When my daughter Isabelle was a baby, I was enjoying a meal of Mexican food with relatives who were visiting from out of town. Watching me spoon salsa generously on my enchiladas, my aunt practically slapped the utensil out of my hand. “You can’t eat that, you’re breastfeeding.” She exclaimed. “You’ll make the baby sick.”
You’d have thought I was feeding bourbon to my newborn through an IV drip.
I’m all for sage advice from the aunties; they often have the best nuggets of wisdom. But on this one, I proceeded with my salsa. Not only did Isabelle not get sick, she, along with the two sisters that followed, developed more adventurous appetites than many adults I know.
I’ve never restrained from seasoning the food I cook to accommodate “kids palates.” That’s not to say I’d serve them vindaloo curries and sushi slathered with wasabi. But I do take full advantage of the array of seasonings at my disposal.
Herbs and spices enhance the taste of food without the downsides that accompany other flavor enhancers (fat and sugar, for example). Many seasonings offer untold nutritional benefits as well. Indeed, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, arguably the country’s thought leader on integrative medicine, turmeric, a bright yellow spice common in Indian and other Central Asian cooking, is the most powerful anti-inflammatory we know of. Cinnamon is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, garlic and onions have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, and ginger can aid with upset tummies. Entire books are devoted to the use of herbs and spices for medicinal purposes, including the recently published “Healing Spices” by Bharat B. Aggarwal.
Expanding your children’s culinary horizons is reason enough to season your food. The healthy benefits are a pleasant side effect. That’s not to say parents should be powering spices into your kids. Just don’t be shy about seasoning the food you feed your family. Here are some tips:
- Start Early — If you are pregnant, eat a varied diet with lots of different tastes. Research shows that mom’s diet can have an impact on baby’s palate down the road.
- Know that Breastfeeding Counts — If you are breastfeeding, do the same. Your infant is picking up and growing accustomed to the foods you are ingest, so eat a variety of flavors.
- Season their Food — If you have wee ones, barring spicy hot foods, include herbs and spices of all kind from fresh mint to lemon zest.
- Take it Slow with New Flavors — If you have older kids accustomed to eating their food relatively plain, take baby steps by introducing new seasonings subtly and over time. Eventually they will likely adopt new flavors.