How do I introduce herbs and spices to my baby?
Something I’m really passionate about is helping children to learn to enjoy a variety of foods and flavours right from the beginning of their weaning journey. The traditional idea of “baby food” is often thought to be plain, simple food but there’s no reason why it needs to be that way! Whilst salt and sugar are not recommended to be used in baby’s cooking, it doesn’t mean the foods that your baby eats need to be bland or flavourless.
Using herbs and spices is a brilliant way to add flavour to your baby’s meals and help them experience even more variety in their diet early on. In this blog I’ll talk through when, how and why to use herbs and spices in your baby’s weaning journey.
When can I start adding flavour to my baby’s meals?
Whilst you may think that weaning is the first time your baby tries certain flavours, right from early on in pregnancy and during breastfeeding, babies are actually exposed to flavours from their mother’s diet. That’s why it’s great for mums to eat as much variety as they can when pregnant and if they are breastfeeding. This can help start developing baby’s familiarity to certain flavours super early on.
Once your baby starts weaning, from around 6 months, it’s safe to use most herbs and spices in their meals (see below for those that aren’t recommended for babies). It’s not common for babies to have allergies to herbs and spices, but if you have any concerns or you think your child may have reacted to a particular spice, speak to a healthcare professional.
I usually recommend starting with single tastes and flavours at the beginning of weaning (as per veg led weaning) as it’s good to allow weaning to be a gradual process and to allow baby to experience certain tastes (e.g. bitter veggies) as they are. After you’ve started with first tastes of veggies (as per my book How to Wean Your Baby), you can start to build on the variety that you’re offering your baby, including adding in herbs and spices to some of their meals. You can then gradually build up to adding them in more frequently and in more variety.
How should I introduce herbs and spices to my baby?
It’s best to start with small amounts of the more mild flavours, such as cinnamon, basil or nutritional yeast, as your baby gets used to a variety of new tastes at the start of weaning and then move on to slightly stronger options once they get a little more familiar with eating.
As with all things weaning related: don’t be put off if your baby doesn’t take to new flavours straight away! Some babies may be more sensitive to changes in taste, but don’t stop offering them – it can take over 10 exposures for children to accept new foods. Start really gradually with small amounts and try mixing up how you use herbs in baby’s food. You may find your little one prefers certain combinations over others – experiment and find what works for you and for them!
What are the benefits of using herbs and spices for my baby?
- Helps your baby get used to a wide variety of flavours and move them towards eating family meals with you
- Babies are often more accepting of new flavours than older children. Introducing new flavours early on helps to familiarise them with flavours, making them more likely to accept them later on
- Adds flavour to foods without using added sugar or salt
- Adds extra nutrients to meals
- Gets babies used to the idea that foods have varying flavours
Which herbs and spices are best to use for babies?
The ‘best’ herbs and spices to use for your baby are the same ones that you use regularly as a family. It means that you can prepare similar foods for your baby as you do for the rest of your family, and get your little one used to the tastes and flavours in meals that you eat often.
Both dried and fresh herbs are fine to use for babies in small amounts. If you’re using dried varieties, check that they don’t have any added salt as some mixed spices, such as curry powder, may sometimes have salt as one of the ingredients. Try to avoid any herbs or spices with added salt.
Some of the favourite flavourings/spices/herbs to use in our household are:
- Lemon juice
- Nutritional yeast
- Desiccated Coconut
- Mild curry powder (make sure there’s no salt)
- Garam masala
Are there any herbs and spices that my baby can’t have?
The herbs and spices that are best to avoid/limit initially for babies and young children are:
- Cayenne pepper*
- Salty sauces (e.g., Mayonnaise, Soy Sauce)
- Sweet sauces (e.g., Sweet Chilli)
*When it comes to cayenne and chilli, some babies will be fine with these right from the start, especially if they have been exposed to these flavours in mum’s diet already. In fact in some cultures it’s the norm to start weaning with foods flavoured with chilli. Therefore these aren’t really options that need to be ‘avoided’ but I would approach them with caution in many young children’s diets until they are familiar with a wide variety of foods and flavours. Even then start nice and gradually so as not to put children off with flavours that are just too hot for them to handle. Black pepper is fine to use for babies, but it can make foods quite hot, so use small amounts when including in your baby’s meals.
What are some other ways to flavour my baby’s meals?
Whilst the majority of the time, herbs and spices are a great addition to baby’s meals, it can sometimes be helpful to offer less flavour, or use other ways to flavour your baby’s food, for example if your baby is unwell and less interested in their meals. Cooking with oils, unsalted butter or adding cheese or cream can also be a great way to add some more mild flavour (and nutrients!) to their meals.
It can also be helpful to get your little one used to eating ingredients as they are, without additional flavour. This is so they become familiar with those tastes and don’t rely on any additions in order to eat them.
If you want to use stock cubes in cooking, you can find no-salt options from some brands or, even better, make your own – you can make a big batch and freeze in advance so you have some ready when you’re short on time.
Weaning recipes using family favourite herbs and spices
Below are some of my favourite SR Nutrition recipes, which help to incorporate a variety of different flavours into your baby’s meals.
- Sweet Potato, butterbean and cumin mash
- Ricotta pasta bake
- Chicken fajita tray bake
- Cranberry & pistachio spiced biscuits
- Veggie breakfast muffins
- Carrot cake porridge
Don’t forget that in my book ‘How to Wean Your Baby’ I cover a step by step guide to weaning, which includes a gentle introduction to herbs and spices too.
Top tips for using herbs in baby’s meals
Hopefully this blog has shown the benefits of using flavour in your little one’s meals and given you some guidance as to how to introduce them. As a bit of a summary, here are my top tips for using herbs and spices for in young babies’ diets:
- Don’t be afraid to add in flavour right from the beginning (ideally after first tastes)
- After first tastes, start with small of amounts of mild herbs and spices
- Gradually build them into meals and in variety
- Use flavours that you regularly use in your own family meals
- Don’t give up if your baby doesn’t take to them straight away – keep trying and vary how you’re using them
- Avoid super-hot spices like chilli, cayenne pepper and added salt and sugar including foods such as soy sauce and mayonnaise
- Offer foods plain as well as with herbs and spices to encourage even more variety.