It may seem like all babies start their experience with solid food around six months of age with rice cereal or sweet potato puree, but that’s not actually the case. Because we’re relatively isolated from cultures further east, our habits circulate closely, and we tend to stick to the choices our grocer recommends. Meanwhile, babies in other countries are enjoying foods like curry and seaweed very early on.
Finding or making wholesome baby food is not an easy feat, and any mom who attempts to do her best for her child is to be admired. But should we be more adventurous?
Mei-Ling Hopgood, author of “How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting,” was living in Argentina when her baby Sofia arrived. Surprisingly, her pediatrician recommended flan as one of the best first solid foods for babies. “Processed baby food seems like part of the regimen that we think we’re supposed to follow,” she writes. “Understandably, doctors warn against peanuts, honey and seafood during the first year, fearing life-threatening food allergies.”
“But safe,” she says, “doesn’t have to mean bland.”
Hopgood goes on to say the culture at our dinner tables determine how our babies’ tastes develop: full of simple carbs and mainly seasoned with salt, or adventurously diverse with a kick of exotic flavor.
For inspiration, I turned to six more exciting cultures. Maybe they’ll help broaden your perspective like they did mine. Here’s what I learned about wholesome baby food in other parts of the world.
Kimchi, a spicy Asian cabbage, is served to Korean babies as soon as they sprout a tooth, according to Hopgood. Fermented cabbage can be spiced more gently by American parents who are nervous, in order to make the introduction smoother. Although Korean parents traditionally rinse the hot chili sauce off of the cabbage before offering it to their children, they rinse a little less off as time goes on, so that one day, kids and their parents are enjoying the same dish.
In France, soft raw goat cheese—usually from a neighbor’s goat—is a common first fingerfood. In my social circles, this pliable staple in Europe is unheard of. It’s not legal to buy or sell raw milk in my state, but we can freely enjoy the chevre of these gentle doe. My family visits the local farm that harvests the milk for our cheese so we can observe the pasture and sunshine these animals consume.
Bugs (Hold the Bunny, Please)
You read that right. In Cambodia, crickets, caterpillars, and other protein-packed insects provide tons of vitamins and minerals—not to mention good fats. Albeit not a necessity in a baby’s first food, bugs are introduced soon thereafter, as children join the well-established 2 billion people in the world who eat bugs daily, according to UC Berkeley. Believe it or not, insects are some of the most wholesome baby foods in the world.
In her book, “Babies Celebrated,” Beatrice Fontanel travels the world to show readers how babies thrive elsewhere. In Oceania, she says, parents don’t have blenders or juicers, so they pre-chew fish, liver, and headless grubs for their tots. Her book pictures a loving mother passing pre-chewed food straight from her mouth into that of her baby.
If you’re squeamish, you’ll appreciate this one for its tame, dessert-like nature: Polynesian mommies offer their little ones a blend of breadfruit and coconut cream. This makes for a terrific nutritional alternative to potatoes and other starchy vegetables.
Eskimos in Northern Canada feed their babies simply what they have prepared for the rest of the family, and this usually means a baby’s first foods will include kelp. Because seaweed contains more calcium in eight grams than a full glass of milk, Inuit babies grow strong teeth and bones. Seaweed is also packed with magnesium, iron, and fiber.
It will be a challenge to find these foods at your local supermarket, but it is still a healthy perspective for moms and their little ones around the world. Other cultures have always had goodness to share with us, and even though we may politely pass on some of their menu items, a few may be worth trying this week.
What’s the most exotic thing your baby has tried? Share your story in the comments below or tweet @TomsofMaine with a picture or link to the recipe.