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Based on this question, I think it would be interesting to hear opinions on use of spices in foods for toddlers.

When we prepare meals, we add the seasoning/spices fairly late. This allows us to prepare some of the not-yet-seasoned food and prepare it for our toddler. We will then add spices to the rest of the food and finish cooking. I think the baby food we make is too bland for my (adult) taste, but then again the baby food you can buy in small jars is bland too. One reason is that small children should not consume too much salt. Another reason is that the child should have an honest chance to learn what the individual parts actually taste like: vegetables, potatoes, meats, all have distinct tastes that would be somewhat camouflaged behind seasoning. I'm sure my wife can think of a few more reasons.

So just like the sugar question, this begs the question:
When to introduce spices/seasonings into a toddler's diet? Why then?

I'm not deliberately taking any extreme stance; I am not asking why allow children to experience spices. I do believe that children have a right to experience spices at some point, just as much as they ought to learn the foods' individual tastes. But when? And why then?

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Both of our kids loved Indian cuisine from an early stage. Figure much of the world uses spices heavily in their cuisine so one would figure most of the world's toddlers are used to it. –  DA01 Jun 13 '11 at 20:43
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Thanks you all for the suggestions! I could only pick one as the "correct" answer, but they're all very useful! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 7 '11 at 6:21
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7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Personally, I don't really think it makes sense to spend much effort preparing special food for the child at any age, so I tend to agree with Matthew Amster-Burton's guidance from his book Hungry Monkey.

When it makes sense, we reduce the salt content of our infant's food by mixing it with blander ingredients (mainly rice, potatoes, or perhaps beans that haven't been heavily seasoned). For less heavily salted food, we don't even go that far.

Our son's been eating that way since he was about 6 months old. When our doctor suggested slowly introducing solid foods between 4 and 6 months, we mostly gave him things like rice porridge with small amounts of food pulled from something I was cooking prior to salting or seasoning, but I now very rarely pull food aside except if I plan to use an unusual level of seasoning, and he's about 9 months old now.

Because of the way I cook, many dishes I make tend to focus on the natural flavor of the ingredient I'm cooking anyway, but I don't shy away from seasoning. I prepare familiar ingredients in several different ways anyway; even without an adjustment in seasoning, roasted vs. blanched vs. grilled vegetables will taste different.

The only seasoning other than salt that I'm a little cautious about is chilies, since they tend to leave a lingering burning sensation on the lips and skin that's uncomfortable for our son and most small children. So we don't give him chili-heavy food, but that's not to say he "never" consumes something with any chilies in it. Sometimes he quite enthusiastically eats things that have a touch of chili in them.

So, my answer is essentially this: when you're using spices in your own food, it's fine to introduce them to your child. No need to wait even as late as toddlerhood.

We haven't ever bought baby food other than a couple of Japanese products that are essentially soft, easily masticable crackers which we mostly use as between-meal snacks. So I can't comment on purchased stuff much.

But my thinking is pretty simple: We don't have the luxury of time to prepare completely separate meals, we don't really want to purchase special convenience foods just for him, and we want him to learn to adapt to the way we eat. Besides, pulling aside food before it's completely cooked sometimes results in harder to eat food because the vegetables may not become tender enough to eat without a little additional cooking time. I'm certainly willing to adapt food by chopping it more finely, using a mashing utensil, a blender, or mixing small amounts of heavily seasoned food with blander things.

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This sounds like the way I'd like to go. It's interesting to read how early you did this. Measured by your situation, our son is more than ready for our normal cooking. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 11 '11 at 18:49
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In my experience younger children (under 3-4) tend to be more receptive to trying new foods. Once they get older (4-5) they can become very conservative, only eating foods they're already familiar with. Introducing new flavours to our two-year-old is much easier than introducing them to our five-year-old. –  Waggers Jun 13 '11 at 11:38
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I love Wholesomebabyfood.com and have used a lot of their recommendations for solids for my baby. There are two articles there that are very interesting about spices and baby food: Spice Up Your Baby's World - Learn about adding Spices and Herbs to Baby's Homemade Baby Foods and Bring on the Curry, the Chili and the Chipotle.

However, blanket recommendations should be taken with all due consideration of your baby's medical history and your family medical history. My baby has generally eaten "bland" because there is such a strong history of food allergies, we have to use the 4-day wait rule for every. single. thing. she eats. This includes spices. It is entirely possible to be allergic to cinnamon or mustard, for example. My baby eats very "pure" in the sense that her foods are typically 3 ingredients or less, and as she's dairy-allergic, it precludes her from eating just about everything we do. Wholesomebabyfood.com's food allergy page has some great information, although it's not exclusively about spices and the allergy table is for a typical North American diet (your mileage may vary).

It may be perfectly all right to introduce whatever spices you use in your regular cooking, but if you suspect there is the potential for allergies, you'll probably want to consult a doctor about it.

