“The baby food market today is really dominated by offerings that are either really bland or really sweet, and so we have this idea that babies either can’t handle flavor or they need something sweet – and it is just not true,” Shibani Baluja, founder and CEO of lil’ gourmets, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Good Food Festival in Chicago late last month.
She added not only can babies handle flavor, the lack of it in most mainstream packaged baby foods is actually harmful to children’s development.
“The downfall with products like that is they either develop picky eaters or eaters who really want sweet foods, and end up consuming too much sugar in their diets,” she said, explaining, “a lot of the blends that are out there today have about 10-12 grams of sugar in them, whereas babies should not be consuming that much sugar.”
Herbs help cut sugar
Lil’ gourmets’ line of fresh baby food addresses both of these risks by using herbs and spices that create flavorful products that don’t rely on sugar to entice babies to eat.
“The idea for lil’ gourmets really came when I had my son who is almost five now. … I couldn’t find anything on the market that I wanted to feed him. Everything was, as I said, bland or sweet and so I didn’t feel good about it. … So, I started cooking his meals regularly, and being my background is Indian, I just naturally through spices in his food,” Baluja said.
As her son grew, Baluja said she noticed the impact including herbs and spices in his food had on his pallet.
“He really liked flavorful food, and it was just so much more fun to feed him than having someone who just wanted hot dogs and chicken nuggets and the limited kids’ menu we have today,” she said.
Herbs add more than flavor
To bring these benefits to other parents, Baluja teamed with a pediatric advisory and nutritionist to create baby foods that were full of herbs and spices that not only added flavor, but also nutritional and health benefits.
For example, the brand’s sweet potato curry “has spinach, but it also has a little bit of lemon juice in it and the citrus helps release the iron in the spinach. So, really the combinations … helped release benefits better than others,” she said.
In addition to the sweet potato curry, lil’ gourmets offers Moroccan squash, “which is butternut squash, carrots, chickpeas and a variety of spices – a little tamarind and a little lemon juice,” Baluja said.
The third option is ginger beets, which Baluja says is a “perfect substitute for apple sauce,” because it has only five grams of sugar compared to the typical 12-14 grams of apple sauce.
Little Roots offers big flavors
Another baby food start-up at the Good Food Festival highlighting the inclusion of herbs and spices in its products was Little Roots, which offers frozen purees.
Like Baluja, Little Roots co-founder Kristen Smaida said her company adds herbs and spices to make the food more flavorful and to help ease children’s transition to table food.
“If you start to give your child table food from the same dinner you hare eating and your kid is like, ‘whoa, what is this? This is really strong and I don’t like it,’ and they can be fussy” if all they had before that was bland purees, she said. “The herbs blended with our purees, we believe helps aid the transition from purees to table food, which can be difficult for parents.”
She also noted the brand adds herbs because “the do so much for our body that we don’t realize – to support immunity and growth and energy.”