Spices are nature’s pantry and pharmacy in one. Their health benefits and flavor-enhancing qualities have made them prized and precious commodities throughout human history. Thankfully more affordable in the present day, their medicinal powers are continuously being validated by modern science, inspiring their use in more households worldwide.
Spices are a beautiful way to add flavor and health benefits to kids’ foods beginning with babies! Many cultures have done so for centuries and Western parents are slowly becoming more adventurous in this regard. Here are some compelling reasons why it’s a fantastic idea to expose babies, toddlers and kids to spices.
- Spices have a plethora of health and medicinal benefits – turmeric fights inflammation and cancer, cinnamon is an anti-diabetes superhero, paprika prevents obesity, cumin boosts digestion, cardamom reduces nausea and coriander is a powerful anti-bacterial.
- Spices expose babies, toddlers and kids to new tastes, setting the stage for a lifetime of healthy, adventurous eating. Palate development begins in the womb, continues through breastfeeding and expands once babies are introduced to flavors and textures through solid foods. Taste preferences are more challenging to alter after age 2 (as most of us with toddlers know)!
- Spices inject food with flavor, reducing the need for excess salt and sugar.
- Spices help jazz up vegetables, which most kids don’t get enough of. 30% of children in the West eat less than one serving of vegetables a day.
- Spices can serve as natural remedies for various common ailments like colds and digestive upsets, reducing the need for antibiotics and other medications with unpleasant side effects.
Now that you’re geared up and ready to introduce spices to your baby, toddler or kid, here are some good pointers to get started.
- Begin with aromatic spices like cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, coriander, clove and paprika. Hot spices like cayenne pepper can irritate young tongues and tummies and can wait.
- Cook the spice thoroughly with the food to get rid of any bacterial contamination that can sometimes be present in spice batches. If using a spice in a cold dish like these amazing mango lassi popsicles, you can dry roast the spice over medium heat for 1-2 minutes to kill any contaminants.
- Allergies to spices are rare but can happen. If you are concerned about allergies, follow the 4 day rule like you would for any new foods.
- Start with small amounts of spice and build from there.
- Don’t give up if baby, toddler or kid rejects the new flavor. Remember, it can take up to 10-15 exposures to introduce a new flavor or food to kids!
Finally, below are 5 simple and delicious ideas to introduce babies, toddlers and kids to spices.
Cinnamon, Sweet Potato, Leek & Kale Baby Puree (6 months+)
Yield: 8oz / 1-2 baby servings
- ½ large sweet potato, chopped
- 1 large kale leaf, stem and thick fibrous central vein removed, chopped
- 1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
- 1/16th teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon or up to 1/8th teaspoon for more adventurous babies (see why Ceylon here)
- In a pot for which you have a lid or a pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium high until shimmering.
- Add the leeks and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add the potato, kale and cinnamon, ¼ to ½ cup of water for steaming (depending on how big your pot is and how liquid you want the puree) and cook covered until the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes for a regular pot and 10 minutes on low heat for the pressure cooker.
- Once the veggies are cooked through, blend in a food processor or with a hand-held blender and serve or freeze for later.
- You can skip the oil and steam the veggies with the cinnamon in a pot with a lid or your baby puree maker of choice.
Cumin, Beetroot, Apple & Greek Yoghurt Baby Puree (6 months+)
Yield: 8 oz / 1-2 baby servings
- 1 beet, about 4 inches in diameter, peeled and chopped
- 1 apple, peeled and chopped
- 1/16th teaspoon cumin or up to ¼ teaspoon for more adventurous babies
- ¼ cup plain, full fat Greek yoghurt
- In a pot for which you have a lid, a pressure cooker or your baby puree maker of choice, add the beets, apples, cumin and enough water for cooking / steaming (1/4 cup for pressure cooker, ½ cup for a regular pot).
- Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook covered until the mixture is soft, 10 minutes in the pressure cooker, 20 minutes in a regular pot. If the latter, check the mixture every 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t dry out adding more water if necessary.
- Once the fruit and veg are soft, puree in a food processor or using a hand-held blender. Allow the mixture to cool
- Add in the yoghurt and mix until smooth.
Curry Egg Salad (12 months+)
Yield: 2 toddler servings
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped celery (about ½ a stick)
- 1.5 tablespoons full fat, plain Greek yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon curry powder
- ¼ lemon juiced
- Salt to taste
- Place the eggs in a pot, cover with an inch of cold water and bring to a rolling, aggressive boil. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 15 minutes for the perfect hard-boiled texture.
- Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in ice water until cooled, for a minute or so.
- Peel the eggs and mash with a fork or chop finely using an egg slicer into a fresh bowl.
- Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Serve on top of sliced cucumber or between whole wheat bread for a healthy and delicious lunch or snack.
Cardamom Chocolate Energy Balls (2 years+ or once you have introduced chocolate to your kids)
Yield: About 15 balls
- 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
- 2 cloves cardamom, seeds removed and ground
- 1/4 cup oats
- 4 dates pitted
- 1 tablespoon cacao powder (preferably raw for a nutritional punch)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Dry roast the ground cardamom over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until aromatic but not burnt.
- Add the ground spice to the other ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
- Using your hands, shape the mixture into 1 inch diameter balls.
- Allow them to set in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. They should last for 5-7 days in the fridge if you can wait that long to finish them!
- Enjoy as an energizing mid-morning snack, in the lunchbox or whenever a chocolate craving strikes.
Turmeric Fish Cakes (Baby-led weaning appropriate or 12 months+)
Yield: 6-8 fish cakes
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 2/3 cup coconut milk
- 5 black peppercorns
- 1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger grated
- 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 250 g cod, haddock or other white flaky fish
- 1 large starchy potato (like Russet) peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped dill (optional)1/2 lemon, zested
- 1/2 cup flour for dusting
- 1 egg
- 1/2 – 1 cup breadcrumbs for coating
- 1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- coconut oil for frying
- Bruise the lemongrass stalk by smashing the white bulb with a knife or a pestle until fragrant.
- In a pot large enough to accommodate the fish, bring the coconut milk, lemongrass, peppercorns, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric to a low boil on a medium flame, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture simmer on low heat for 5 minutes until the flavors have infused the milk.
- Add the fish and continue to simmer for 7-8 minutes on very low heat with the lid on.
- Turn the heat off and let the pot rest, covered, for another 5 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon onto a plate and set aside to cool.
- Add the chopped potatoes to cold water and bring to a boil. Add a tablespoon for salt and cook until tender but not mushy for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return to the pot over a low flame, mashing with a fork or masher until they are dry.
- Add the fish, 1 tablespoon of the coconut milk mixture, the remaining 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, dill if using, lemon zest, salt and pepper and mix well without over-mashing the fish. Taste for seasoning adding more salt if necessary.
- Shape the mash into fish cakes about 4 inches in diameter, packing them firmly.
- Prepare 3 plates or shallow bowls – one with flour, one with a beaten egg and a splash of water and one with breadcrumbs into an assembly line.
- Coat the fish cakes in the flour, transfer to the egg mixture to coat well with a brush and finally cover with breadcrumbs. Place in freezer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the yoghurt, olive oil and salt to taste for the dipping sauce.
- Once the fish cakes have set, heat the coconut oil on a high flame and pan fry the fish cakes for 5 minutes on each side without overcrowding the pan.
- Drain the patties of excess oil on a paper towel.
- Serve the fish cakes with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and dollops of the yoghurt mixture with chopped dill. If your kids hate ‘green grassy things’, skip the garnish.
All photos courtesy of Spice Spice Baby.