I’ve gotten questions from a couple of moms asking when it’s safe to add herbs and spices to their infant’s foods, which ones are baby-friendly, and if/how adding herbs and spices can make a positive influence on their babys’ food preferences down the line. I was actually pretty curious about this myself, since it’s challenging (at least for me) to be super creative when I cook Jia’s meals and have been tempted to toss in some seasonings. It can be especially hard if you’re not really skilled in the kitchen, to stray away from the norm, the routine, your repertoire.
As I was conducting my research for this topic, I actually couldn’t find any resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics or any empirical research saying that incorporating herbs and spices weren’t recommended for babies and at what definitive age to begin introducing them. I am taking this to mean that since there’s no formal policy or recommendation against herbs and spices being introduced, then it’s not of great concern. What I did find was encouraging – the AAP recommended that in place of salt, parents should be encouraged to cook with herbs, spices, and lemon juice. So there ya go, the AAP says herbs and spices should be used!
In researching, what I found interesting is that many other cultures actually start adding spices to infants’ diets as soon as they begin solid foods (South Asian, South American, East Asian, etc). This includes spicy seasonings, too.
In the US; however, we are so overly conservative about adding herbs and spices into baby’s diet, that our babies are often stuck eating bland foods until they are toddlers. Get creative, mom (& dad!)
Though it’s up for debate on whether or not spicy seasonings should be added to baby’s diet (see first bullet below), one thing is pretty clear – parents are introducing a variety of flavors into their babies’ diets so that they are exposed to a wide range of tastes, which can positively influence preferences down the line. This translates to a less picky eater!
Through my research on this topic, I found some main pointers for when you are beginning to spice up your baby’s food:
- Wait until your baby has reached about 6-8 months old to introduce herbs and spices. This is actually more or less up to you, mainly because you want to sort out any intolerances, sensitivities, and preferences in foods. In an article from Live Science, Dr. Anca Safta, a Pediatric Gastroenterologist recommends that the aromatic spices (cinnamon, cardamom, dill, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger) should be introduced first. She says that this is because the flavor of “hot” is not necessarily a taste, but an activation of pain receptors. This can lead to intestinal upset, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Because of a baby’s maturing gastric system, she recommends these be delayed a bit longer. Conversely, Dr. Stephen Borowitz, University of Virginia’s Professor of Pediatrics says that a baby’s digestive system is normal at birth and that spicy foods needn’t be avoided and that using such spices is both “reasonable and appropriate.” Pediatric and Adolescent Dietitian for the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Vanessa Kane-Alves RD says, “there is no list of spices to avoid.” However you interpret the many views on the use of herbs and spices for your baby’s food, remember to:
- Keep with the 4-day rule! After introducing one type of spice, continue to do so for 4 days before introducing a new spice, so that an herb or spice can more easily be identified as the culprit of a sensitivity.
- Breastfeeding (and pumping) mamas rest assured! Herbs and spices are transmitted through breastmilk, so your little one is already being exposed to a variety of flavors as long as you are. And, if you are still breastfeeding by 6 months, good for you! Keep going! Remember, the World Health Organization recommends to breastfeed up to 2 years old and continue as long as possible.
Fresh or dried, here’s a list of some baby-friendly herbs and spices to get started:
- curry (some babies – and people – have sensitivities to curries and chili powders, resulting in intestinal upset and/or rashes. Season lightly with these first, to watch for any reactions!)
- lemon/orange zest
- apples + cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice/vanilla/ginger
- pears + ginger/cinnamon/vanilla/mint
- bananas + cinnamon/ginger/allspice/vanilla
- sweet potato + nutmeg/cinnamon/cardamom
- butternut squash + cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice/ginger/italian spices (I made this one up myself!)
- avocado + cumin/lime/cilantro (add olive oil for consistency if needed)
- pumpkin + cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger/vanilla
- carrots + basil/garlic/cinnamon
- green beans + garlic/oregano
- mashed potatoes + garlic/dill weed/rosemary/parmesan cheese (not a spice but it can liven up potatoes)
- squash + cinnamon/nutmeg/garlic/allspice/ginger
- spinach + apple + pear + nutmeg/garlic
- egg yolk + thin out with plain yogurt + chives
There are lots of ideas for spicing up your baby’s puree/finger foods, just browse Pinterest or do a quick Google search for “herbs and spices, baby food.” Use each of these spices above with your veggie/fruit of choice to jazz up your baby’s meal. Once you know their preferences, you can combine multiple spices!
As much as it is encouraged to be creative when introducing herbs and spices to your little one, keep in mind that there are still some things to stay away from.
