March 2nd, 2010

Super Herbs for Super Tots

I’ve met so many wonderful, thoughtful, food-loving parents since I’ve started blogging, many of whom I’ve come to know through Twitter. One of my lovely Twitter friends is Jenna of Food with Kid Appeal, a self-proclaimed recovering picky eater who inspires parents to grow good eaters. Her recipes are wholesome, fun and thoughtfully take into account limited time, energy and budgets.

Without further ado, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Jenna. If you don’t already, check out her blog, follow her on Twitter (and me, too, while you’re at it!) and enjoy this great post inspired by the book 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. You know that I’m a huge proponent of spicing up food for even the youngest eaters (offering such adventurous foods was the inspiration behind ChowBaby foods!), so I LOVE this post. Enjoy!

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When I’m asked by friends to give them some pointers on getting baby started on baby food, or the transition to table food, one of the things I like to tell them are about some super foods they might not think of as being good for baby. Most parents know that fruits, veggies and whole grains should be on baby’s spoon, but are herbs and spices front and center in your menu as good eats for baby?

As many studies are now showing, a variety of plant based foods contain lots of antioxidants and phytochemicals that might provide protection from heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer as well as boosting immunity to viruses, and killing bacteria. Another important property of many herbs is their anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation happens when pathogens enter the blood stream with disease and illness. Cells, tissue, organs, joints can all become inflamed. Giving your cells an extra punch from herbs could help get over viruses as well as prevent or mitigate symptoms of chronic illness.

The health benefits listed here comes from Dave Grotto’s book 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. This is my family’s food bible. I keep my copy next to the kitchen table and while we’re eating I’ll read what spinach, onions or mushrooms do for the body. In a lot of cases I can dig something out of it to make the food relevant to my boys so they gobble it up. When I told my oldest that the cilantro in the paneer cheese he wouldn’t eat contained magnesium, that “would help your lungs breath better”, he ate up.

Here’s a roundup of some items you want to make sure to get your little one hooked on at an early age so that they develop a taste for some of the flavors that may help keep their bodies functioning smoothly while they play and learn. Eventually your tot will turn into adults with passions and pursuits and they’ll need a body full of energy and stamina to accomplish whatever goals they’ve set for themselves. Food isn’t a cure all, but it may offer protection and taste great on the way down!

16 of the 101 foods Dave lists in his book are herbs and spices.

  • Basil – has strong antioxidant properties and volatile oils that have antibacterial properties, and it may decrease the immune response to allergens.
  • Cardamom – contains essential oils that have high antioxidant properties and could help alleviate ulcers and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Celery – the leaves can substitute for parsley. Contains polyacetylenes, substances that are highly toxic against fungi and bacteria. Essential oils in celery seeds has been shown to have anticancer properties.
  • Cilantro/Coriander – could help with diabetes, digestive health, heart health and contains dodecenal which in laboratory studies is effective at killing salmonella.
  • Cinnamon – could reduce blood pressure and contribute to heart health.
  • Cloves – contain eugenol, a substance that could be helpful for relieving pain, killing bacteria and reducing inflammation.
  • Cumin – is rich in essential oils that have been associated with blood glucose-lowering effects. It is found to be highly effective at killing the H. pylori bacteria associated with stomach ulcers.
  • Garlic – contains allicin, a bacteria killer, and saponin, a cholesterol soaker-upper. A study out of London found that garlic may help decrease preeclampsia complications at birth.
  • Ginger – is rich in antioxidants and could protect against cancer. It’s also been shown to help with motion and morning sickness.
  • Horseradish/Wasabi – contains glucosinolates, which are known cancer and bacteria fighters. Wasabi is known to prevent tooth decay
  • Mint – contains phenolic compounds that have strong antioxidant activity and may prevent E. coli bacteria from forming.
  • Oregano – a study showed that oregano oil caused damage to E. coli bacteria within one minute, and another study showed it to cause damage to a parasite that causes diarrhea and abdominal pain.
  • Parsley – contains many volatile oils with cancer protective properties, and can lower blood sugar.
  • Peppers – contain capsaicinoids which are inflammation reducing phytochemicals.
  • Rosemary – contains polyphenolic compounds that could inhibit oxidation and bacterial growth of E. coli.
  • Turmeric – contains curcumin which could be a cancer-fighter and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Super herb home-made baby food
According to Dave, a tablespoon of oregano packs the same antioxidant strength as an apple! Why not add some fresh herbs to your next batch of veggies and whiz some into the puree. Add flavor and boost baby’s antioxidant intake.   An herby puree the whole family will love is this spinach basil pesto, a great alternative to butter or oil on cooked pasta.

