Add Herbs and Spice to Baby Food

Bowl of baby food with pumpkin and herbs on white table
Photo: Thinkstock/YelenaYemchuk

From vegetables wrapped in nori seaweed sheets in Korea to spiced curries in India to whale blubber in Alaska, children around the world eat a variety of textures and flavors. But historically, parents in the United States feed babies bland foods such as infant grain cereals and plain vegetable purees. While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with bland food, a huge part of my purpose is to help parents raise their children to be adventurous eaters so they can develop a healthy and positive relationship with food. I know we can do much better than bland.

As a pediatric registered dietitian and mother of two, I introduced fresh herbs and mild spices to my children when they started solid foods at 6 months of age. Per the latest research, a healthy child of 6 months should be exposed to a wide variety of flavors and textures and can eat just about anything (except for foods that pose a choking hazard and those which elicit an allergic response). Of course you always want to follow your doctor’s advice if your child has any food allergies, but this is great news for parents who want to expose their child early and often to a variety of fresh, flavorful enticing foods.

Flavor can be added to baby food in two ways: by serving your child a wide variety of nourishing foods and by adding fresh herbs and mild spices to baby food. Add Herbs and Spice to Baby Food - This doesn’t mean add a ton of spice or use hot spices — you can save the heat until your child is a bit older and gradually introduce it. What can work well, for example, is a dash of cinnamon in oatmeal, a small heap of garlic pureed with meat or a pinch of cumin in smashed avocado.

Benefits of Introducing Flavor & Texture at an Early Age 

  • Trains the baby’s taste buds to enjoy healthy flavors and will set the foundation for healthy eating habits.
  • Teaches the baby to expect change with food. Offering a plain smashed banana one day and a smashed banana with a dash of nutmeg the next can have a valuable influence on the child’s evolving palate.
  • Fresh herbs are packed with vitamins and minerals.
  • Herbs and spice make food taste amazing!
  • Adding herbs and spices to any recipe awakens your inner foodie, generating a creative and fun feeding environment.

Popular Flavor Combinations

Need some ideas to get started? Here are some of my tried-and-true pairings:

  • Applesauce and cinnamon
  • Bananas and basil
  • Sweet potato and cardamom
  • Pumpkin and ginger
  • Carrots and cinnamon
  • Green beans and garlic powder
  • Smashed potatoes and garlic
  • Beef and garlic
  • Chicken and rosemary
  • Fish and lemon

Three Easy Tips to Add Flavor to Baby Food

When you implement these tips, you will create a change in taste and expectation for your baby. When babies learn to accept change with food, they become less likely to get stuck in food ruts.

  1. Start slowly. If your baby loves bananas, add a dash of cinnamon.
  2. Use small amounts. A touch of dill can make fresh peas taste spectacular!
  3. Prepare fresh leafy herbs properly. Puree or finely mince fresh herb leaves, as large leaves can be a choking hazard. Remember to wash all fresh produce, including herbs.
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Clancy Cash Harrison
Clancy Cash Harrison, MS, RDN, FAND, is a TEDx speaker, author of Feeding Baby, and food justice advocate. You can find more information at her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.