With many health benefits, herbs and spices help to add flavor and variety to food without the need for salt, sugar and added flavorings that isn’t as good for us. As adults, we use herbs and spices to enhance the natural flavors of the food we eat.
For some reason though, baby food is all too often bland, tasteless and devoid of any flavors. This is especially true when it comes to conventional, store-bought food that is sold in western countries such as the United States.
In many other parts of the world however, spices are introduced at a very early age.
From Indian babies that are fed wholesome curries, to Thai babies that grow up eating fragrant spices and coconut milk and South American babies that are fed spicy meals rich in cumin and even chili, culture plays a big role in diet… in babies as well as adults.
Why Are Spices Important When it Comes to Solid Foods for Baby?
Introducing herbs and spices into your baby’s diet during the solid feeding days helps to expand the taste buds, provide healthy flavor that is free of MSG and other nasty additives, while also providing a varied diet that the whole family can enjoy.
When babies are able to try the foods that the rest of the family eats, mealtimes become much simpler for everyone – including busy parents. Babies that are given a more varied diet from early into the solid food stages often have far more ability to try new tastes and flavors, which in turn helps to reduce “fussy” eating habits and nurture flexible eating instead.
Best of all, using spices and herbs to enrich flavors will ensure that your baby starts off without ever needing less healthy additives to add variety to food.
When Can Spices be Introduced and Which Spices are Best in Baby Food?
Most pediatrics and baby food specialists agree that 6 to 8 months is ideal for the introduction of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg, garlic, turmeric, ginger, coriander, dill and cumin. These spices have many benefits, ranging from antioxidant properties to anti-inflammatory properties, immune system improvement and plenty of other benefits too.
Hot spices however, such as chili, curry, paprika, cayenne pepper and other pepper based spice are best left until your baby is at least a year old. These spices can trigger reactions, and as they trigger pain receptors in the brain, should be introduced in very small amounts when they are eventually introduced.
Some ideas of good ways to integrate herbs and spice in your baby’s solid food:
• Acorn, hubbard butternut and other squash: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger
• Apple and applesauce: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla or ginger
• Bananas: cinnamon, ginger, allspice or vanilla
• Carrots: basil, garlic or cinnamon
• Green beans: garlic powder
• Mashed potatoes: dill or garlic
• Sweet potato: nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cardamom
• Meat: garlic, pepper, onion powder, mint or orange zest.
• Oatmeal and cereal: cinnamon, nutmeg and/or vanilla
• Pasta: oregano, garlic or basil
• Pears: ginger, cinnamon, vanilla or mint
• Plain Yogurt: mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, allspice or cardamom
• Poultry: cinnamon, coriander, garlic powder, basil, pepper, basil, oregano, garlic, sage, rosemary or thyme
• Pumpkin: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla
• Quinoa (for sweet): cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom or ginger
• Quinoa (for savory): garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, basil or oregano
• Millet (for sweet): cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom or ginger
• Millet (for savory): garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, basil or oregano
Both ground and whole spices as well as ground and fresh herbs can be used, with both offering benefits depending on how the food is prepared. Ground spices and herbs are best for smoother textures, which makes it a better option when adding to food that has already been cooked and pureed. Whole spices and fresh herbs can be used during the cooking process, and are typically higher in antioxidants.
As a general rule of thumb, it is always a good idea to follow the ‘4 Day Wait rule’ when introducing herbs and spices to your baby’s food. Most herbs and most aromatic spices are mild enough to not typically cause any reactions, but just like any other food you introduce, waiting to see whether your baby is sensitive to the food you are offering is the simplest and safest way to ensure that no food allergies or intolerance is indicated.
P.S. If you would like to learn more about adding natural, wholesome flavors to baby food, we recommend Clancy Cash Harrison’s informative book, Feeding Baby: Simple Approaches to Raising a Healthy Baby and Creating a Lifetime of Nutritious Eating. This book has many great tips on feeding, nutrition and healthy eating and shares many recipes that incorporate herbs and spices. The book is a must for all parents looking for valuable insight into healthy baby food.