Dry works as well as fresh
I don’t know about your kiddos, but my boys usually find tiny green flecks of fresh herbs and pick them out of salads. Herbs do have a strong fresh flavor that probably doesn’t appeal to most kids who are learning to tolerate bitter flavors. I know eventually they’ll eat them raw, but for now, in addition to cooking fresh herbs down in sauces and using them to flavor stocks for soups, I try to include as many dry spices in our meals as possible. To make taco night a breeze I mixed up this home-made taco seasoning which contains six super spices. Our morning oatmeal — with cloves, ginger and cinnamon —reminds me of pumpkin pie.

Optimize your stalks
Unless you have an herb garden, buying fresh herbs can be pricey. Don’t waste the stalks, toss them in a zip lock back with other veggie scraps and collect in the freezer. Use your veggie scraps to flavor meat stocks or simmer in a pot of water, then strain. Use the vegetable broth for soup or to replace water when cooking grains.

Natural food dyes
Make food colorful without the toxins in commercial food coloring. Use turmeric to turn rice yellow, and try wilted pureed herbs to turn pizza, tortilla or pita dough green.

About Jenna
At Food with Kid Appeal, Jenna blogs about her journey to feed her family whole food and grow good eaters with the obstacles of high food costs, a demanding day job, and a barrage confusing nutrition  information in the news.  Follow her on her mission to nourish her carnivore Hubby, and two sons:  unfamiliar-food-protester 5 year old Big Boo and picky-palate 3 year old Little Boo.

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for the article. I love it! I’m excited I use most of these foods regularly in my cooking (see my blog for some recipes). I didn’t realize celery is classified as herb though… very interesting!

  2. [...] chowmama | Super Herbs for Super Tots [...]

  3. nour – i debated about including celery. since the leaves can be used as an herb like parsley, and celery salt and celery seed are both “spices” i included it! before reading dave’s book, i was a veggie snob. i considered only super green veggies to count towards vegetable servings. now onions, celery, garlic, herbs all count.

    stacie – thanks for having me here!

  4. Aimee says:

    Great read. Thanks for the introduction to Jenna!

  5. lilysmama says:

    Great article! Loved the list with the benefits of each spice. I incorporate many of these herbs and spices into our daily cooking. I actually include them in our morning smoothie too – I typically add turmeric, cinnamon and ginger and somtimes oregano. If I see signs of a cold, I add in some cayenne and she clears up instantly. You really can’t taste the spices in it, but I like knowing that we are getting more nutrition.

  6. [...] irresistibly bright tastes that pop in your mouth. Plus, fresh herbs (and some spices!) have important health benefits that are great even for the littlest [...]

  7. [...] on how to use them. And, while we’re on the topic of herbs, take a second peek at this post from March by Jenna of Food with Kid Appeal. In it, she goes over the seriously good-for-you health [...]

  8. [...] veggie pestos are definitely the most nutritionally dense, don’t forget that herbs are also super good for us, tots [...]

  9. [...] 6. Pesto is healthy. You’re talking raw olive oil, nuts, veggies and/or herbs (which are also great for us, tots included—just check out these herb health properties). [...]

  10. [...] on Here - http://bit.ly/qiCi51Did you know that Adaptogens are Nature's Super Herbs? Of the 300,00 known plant species, only a doz…ique Energizing, Anti-Aging, Restorative and Brain-Improving [...]

  11. [...] kid appeal tip   Do you have a hard time getting your kids to eat fresh herbs?  Mine two both hated fresh herbs and spend hours trying to pick them out of all my cooking as toddlers.  Now 8 and 6, they both eat most fresh herbs in our family recipes.  Some things that help:  1) Ask  them to scissor herbs for you.  This is great kitchen work for pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers.  Kids are much more likely to eat food they prepared.  Not a fail safe method, but it is often successful.  2) Make herbs relevant for them.  Herbs are very micro-nutrient dense.  They help us detox, get rid of oxidized/damaged cells, and provide illness fighting compounds.  Herbs are guardians of good health.  Telling little ones that herbs help our bodies get rid of “bad guy cells” is very effective.  Why would little kids care about that?  Because they LOVE to be healthy enough to run, play and explore.  Here’s the down low about super herbs for super babies, toddlers and kids. [...]

  12. [...] for babies? Yes, folks! Herbs and spices are wonderful for baby; they are a safe way to excite baby’s palate. And not just because you and baby are fancy. [...]

  13. [...] buds will be plenty for your little one’s still developing buds. Read on for more on using herbs and spices in baby food. Quick Mango Salsa (can be shared with kids 6 + [...]

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