Variety is the spice of life, right? No pun intended. ;) Just like toddlers, older children and adults, babies enjoy flavor! With BLW, there is no need to deprive your baby of herbs, spices, oils or seasonings. In fact, their use is encouraged, which makes the whole experience more delicious and interesting for your baby and more enjoyable and creative for you as parents. It also makes it easier to feed your baby what the rest of the family is eating. There’s no need to make bland food!
The only caveat here is that babies should not have added salt or sugar in their food. Their little bodies cannot tolerate more than tiny amounts of salt because their kidneys cannot process a lot of it. Babies should not have more than one gram of salt (0.4 grams of sodium) per day. Sugar is bad in general, as it only provides empty calories and can damage teeth. The same goes for toddlers and young children: added sugar and salt should be avoided as much as possible.
Since we started BLW about seven months ago, I've used a plethora of herbs, spices, oils and seasonings to add flavor to Theo's food. My most frequently used spices include: garlic powder, ground ginger, ground coriander, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, curry powder, cumin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla flavor, and his absolute favorite, cinnamon. For herbs, I’ve used basil, oregano, mint, Italian seasoning, dill and parsley, both fresh and dried. For seasonings/garnishes, I’ve used fresh garlic, black and white sesame seeds, scallions and fresh ginger. I’ve also used some citrus like lemon juice, lemon zest, lime juice, orange juice and orange zest (all fresh). For oils, I've used everything in my kitchen, including coconut, olive, sesame, toasted sesame, peanut and vegetable. Ghee, butter and maple syrup (sparingly because of its sugar content, albeit natural) have been great as well.
How should you choose which herbs and spices to use? Generally speaking, if it tastes good to you, it will taste good to your baby. Have fun with it - just experiment and play around! Be more cautious with hotter spices like white and black pepper, chili powder, and cayenne pepper, as many babies are sensitive to spicy food.
If you don’t feel comfortable experimenting and playing around while you cook, which I completely understand, here are some tips. As a general rule, less is more! Start with a small amount of an herb or spice, such as ¼ teaspoon. Remember that you can always add more spices/herbs, but you cannot take them out if you put too much in initially. While cooking, you can taste the food with some added spices/herbs and see how it is; trust your gut about deciding to add more or leave it as is. Alternatively, you can offer your baby the food prepared with only a small amount of spices/herbs. If he likes it, you can decide if you want to experiment with a larger quantity for next time.
All of my recipes use different herbs and spices, many of which can be subbed out for others. In any recipe, given quantities of spices and herbs can always be adjusted to your and your baby’s liking as well. The possibilities are endless!
- Burrito Bowl Vegetables are seasoned with olive oil, garlic powder and cumin.
- Spaghetti Squash with Ground Beef, Kale and Mushroom Bolognese has a delicate, savory flavor from olive oil and fresh garlic, which can easily be subbed out for garlic powder.
- Pea and Corn Pancakes get a delicious flavor boost from fresh cilantro or parsley.
- Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins are perfectly spiced thanks to pumpkin pie spice, vanilla flavor and coconut oil. Pumpkin pie spice can be easily subbed out for cinnamon, although I would recommend using half of each. Pumpkin pie spice has cinnamon in it already. ;)
- Curry Chickpeas with Spinach gets its fantastic flavor from coconut oil and curry powder. Garam masala, another tasty Indian spice, could be used here instead of curry powder.
- Avocado Pasta has a creamy, aromatic flavor from fresh basil, fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil.
- The main ingredients in Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash Zig-Zags are olive oil and cinnamon. The olive oil could easily be subbed out for butter, ghee or coconut oil, or any combination of these! Often, when I roast squash or sweet potato for Theo now, I use a some cinnamon and a sprinkling of nutmeg and/or cloves. It’s very yummy! All of my pancake recipes use cinnamon, at a minimum, but would work well with others like pumpkin pie spice, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, etc.
Here are a few more general ideas for seasoning various foods with herbs, spices, oils and seasonings.
- Roasted Italian vegetables: Use vegetables like zucchini, squash, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, etc. Cut them up into larger wedges or slices. Toss them with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1-2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning. Roast them for 10-15 minutes at 400F.
- Sautéed Asian vegetables: Use vegetables like kale, bok choy, spinach, eggplant, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, carrots, etc. Cut them up into relatively large pieces or slices. Stir-fry them over medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil or peanut oil or a combination of the two. Add 1-2 teaspoons of sesame seeds (white or black or both) near the end. The vegetables will be done when they are sweating and tender. Taste them to be sure.
- Savory Mexican ground beef, chicken or turkey: Warm a little olive oil or vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the ground meat and break it up with a spoon or my favorite ground meat chopper. Once it’s somewhat broken up, add a ½ teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Cook the meat until it is browned.
- Savory roasted vegetables: Use vegetables like sweet potato, squash (any kind), zucchini, etc. Toss them with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee (or any combo of these) plus savory spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. For example, toss a sliced sweet potato (cut into wedges, rounds, half moons, etc.) with 1 tablespoon of melted coconut oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cloves. Mix it all together. Bake it on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat for 10-15 minutes at 400F.
A note about buying herbs, spices, oils and seasonings: It's best to buy organic whenever possible. Some of my favorite brands for dried herbs and spices are Simply Organic, Whole Foods 365 Organics and Frontier Co-Op, all sold at Whole Foods. Another option for buying non-perishables like herbs, spice and oils is Vitacost. They have amazing prices, free shipping over $49 and a great selection, all organic. Their prices are often significantly cheaper than in the store at Whole Foods.
What are some of your favorite ways to season your baby's food (or your own!) with herbs, spices, oils and seasonings? Please share with us!