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I'm taking an extreme stance, and asking why you should not let them experience spices? I know salt and sugar is bad, but I never heard about dill, cumin and pepper being bad for anyone. So I don't know why you wouldn't let them experience spices.

(Rant) I don't understand this aversion to letting kids food taste good. The ready food in Sweden especially is horrid, and tastes like absolutely nothing. Our daughter refuses to eat all the Swedish brands (Findus, Semper), and I totally agree, it is completely impossible to guess what it's made of, the food might just as well be made out of mushed up paper. (Thankfully Hipp is being sold in Sweden as well).

You mentioned in your earlier question that you don't want the kid to be a picky eater. I'd say a good time to introduce spices is when the kid doesn't want to eat bland food. :-)

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Agreed with the baby food flavor, even in the US much of it is bland but I have no idea why. Our toddler seems to respond to food that is more flavorful, since we've given him table food he's eaten more than he ever did the prepared stuff. –  MichaelF Jun 12 '11 at 18:44
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We feed our kids the same food we eat, if they want to try it we let them taste a little bit if they don't like it we can tell from their expression right away. We don't use a lot of salt anyway, just enough to add flavor when needed, but since we eat the same food we are more healthy for us and the kids. Other spices are fine, I and my wife draw the line at anything spicy, even our 6 year old doesn't really like foods with lots of pepper, so we just add that ourselves afterwards. I'd rather set a good example for our kids, and not get them in the habit of eating different than the rest of us, the family table is for us to get together and share the same meal - not individual choices. I save that for the restaurant.

As I said in the other thread, you can let your kids have things, just in moderation. Salt is fine in moderation as well, but we really use little of it, although I grew up different I know what we should be doing. So we lead by example and I'd rather set a good example for my kids than just teach them and do the opposite.

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My son has always eaten the same food as we do on the table. If it's something that's overtly spicy (Cajun Jambalaya - oh I know what I'm making for dinner tomorrow!) or salty, I'll put a smaller portion in a separate pot/pan/whatever and use less/no salt/hot spices on his.

You have to remember also that kids hit the 'picky' stage naturally between 2-4 as they're asserting themselves. My son won't touch broccoli, leeks or spinach if it's boiled or steamed, but I can make a broccoli, leek and spinach soup from scratch and I'll have to fight to get some for myself. Sometimes it's not the taste, but the texture they object to.

But basically, let him eat what you eat (modified for sodium/sugar/heat), and he'll learn to like food that has taste!

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I believe the answer is: Starting about Age 1-2, you will start letting the child taste the very mildest of the potentially sliiightly boldly-seasoned foods that you are already preparing for the older family members.

From that point on, it is simply a slow gradual evolution where you slowly allow more bolder seasonings onto the things that you give to the kid. Perhaps at age two and three-quarters (my daughter's current age) you are saying "okay, this seems a tiny bit spicey, do you want a tiny taste?" and if the kid is ready. Then, you gauge how fast forward you move along that evolution, based on (1) how the kid positively or negatively reacts to these baby steps, and (2) how the kid's digestion handles these foods a couple hours later!

I live in Thailand, and I've talked to our Thai nanny and asked her if a young thai toddler would be given green curry (which is one of the hotter curries that can often explode the mouths of foreigners.) She laughed and said no, no, not when they are young. Later on. So, that showed me that spicy food is not purely some cultural relative variable, where an infant would be chomping peppers left and right. No sir, spicey food is objectively spicey, even in thailand, and kids wait until a little later to gradually arrive at it.

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It may be the case that they don't feed their kids green curry at 6 months, but I'd be willing to bet that they start feeding their kids things that white Americans would consider spicy (often, too spicy, but that's so not saying much) at that age or maybe a little older. We've had success with this to varying degrees with both our kids. The first took to spicy Indian like a duck to water at around 6 months, the second took a while longer, say around 12 or 13 months. –  Ernie Jun 14 '11 at 16:37
    
sure, they would likely vary from westerner americans and introduce spicy a little sooner. because their national cuisine has more spicy foods. not really something to lament... different strokes. –  estephan500 Jun 15 '11 at 5:33
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Using spices doesn't preclude learning the tastes of component foods -- remember, not every meal has to be prepared the same way.

Once a child is out of the blended-to-death baby food stage, and eating what the family eats, I'd really feed him what the family eats, how we prepare it. I'd try to make that pretty varied -- we all have favorite comfort foods, but at least once a week I'd try to make something new and different, or at least something we haven't had in a long while. All kids will have picky phases, but in my experience if they are used to variety it's less likely that those will be the norm instead of "just phases". And, of course, like adults they will just plain dislike some foods.

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+1 for the idea of being used to variety, to prevent pickiness. Makes a lot of sense. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 11 '11 at 18:50
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