Did you know that babies are influenced even in utero by the foods and flavors we eat? So spicing up your child’s palate actually begins with you. During pregnancy, try to eat a varied, healthful diet with a wide variety of flavors because it can affect your child’s future eating habits. Once your little bundle of joy arrives, you can start introducing fresh or dried herbs and spices into their diet as early as around 7-8 months. In many cultures around the world, babies are introduced to spices at this early age. Baby food doesn’t have to be bland! Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to your baby’s food without adding less desirable ingredients like sugar or salt. The more flavors your child experiences at a young age, the more likely she is to eat a wide range of foods as she grows up.
Remember this important rule of thumb: repeat, repeat, and repeat! Spicing up your child’s palate takes time and patience- you can’t change a plain Jane or Joe overnight. You’ll often need to expose them to new foods multiple times before they’ll even try it. If your kids are older and used to plain flavors, introduce new flavors slowly and over time. Try offering a few familiar items along with a new item. Above all, don’t get discouraged! Stay focused on the fact that you’re introducing your child to new flavors and ingredients to expand their culinary horizons. You’ll also be putting them on the path to life-long good eating habits.
Here are some tips to encourage adventurous, healthy eating habits in your child:
– Take your child shopping with you. Take them to the grocery store or a local farmers market to look at colorful fruits and vegetables. Let them look at the different varieties of fresh herbs and dried spices and help you choose. They’ll be more likely to eat it later.
– Plant a garden with fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. It will help teach your children about the relationship between the food we eat and where it comes from. If you don’t have a yard, start with a plant or a small indoor herb garden. Your kids will enjoy seeing the “fruits” of their labor and will be excited to eat them.
– Make it part of a project. For example, if your child is studying a particular country in school or reading a book that takes place in another country, try cooking a meal with flavors and spices from that part of the world.
– Make them your sous chef. Get your kids in the kitchen with you. Choose recipes that are easy and fun with one or two new spices or ingredients and let your kids smell and taste them. Cooking together at home will help set a good example for your child and start instilling healthy eating habits in them at an early age. Plus, kids are more likely to eat something if they were involved with the preparation.
– Lead by example. Prepare one meal for everyone, don’t make separate food for your child. If they see you enjoying new foods and flavors, they’ll be more likely to try it. Plus, it will be a less work for you!
– Mix it up. Try cooking with a variety of different spices, vegetables, fruits, proteins, and grains. Have your staple dishes for busy days but don’t be afraid to experiment. Instead of the usual chicken, try fresh fish (low mercury), shellfish or pork tenderloin, which cook quickly. Instead of rice, introduce your family to other nutritious whole grains like quinoa, barley, or kamut.
– Go vegetarian at least once a week. It’s good for your health and it’s a great way to introduce lots of vegetables and healthful vegetarian protein sources into your child’s diet like beans, lentils, tofu and seitan.
– Color is key. Kids love foods that are colorful. Make it a game by having them count the different colors on their plate. Use bright, vibrant colored spices in your dishes like yellow turmeric or red paprika. Make a fresh, colorful fruit salad with exotic fruit like mango, kiwi and pineapple and toss it with some lime juice and fresh mint.
– Kids love dipping things so try making some flavorful dips and sauces. Cut veggies and fruits into interesting shapes to serve with them. Here are a few ideas:
o Yogurt dip with pureed berries and fresh mint
o Avocado dip with cilantro and lime
o Greek yogurt dip with garlic and dill
o Hummus with smoked paprika, cumin or za’atar
– Try twists on familiar foods so that it’s not too much of a change for your child. Here are some ideas:
o Meatballs- try infusing chicken meatballs with Asian flavors (soy sauce, garlic, ginger and scallions) or Greek ingredients (spinach, feta cheese, garlic, oregano).
o French fries- try baked sweet potato fries dusted with spices like cumin, coriander and cinnamon. Make other vegetables more appealing to kids by turning them into fries. Asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, celery root and parsnips are all great options. Coat them with breadcrumbs and spices and bake them in the oven.
o Pasta- use fresh herbs like basil or thyme in your tomato sauce or make homemade pesto. Basil pesto is traditional but try other varieties like spinach pesto, roasted red pepper pesto, kale pesto or sundried tomato pesto (my daughter’s personal favorite).
o Pizza- who doesn’t love pizza? Pizza is a great canvas for a whole variety of fun toppings. Let your children pile on the toppings and be sure to include some adventurous ones like fresh herbs, seafood and plenty of vegetables.
o Soup- When I was growing up, my parents used to add a pinch of cumin to tomato soup to infuse it with flavor. Try adding a dash of curry powder and a splash of coconut milk to butternut squash soup, some chipotles in adobo to sweet potato soup or a bit of fresh ginger and cilantro to carrot soup.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Stonyfield. The content provided, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If you have any questions about health or nutrition, we always think it’s best to consult with your doctor or healthcare practitioner.