We’ve all been there. It’s time to feed your little one, perhaps one who has just just started solids, and you are stuck for ideas. Your heart wants to make those first meals perfect—nutritional, healthy and tasty—but either you don’t have the time or are simply overwhelmed by where to even begin. The convenience of jarred baby food might seem like the best way to go, but I’m here to tell you it’s not!
Jarred baby food, simply put, is devoid of flavor and freshness. Have you ever opened a jar of strained peas or green beans? What normally are lush, green vegetables, have oxidized into a greyish-green mush. Not only has the freshness and purity of these veggies vanished, but you, as a parent, have no control over the flavor of the meal. No baby wants to eat bland, boring food! I learned this when my own daughter Kirina, now 6, refused to eat any of her first solid meals (which mainly consisted of pasty rice cereal from a box, a typical starter meal for babies in the US).
My experience with Kirina forced me to get creative. I started seasoning up her meals. Pureed avocado with lime. Warm carrots with cumin. A pinch of saffron in her applesauce or ground cardamom in her bananas. Kirina ate with such zeal that it inspired me to research and create recipes with “baby-friendly” spices and seasonings. I took inspiration from parents around the world and learned what they were feeding their little ones. Before I knew it, I had a whole stack of recipes, a baby that loved to eat and a cookbook (Around the World in 80 Purees: Easy Recipes for Global Baby Food, Quirk Books 2016)!
Why is flavor important?
You might be surprised to learn that Indian babies eat all sorts of spiced lentils, rice and curried vegetables as early as six months old, while Chinese babies feast on congee (rice porridge) with bits of mashed sweet potato or dried fish.
International thinking is that babies should acclimate to native tastes as soon as they are ready. In this way, babies are exposed not only to a variety of spices (everything from cumin to cinnamon to chili powder) but also to a wide array of ingredients as well (fruits range from guavas to mangoes, vegetables include mustard greens and spinach and grains range from millet to sorghum). Most babies in the US, in contrast, are offered a sadly limited and bland range of food choices.
Depriving babies of full-flavored food sets them up to shun variety and flavor as they get older. Children exposed to monotonous, unseasoned foods as babies are conditioned to eat that way as toddlers and then children. Science has even shown us that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes from the start grow up to be more adventurous and less fussy eaters (babies have anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 taste buds that need to be nurtured).
Fast, Fresh & Flavorful
Do you know that you can make fresh and tasty homemade baby food in 15 minutes or less? In the time it takes to drive to your grocery store (complete with the hassle of bringing your little one and all her paraphernalia with you), you can steam, purée and season a fresh gourmet meal for your baby at home. Especially if you have a cool kitchen helper like the Beaba Baby Cook. You simply add a measured amount of chopped fruit, vegetable or protein, a fixed amount of water, and power up. Within minutes the Baby Cook will steam and purée your food! I love that the consistency is perfect, no matter what stage you are in. You can start off with super soft purees and gradually work your way up to chunky mixtures as your little one grows.
Once you get into the rhythm of making your own purees, the fun begins. Use your creativity to make special blends, soups and compotes. Make a big batch of a favorite meal and freeze it in little portions using Beaba’s silicone multi portion containers (a breeze to pop out!).
Most important? Spice it up and add flavor! Tantalize babies’ taste buds like parents around the world do. There are, of course, spices that are more “baby-friendly” than others and these are the ones to focus on when introducing new tastes to your little one.
How to Introduce “Baby-Friendly” Spices
“Baby-friendly” spices are those that are relatively mild, easy on new taste buds, and simple to digest. They are not short on flavor, just the heat. Spices such as cinnamon, saffron, cardamom and clove, which are easy to add to fruit sauces and oatmeal. Savory spices, such as basil, coriander, cumin and turmeric pair well with vegetables and add depth and simple yumminess 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 this or that from your baby’s spice cabinet. Start with ground cinnamon (one of the most baby friendly spices, in my opinion) or a few saffron threads.
Over time you can add multiple seasonings and different ingredients to broaden baby’s palate, working up to full-seasoned meals—even adding a tiny drop of hot sauce or vinegar. Try fresh squeezed lemon juice with vegetable purées (vary the vegetable also—instead of carrots, try parsnips with dill; instead of spinach, try kale with garlic) or a dash of fish sauce to soups and meats (think salmon with lemon or chicken with coconut milk). Think of flavors you enjoy and incorporate them into your baby’s meals.
Just remember to go slowly and don’t give up when introducing baby to a new ingredient or spice. One of the most common mistakes parents make is assuming their baby doesn’t like something because they spit it out. Taste buds are like anything else in the body, growing and developing at their own pace. They simply need practice in recognizing and appreciating new flavors.
Above all, have fun with food! The gift of appreciating flavor is a lasting and tasty present only you can give to your little one.