For those of you that follow me on Instagram, you know that my gal Ava eats pretty darn well. She’s had paella made from my friend’s Portuguese mother. She knows her way around L&B’s pizza. And she is no stranger to herbs & spices. One of her favorite activities now is helping me make dinner by shaking the spice jars onto the food. It gets a bit messy, but she has a blast!
Many are surprised at the wide variety of spiced and even spicy foods that my daughter enjoys. I often get asked “Is it ok to give my baby or toddler spicy foods?”
The answer is a resounding:
You can absolutely give your little one foods with spices in it. In fact, many prefer foods with some extra kick to it! Here’s why:
Taste Begins Before Birth
Your baby actually starts to ‘taste’ well before they are born. A mother’s amniotic fluid changes in composition based on what she’s eating, and as a result the baby is exposed to all different flavor compounds.
Eating a wide variety of foods while pregnant or breastfeeding may actually help your baby enjoy more foods as they get older. A 2001 study published in the journal Pediatrics, a baby exposed to a food prenatally and through breastmilk enhanced their enjoyment of that food when introduced to it as a solid. So, if you are pregnant or nursing, don’t feel like you need to hold back on those spices!
Bland food is just boring
It’s become a common belief that babies need to eat bland food, that too many spices will upset their stomachs or will be too strong for them. As a result, babies across the country are eating plain peas, unseasoned meats, and sauce-less noodles.
Unless your baby has a history of reflux (or another medical condition where you were advised to avoid certain spices or foods), there is no reason to hold off on introducing spices and spicy foods! Different cultures around the world have been feeding babies spices and spicy foods for centuries. Take a look at this article featuring opinions from 5 experts on feeding babies spicy foods. The belief that babies need bland food is simply outdated.
Do you like to eat bland food? Then your baby probably won’t either.
When can my baby start eating spices & spicy foods?
As soon as your baby starts eating solid foods, that’s when you can begin to introduce different spices and even spicier flavors. Just like introducing any new food, you want to introduce one item at a time, even spices. It is possible for babies to be allergic to a spice, just like they can be allergic to a solid food. Although rare, there are cases of allergies to sesame, mustard, garlic, and others. By introducing one new food or spice at a time, you can monitor for signs of an allergic reaction, and it will be easier for your pediatrician or allergist to diagnose a reaction. Read here for more information if you think your child may have a food allergy.
How to introduce spices & spicy foods to your baby
The easiest way to introduce spices and spicy flavors to your baby is by serving them foods that the rest of the family is eating. As long as the food is otherwise safe for your baby (the right size and texture, does not contain raw or undercooked foods), then you can let them try it! Introducing your baby to your family’s food can also teach them about your culture and food history.
Remember, it can take many, many, many exposures to a new food before your child will start to like a new food. But, by modeling and showing your baby that the rest of the family is eating the food, they will be more likely to try it.
Many popular first spices to give baby are:
Cinnamon - a classic addition to applesauce, cinnamon can also be mixed into yogurt, added to oatmeal, or sprinkled on sweet potatoes before being roasted in the oven.
Cumin - a great addition to beans and meats, cumin has a mild and earthy taste.
Garlic - do you like to put garlic on everything? Your baby will probably like that too!
With spicy flavors, like chili pepper, hot sauce, etc, I recommend starting slow when giving these foods to your baby. Give them just a little taste before offering a big portion. Your baby may react with shock to the powerful flavor in their mouth, and then want more a few minutes later. It can take time for babies to develop a tolerance to spicy foods.
Just like with other solid foods, if your child shows signs of a reaction or intolerance, then that food should be avoided.
One seasoning to avoid - Salt
One item on the spice rack that I tell parents to avoid is too much salt. Too much salt can put excessive strain on a baby’s kidneys, so it’s best to avoid adding salt to their food, and avoid spice blends and other seasonings with salt added. A little is fine, but it’s best to avoid too much.