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Q&A: When can babies have spices in their food?

Q: I really want my baby to grow up eating flavorful foods. When is it OK to introduce spices? Could I give her cinnamon applesauce once she hasn’t had a reaction to regular applesauce? Offer her pear sauce—then add nutmeg?

A: That depends—has she had apple or pear sauce several times and not had any reactions to them? And is she at least 7 or 8 months old? If so, then you can try mixing in a small amount of spice now (again, watching for Baby’s reaction). Look at it this way: It’s certainly OK to give a solid food-eating 10-month-old garlic mashed potatoes at the family dinner if he’s had repeated success with plain potatoes. Here’s the full scoop on introducing solid foods—and ones with extra flavor.

Flavorful Liquids
As you probably know, babies are not ready for solid foods until they are about 6 months old. Until then, they simply haven’t mastered the reflexes they need to swallow food without pushing it back with their tongues, and their intestinal tracts just aren’t ready to handle solid foods. So until then, breast milk or infant formula is all they need.

But expanding Baby’s palate doesn’t start have to start with her first bite of spiced applesauce. Interestingly, babies who are breastfed learn to experience changes in flavor before they ever taste solid food for the first time. Breastmilk will take on the flavor of whatever Mom has eaten. Researchers believe that this early exposure to different and changing flavors will acculturate your baby to spices and flavoring you use in your home. (Sorry, formula-feeding moms: You shouldn’t add anything to formula to change the taste.)

Solid Food Steps
When introducing table foods to your baby, plain cereals (rice, then oatmeal, then barley) are generally the place to start. Their smooth textures and uncomplicated tastes are palatable for most babies, and by keeping these first foods simple, it’s easy to tell if Baby has a reaction to any specific ingredient.

After Baby has successfully tried these more basic cereals, offer any mixed cereals, as these may contain wheat (a common baby allergy). Cereals are typically then followed by fruits, strained vegetables, and meat.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these steps for introducing new foods:

  • Offer your baby one new food at a time, and wait at least two to three days before starting another.
  • After each new food, watch for any allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting.
  • If any of these occur, stop using the new food and talk with your pediatrician.

Adding Spices to Solid Foods

When to mix tastes up a little? Many pediatricians advise waiting until Baby is seven or eight months old to try different spices due to the possibility of tummy upset (not necessarily for allergic issues). But as long as your baby enjoys the food and it is prepared appropriately for his developmental stage (i.e., no chunks for a six-month-old), go for it. (Read more about baby food myths and facts.)

Using the AAP’s food introduction steps, offer Baby spiced versions of foods she’s already successfully tried. When introducing each new flavor, do so slowly (one at a time) and watch for possible reactions—allergies, digestive upset,
and Baby’s enjoyment—to specific spices.

Here are some spices you might consider adding to Baby’s food:

  • alcohol-free vanilla
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • mint
  • nutmeg
  • garlic powder
  • basil
  • rosemary
  • dill
  • oregano
  • lemon zest
  • orange zest
  • ginger
  • curry powder (but watch Baby carefully, as this causes reactions in some babies)

Not only will offering spices to your baby make eating more interesting for her, but it also can help you avoid salting food or adding sugar to make it tastier.

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