You know how some words just expand over time to encompass a lot of different things? The word “gingerbread” is a good example: Historically, it’s been said to have referenced foods with preserved ginger; today gingerbread can mean just about anything sweet that’s made with ginger, spices, and molasses. In the cookie world, gingerbread is more complex than your average shortbread, so you might have paused before giving your baby a piece. While your kids can eat gingerbread, there are some things to consider before letting your babies eat gingerbread this holiday season.
What Is Gingerbread?
The holiday staple comes in many forms, but typically the hard-snap cookie springs to mind. You might have more experience building gingerbread houses than actually eating gingerbread cookies (understandable, given that gingerbread house kits are sold at just about every food store during the holiday season). But gingerbread can also mean, well, bread.
The confection, whatever its baked form, usually contains various warming spices, from cinnamon to cloves, and packs the distinct heat of ground or candied ginger. It also typically contains molasses, a sweet syrup resulting from the sugar-making process. If not molasses, sweet sorghum might be in the mix.
Can Babies, Infants, & Toddlers Eat Gingerbread?
Generally speaking, yes. “The spices in gingerbread aren't a problem. Novel tastes and smells are important to shape how the toddler explores and experiences many types of foods,” says Robert Murray, M.D., who was professor of pediatrics in the department of pediatrics at Ohio State University School of Medicine for 35 years.
Indeed, introducing spices to young children can be a good thing. Just be mindful of quantities. “If ginger is given in large quantities it can lead to stomach discomfort, heartburn, diarrhea, and mouth and throat irritation,” says pediatric dietitian Amy Reed, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “However, if a small amount is added to a large recipe, then the amount consumed is very small.”
Remember, Reed says, beginning a baby on solid foods usually starts around 6 months of age, when they’re sitting up. “If provided in the right form, a baby could have food that is flavored like gingerbread between 6 to 9 months. It is still recommended that single-ingredient foods be the first solid, so I would recommend waiting to offer gingerbread until your baby has had many foods.”
Another ingredient to be careful about, Reed says, is molasses. “Molasses can carry botulism spores, so it would not be recommended in less than 12 months old.”
And when it comes to the type of gingerbread babies can eat, a soft cake or bread might be easier for infants than a hard cookie. You can also find gingerbread-flavored teething crackers or puffs.
Share Sweets Mindfully
‘Tis the season for sweets, right? Homemade treats are often a big part of celebrations this time of year, and Dr. Murray offers advice when navigating portions for children.
Can kids eat gingerbread? Sure. “It's an interesting question, not just discussing gingerbread but about all types of high-calorie, low-nutritional value types of foods, savory and sweet alike,” Murray says.
Perhaps the bottom line is, as Reed says: “It’s OK to offer a small amount at a special occasion.” If you want to try baking gingerbread, you can explore replacing some of the sugars with unsweetened applesauce or dates, Reed suggests.
Robert Murray, M.D., pediatric nutrition experts, former professor of pediatrics in the department of pediatrics at Ohio State University School of Medicine
Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, Pediatric Dietitian, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics