People love to tell pregnant women that the food you eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding can help shape your baby’s tastes. But you could undo all your good work if baby only eats bland cereals and watery purées for the first few months of solids. According to Bee Wilson, who literally wrote the book on feeding babies, it's important to introduce new foods during what she calls a "flavor window,” when infants are most open to trying new flavors. For most kiddos, she says, that’s between four and seven months old. And because many experts recommend waiting until six months to introduce solid food, that doesn’t leave much time for culinary creativity.
Luckily, it’s easy to whip up some basic baby foods with a wide range of flavor profiles. Here are seven to get you started. Keep in mind you should always start with with small amounts of spice, working your way up, and there’s no need to add salt! If you have a history of food allergies in your family, it’s a good idea to leave a few days between introducing new foods and keep a log of what baby eats when. And always talk to your pediatrician before introducing solids and new foods.
Peas with Turmeric
Keep a bag of sweet peas in the freezer for this homemade baby food you can whip up in minutes. Simply thaw frozen peas in hot tap water, then strain them and put them in a food processor with a little water. When they’re sufficiently mushy, stir in a pinch or two of ground turmeric and serve! (Just remember that this vibrant spice leaves vibrant stains, so maybe take off the white onesie before dinner.)
Scrambled Eggs with Salsa
Eggs are a great source of protein for a newbie eater, especially when they’re soft scrambled with milk. To add some excitement, and get your baby used to a wide variety of flavors and textures, add a little mild (or even medium!) salsa the next time you scramble an egg. Obviously, you’ll want to use the smooth kind — nothing with chunks baby would have to chew or could choke on. Start small (think a half teaspoon per egg) and gradually increase the amount until you get to a tablespoon or so.
Apples with Cinnamon
Apples and cinnamon are such a classic combination, and it’s a great way to introduce your baby to the wide world of spices. The easy way is adding ground cinnamon to store-bought applesauce. But if you’re a glutton for punishment (I mean, pride yourself in giving your baby only the very best), peel and slice apples, and sauté them until soft in butter or coconut oil, then mash them with a fork (or purée) before stirring in the cinnamon.
Sweet Potatoes with Ginger
When it comes to homemade baby food, root vegetables are the most labor intensive, but they freeze well, so you can make a big batch and freeze it in small containers or ice cube trays for later use. For this creamy combo, puncture the skin of whole sweet potatoes several times with a fork, then roast in a 425ºF oven for about 45 minutes or until cooked through. Let the potatoes cool to the touch, then peel and mash or purée with ground ginger. For an even creamier consistency, puree the sweet potato with a little coconut milk before adding the spice.
Carrots with Curry
Your baby’s not really eating solids until you post a picture to Facebook of her covered in carrot puree, right? (Right.) Well, in addition to providing cute photo opps, carrots are a great vehicle for curry powder — which is made up of a handful of spices and is a great way to get baby used to more complex flavor combinations. Roast or sauté the carrots until soft, then mash or purée before adding a pinch of curry powder. But really just a pinch — because some curries can be on the hot side of spicy, you definitely want to start with a small amount, and as always, taste it before feeding it to your kiddo.
Avocados with Cumin
Avocados make such great baby food — as long as you can pick out a perfect one at the store. In addition a handful of vitamins, they’re packed with good fats, fiber, and potassium. And all you need to turn an avocado into baby food is a knife (to cut through the skin) and a fork to mash it all up. If you want your baby to really embrace spices, add a pinch of cumin — which is good for digestion and immunity — next time you mash an avocado. You may not think of it as as super baby-friendly flavor, but your baby doesn’t know that.
Bananas with Cardamom
Like avocados, bananas make for a quick-and-easy baby food. While they’re full of nutrients, bananas are also full of sugars, which makes them a perfect vehicle for a bold, warm spice like cardamom. Just mash or purée the banana (maybe with a little water for younger babies) and add a little cardamom. If the response is good, try adding cinnamon or vanilla the next time!
When you're in the thick of food experimentation, make life easier with a high chair that comes with two trays. Sliding one off to reveal another that's fresh and clean is like magic to any parent who is battling the Great Baby Food Mess. The Fresco includes both (no extras to buy) and is ready for anything baby throws at it (or mushes into) it.
Emily Farris is a writer, recipe developer, prop stylist, and blogger. She lives in Kansas City, MO, with her husband, toddler son, and two rowdy dogs.