What NOT to feed your baby:
- Sugar: These empty calories add zero nutritive value to your baby’s intake, instead they fill up your baby’s tummy. They should be eating other foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy sources of macronutrients (protein, complex healthy carbohydrates, and fats). Limiting your baby/child’s sugar intake will help encourage preferences for healthier options. Not to mention, the rates in incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity in children have risen dramatically in the recent years, and they continue to get higher and higher in younger and younger children. The Current Diabetes Report published an article in 2014 (“Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in Children: Epidemiology and Treatment“) that said 14.9% of KINDERGARTEN children were obese. Not only overweight, but OBESE. The rate worsens as older groups of children are studied.
- Salt: As a country, we are consuming way more sodium than is necessary and appropriate. The CDC reports that 90% of US children ages 6-18 consume too much sodium on a daily basis because their diets are over-processed and packaged. NINETY PERCENT!!! The CDC also reports that children 6-18 years old are consuming 3,300 mg of sodium per day WITHOUT adding table salt to their foods. This is well above the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation of 2,300 mg per day for children. Note, this is for children, not even babies. There is no determined recommendation for infants. For those 1-3 years old, 1500 mg is the upper limit. Click here for the reference from the Institute of Medicine. Diets high in sodium result in elevated blood pressure leading to hypertension, which increase the risk for stroke, heart attack, fluid retention, and heart failure. Additionally, 1 in 6 CHILDREN have elevated blood pressure. Therefore, it’s really important to limit your little ones’ intake of sodium, especially since the “taste” for salt is an acquired one. If you were raised on salty foods, your preference and threshold for salty foods follows. Likewise, if you weren’t used to adding salt to your foods growing up, then you probably are more sensitive to saltiness in your prepared dishes.
- Saturated Fats: Saturated fats are those from animal origin and are solid at room temperature (butter, lard, grease) and should be limited. They lead to obesity and clog arteries down the road, leading to health complications such as heart attacks, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), stroke, high blood pressure (due to narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque), and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol from “bad fat,” LDL). Unsaturated fats are the healthier ones, they are liquid at room temperature (olive, safflower, sunflower, canola, soybean, etc). These are actually protective to bad oxidation and free radical accumulation in the body.
- Cow’s milk (before 1 year): Before 1 year, an infant’s digestive system cannot tolerate and digest the large size of cow’s milk protein found in milk. Due to the high concentrations of milk protein and minerals, little infant kidneys often cannot process these and can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, and fever. It is also a poorer source of necessary iron, which can cause iron deficiency anemia. Before 1 year, your infant should be getting its iron and other nutrients from breastmilk, formula, and solid foods (not milk). However, cheese is ok.
- Honey: The toxin found to cause botulism is present in honey in spore form, which can cause botulism in infants younger than 1 year, but mostly those 6 months and younger. The spores are ingested and grow in the intestinal tract. As best practice, the AAP recommends all infants avoid honey before 12 months. For more from the AAP on infant botulism and symptoms, click here.
Keep in mind, obesity affects children’s medical and psychological well-being, so it is paramount to establish and maintain healthy habits as early as possible: infancy.
So there it is, now we have no excuse but to add a little spice not only to our lives, but to our little ones’ plates as well! So get cooking and broaden your baby’s horizons! Thanks for reading! (And thanks for the topic suggestions!)
Wholesome Baby Food @ Momtastic <http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/tipspices.htm#.VK8AH1tTsZc>
HelloBee Blog: Introducing Baby to Herbs and Spices <http://www.hellobee.com/2013/01/14/introducing-baby-to-herbs-and-spices/>
Parents – Baby Food with Herbs and Spices: <http://www.parents.com/recipes/baby-food/baby-food-with-herbs-and-spices/>
HealthyChildren.org Making Healthy Food Choices – <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/nutrition/Pages/Making-Healthy-Food-Choices.aspx>
CDC Vital Signs Fact Sheet Reducing Sodium in Children’s Diets: <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/Documents/CDC_Vital_Signs_Fact_Sheet.pdf>
Live Science: Is it OK to Give Babies Spicy Foods? <http://www.livescience.com/36487-babies-spicy-food-introducing-solids-spices.html>
HealthyChildren.org – Botulism: <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/infections/Pages/Botulism.aspx>
AAP HealthyChildren.org Why Formula Instead of Cows Milk: <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Why-Formula-Instead-of-Cows-Milk.aspx>
Institute of Medicine: Electrolyte and Water Dietary Reference Intakes. <http://www.iom.edu/Global/News%20Announcements/~/media/442A08B899F44DF9AAD083D86164C75B.ashx>
Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in Children: Epidemiology and Treatment. Curr Diabetes Reports; 2014 (14) 507-520. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11892-014-0508-y>