Why Season Your Baby’s Food?

Babies have from 2,000 to 10,000 taste buds. The best way to nurture flavor receptors is to expose them to different tastes as early as possible, which encourages babies to try new foods as they grow older. Studies have shown that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous, less fussy eaters. This process begins earlier than you might think. Even while in utero,

babies are able to taste what their mothers are eating via amniotic fluid. Breast milk also takes on flavors of the mother’s daily diet, which in turn familiarizes the baby with new tastes. Over time, the herbs, spices, and other ingredients regularly offered to a child become part of that child’s normal eating habits, increasing their likelihood of trying diverse foods.

Most babies in the United States are offered a limited range of bland foods. Dried, tasteless baby rice cereal, which is reconstituted with water or milk, is a common first food for a four-month-old. Next is jarred, watery, strained foods, such as peas or carrots, devoid of flavor; these are often oxidized into a dull, muddy color by the time they reach the jar. Depriving babies of fully flavored food can leave a lasting impact: Babies routinely exposed to monotonous, unseasoned dishes typically become conditioned to eat bland foods as they grow into toddlers and children.

In the United States parents often presume that children will have no interest in the offerings on the adult menu and that they’ll naturally be picky eaters, shunning too-strong flavors or healthy ingredients. (Have you ever browsed the children’s menu at a restaurant? Child meals are lumped into their own category where you will find macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, and french fries, regardless of the type of cuisine the restaurant serves.) The opposite is true in many other countries. In Japan, a child can be seen eating sushi with wasabi alongside their parents. In France, it’s common to see children snacking on brie, water crackers, and onion quiche with their picnicking parents. Throughout several parts of the world, dining out of a jar or ordering off a “kiddie” menu is simply not an option.

So how can we tantalize our babies’ taste buds like these parents around the globe? Start by spicing it up! Though it’s true that we must be careful when introducing food to babies (see “Safe for Baby”), it’s almost impossible to start too early. Constant exposure is the only proven way to train tiny taste buds.

Babies have from 2,000 to 10,000 taste buds. The best way to nurture flavor receptors is to expose them to different tastes as early as possible, which encourages babies to try new foods as they grow older. Studies have shown that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous, less fussy eaters. This process begins earlier than you might think. Even while in utero,

Around the World in 80 Purees

Baby-Friendly Spices

Around the World in 80 Purees

Remember that not all spices are spicy. In fact, a spice is just an aromatic ingredient used to season food—it can be hot and spicy, but it doesn’t have to be.

“Baby-friendly” spices are those whose flavor is relatively mild, easy on new taste buds, and simple to digest. They are not short on flavor, just heat—think of spices such as cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, and clove. Baby-friendly savory spices, such as basil, coriander, cumin, and turmeric, pair well with vegetables and add depth to your little one’s first bites.

Introducing seasoning is easy. When your baby becomes comfortable with a certain food—say, mashed banana or applesauce—kick it up a notch by adding a pinch of something from your spice cabinet. Start with ground cinnamon (one of the most baby-friendly spices, in my opinion) or a saffron thread. Over time, you can add multiple seasonings and different ingredients to broaden your baby’s palate, working up to full-seasoned meals—even adding a tiny drop of hot sauce or vinegar, as fits the occasion. Try freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice in vegetable purees (also vary the vegetable—instead of carrots, try parsnips with dill; instead of spinach, try kale with garlic) or add a dash of fish sauce to soups and meats (think salmon with lemon, or chicken with coconut milk). Remember the flavors you enjoy and incorporate them into your baby’s meals.

Just go slowly, adding one new flavor at a time, and don’t give up if the first taste isn’t a success. Parents commonly assume that if their baby spits out some food, she doesn’t like it. That may not be the case. Your baby’s taste buds are developing at their own pace, and they need practice to recognize and appreciate new flavors. Don’t give up!

Around the World in 80 Purees

Safe for Baby

You’re probably thinking, can I really put that in my baby’s food? It’s natural—and important—to want to make sure that every ingredient you feed your baby is safe and able to be easily digested. Adding herbs and spices to your baby’s first bites is not only safe but also possibly beneficial. Turmeric has known antiseptic properties, and fennel is known to soothe an upset tummy. Even gripe water, a famous colic remedy, is made with dill, ginger, fennel, and chamomile. Let’s not forget that parents around the world have been feeding their babies spices for centuries.

To safely introduce spices and herbs, follow these simple steps:

1

Listen to your baby’s doctor. Most pediatricians recommend introducing herbs and spices after six months of age.

2

Treat each seasoning like a new food. After your baby’s first taste of a new ingredient, wait to see if he is sensitive or allergic to it before cooking with it again.

3

Add just a pinch to start. A little goes a long way for tiny taste buds! Over time you can increase the amount, working up to fully seasoned meals.

4

Use baby-friendly spices.