage of it (like taking advantage of the years in which he'd be too little to care what his Halloween costume was).

Your in-laws' protestations that they won't eat a sugar-free cake sound like they're more about feeling judged by your feeding choices than about needing a specific kind of cake. I mean, I'm sure they've had all sorts of birthday cakes in the past that haven't been their favorite flavors (and plenty of the grocery store cakes that taste like sugary styrofoam) but they've eaten them happily anyway. Their protest sounds like they think that your caution in introducing new foods (especially ones with no nutritional value) is an indictment of the food and feeding choices they made for your husband. I bet you could ease the situation by asking them to reminisce about your husband's first birthday cake or his favorite foods as a baby and sounding interested and appreciative.

I'm going to assume that they haven't made any remarks about feeding your son "real cake" or anything like that since you didn't mention it. That also leads me to think it's more about their feeling you don't approve of what they did, than trying to control what you do with your son.

Since it's probably more about hurt feelings than about testing behavior (which does sometimes enter into interactions with grandparents), I'd be inclined to make two cakes (or make one and buy one). One healthy one for your son, and one that'll give your in-laws sugar shock and make them happy. Your son will never know the difference, and if it makes the day go more easily for you then it's a small inconvenience. Since cake for the first birthday is mostly about the photo op anyway, you could put the sugary-but-pretty cake in front of your son for some photos but then give him the sugar-free cake to eat. And don't hesitate to use the "preemie card" to justify your choice not to give him sugar. You make the decisions you feel are best, and compliment your in-laws on what wonderful grandparents they are, and everyone should be happy.

I've looked and looked for that banana cake recipe, and just can't find it anymore on the internet. (It's a shame, too, because it actually tasted good.) But I have found a couple other recipes. The first one uses only ripe bananas as sweetener, but uses egg and butter. Personally, I'd take out the raisins, but I hate raisins cooked in things anyway: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk?topicid=4&threadid=195449&stamp=060724121705

The next recipe from the drgreene.com website is egg and lactose-free, but uses raw sugar or another sweetener (I'd use stevia or maple syrup): http://www.drgreene.com/24_50.html

If you want to frost it, you could use thick Greek yogurt sweetened with a little maple syrup or pureed fruit. Or just make some chocolate ganache and serve it on the side for adults. (To make ganache, take 1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream and bring to a boil in a saucepan. While it's coming to a boil, chop 8 oz. of good semisweet chocolate into tiny pieces. When the cream boils, turn off the heat and put the chocolate in the cream. Stir to blend as the chocolate melts. It will set up as it cools--you may need to refrigerate it. For a drizzly ganache you can pour over cake, use a little less chocolate.)

Congratulations on making it this far. Have a good time at the birthday party, and take lots of pictures!

(Unsweetened banana cake for the first child's first birthday. With my second child, feeding--and almost everything else--went totally off the track because there were other people giving him all sorts of things when I wasn't looking. His first birthday cake was cupcakes from a mix and frosting from a can, slapped on at the party in the playground. That's life.)