Is it Okay to Feed Young Children Spicy Food?

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At every introducing baby to solid foods (baby food 101) workshop that I do, I’m asked by a parent something along the lines of: 

  •  “Can I give my baby spices?”

  • “What age can I give my baby spices?”

  • “Is it okay to give my baby spicy food?”

 

The short answer is yes. It certainly is okay to give babies and young children spicy food, from about 6 months of age – i.e. right from the very start of introducing solid foods. 

 

We human beings are born with an enjoyment of sweet flavours. The enjoyment of every other flavour is learned through repeated exposure – salty, sour, bitter, and yes, spicy. That’s why people like me, who weren’t raised with spicy foods, can’t handle the heat even as an adult. And wow, do I wish that I could handle spicier foods. There are so many dishes that I just can’t experience because I simply can’t handle the heat. On the other hand, young children from households with spicy food traditions can handle the heat from a very young age. 

 

It’s a very North American/ British tradition to serve babies bland food. To think that babies needbland food. In many other parts of the world, great care is made in the layering of herbs, spices, flavours for a baby’s first foods. Doing the work that I have for so many years in the multicultural context of the Lower Mainland and Victoria, I have had parents from a wide variety of cultures tell me about their culture’s ceremonies and traditions. 

 

There is also individual variety. I’ve seen babies with an innate enjoyment of spicy foods and babies who only like the blandest of foods. I remember the story a mom told me of feeding her baby, by mistake, canned refried beans with chilies. The exhausted mom hadn’t realized that she had picked up the can that contained chilies while at the grocery store. What she did notice was that her baby was enjoying the refried beans much more than usual. You can imagine her surprize when she took a bite of the beans for herself. What – spicy?! Throughout that child’s toddler and preschooler years she absolutely loved anything spicy. The funny thing is that neither her mother nor father were from cultures with spicy foods. The enjoyment of spicy foods was a trait unique to her. Further proving that we are all unique.   

 

Perhaps you consider it a spice or perhaps you don’t. But, I want to make a specific note about salt. Babies and young children can’t handle as much salt as we adults can handle. Their smaller bodies and young kidneys can’t clear excess salt from the body as well as our adult kidneys can. So, I don’t recommend giving your baby a lot of high salt foods. Now sometimes I see parents take this to the extreme. Fuelled by internet horror stories, they never let a single grain of salt land on their baby’s tongue. The unfortunate result is that your baby never gets to be exposed to the flavours of your family. Your child is relegated to separate ‘baby food’ while they long to be included in the family meal. Instead, I recommend offering your baby family foods. If you tend to be heavy-handed with the salt (and salty sauces) when you cook, choose to use a little bit less salt. Serve your baby their portion before you add salt to your serving at the table. To create balance, if your baby eats a fairly salty dish at one solid food feeding, offer your baby low-salt foods at the other solid food feedings that day. Pre-prepared foods (e.g. frozen dinners, canned soups), restaurant meals, and fast foods are the sources of the majority of the salt in Canadian’s diets. I don’t recommend offering your baby a lot of these foods.             

Wondering when you can give your baby eggs? Find out here.

Photo by Rainier Ridao on Unsplash