Weaning is a minefield.
When to begin? ‘Baby-led’? How much?
– and all that’s before you’ve even broached what food to start with.
Everyone’s journey is different but I know I wasn’t alone by erring on the side of caution. To start with, Flo’s food was very beige, very bland – baby rice and baby porridge – and then I slowly started introducing new (very British) flavours: carrot, cauliflower, peas.
It was late last year when Tom and I were eating a big bowl of spicy Dandan noodles that she angrily pointed at our lunch, pushed aside her own (plainer) plate of food and promptly wolfed down a huge portion of spicy noodles doused in chilli oil.
I’m not claiming that my daughter had, in any way, magically developed an adventurous or sophisticated palate. She’s erratic as any other toddler. One day she might inhale a bowl of daal and the next day flat-out refuse it. She usually eats turmeric and cinnamon when mixed in pancakes or muffins (but that’s a reflection on the vehicle rather than the spice) and she sometimes enjoys a little sprinkle of crushed black peppercorns or our Rooted House Blend – but mainly because she likes to mimic me and Tom.
After the dandan noodles I decided that if she was going to be erratic then we might as well be erratic with colourful foods, colourful flavours –and so I stopped with the tuned-down versions I was giving Flo, turned to my spice rack and started to ramp-up the flavour instead.
There isn’t a great deal written about weaning with spices, and in the pre-prepared baby food section of supermarket aisles there isn’t much mention of spices amongst the Ella’s Kitchen or Heinz meals. That’s not to say that adding spices to baby or toddler food is anything you should be scared of. In India, moong daal or idli sambar are popular weaning dishes. There’s no doubt that babies growing up in Mexico will be exposed to ground cumin, babies growing up in Turkey will be exposed to ground coriander. The likelihood is that breastfed babies will already have experienced their own tiny taste of spice before they start weaning.
So I started putting a hefty grating of nutmeg into a béchamel sauce, sprinkling some coriander over roast carrots, mixing a little of our Golden Blend in oat flapjacks. When it came to spicing-up savoury dishes there was a small selection of tins I found myself reaching for regularly and so I made-up my own little blend which helped form the starting point of our Baby Blend – something we have created in collaboration with child nutritionist, Charlotte Stirling-Reed, to celebrate the launch of her debut book: How to Wean Your Baby.
In no way do I feel like I’ve mastered weaning (who does?!) or that I have a child who eats anything and everything (who does?!) – but by making a habit of incorporating small amounts of spices in Flo’s food I’ve pushed her a beyond the safe space of plain porridge, pasta, potatoes and she is certainly an adventurous eater who will at least give most things a taste.
To celebrate Weaning Week we will be adding a new ‘weaning recipes’ search to our online recipe section and in case it’s helpful to anyone looking to incorporate spices into their weaning journey, I’ve listed a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
How to introduce spices to your baby
1. Start Small
The most gentle, barely-discernible seasoning of spice is a good place to start with babies. While an adult palate might enjoy heady, aromatic flavours it’s best to introduce weaning spices to babies by starting small and build-up gradually.
It’s also worth remembering that while home cooks are used to measuring out spices in ‘teaspoons’ adult recipe quantities are so much bigger than weaning recipe quantities – and when adding spices to Flo’s food I often use the handle end of the teaspoon rather than the scoop, to curb my enthusiasm.
Just because your toddler pulls a face it doesn’t mean that they’re rejecting what you’re giving them … and even if they deliver a more straightforward rejection then remember that this doesn’t come from an informed place and doesn’t mean that they will continue to reject it. So, if you fail once then do try again.
It can be demoralising making the same meal from scratch only for it to be continually rejected, but this is where batch cooking comes into its own – whether it’s turmeric scones, cinnamon muffins, spiced lentils, make a big batch, freeze them into portions and even if the first couple are met with rejection by the time you defrost the third or fourth portion you might start to be pleasantly surprised.
3. Pick Wisely
Choose your weaning spices carefully. Avoid our Cayenne Pepper (which is particularly hot) and also Hot Smoked Paprika and other chillies – and instead start weaning with gentler, more aromatic spices like Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Coriander, Cumin, Turmeric and Sweet Paprika (which, in a blend, adds a mild, fruity warmth). I particularly recommend our Golden Blend as a sweet option and our Baby Blend as a pre-mixed savoury spice blend, or our Weaning Trio which contains them both and also Whole Nutmeg.
4. Get Creative
Most weaning advice steers parents away from salt or sugar – which is where spices really come into their own. Look to cinnamon for its natural sweetness and play with gentle flavours like Coriander, Turmeric, Cardamom to introduce new flavours rather than serving up plain chicken, plain couscous. Even though salt and sugar might be off-limits until your child is a bit older there’s no reason you can’t get lots of colour and flavour from your spice rack instead.