Sharing Meals: Baby Halle Enjoys Spicy Foods with Mom and Dad

Preethi Arnott sits next to her daughter Halle on the carpet

Based in Melbourne, Preethi and Joel Arnott gravitate toward foods with roots in their Australian and Indian cultures, as well as dishes influenced by the diversity of Southeast Asia and beyond. That’s why they decided to embrace big flavors shortly after introducing solids to their daughter, Halle. They like to share their favorite dishes with her, including a version of chicken tikka masala with cinnamon, cloves, cumin, fenugreek, and more. “It is spicy, but we want that. We want to expose her to as many spices as possible,” says Pree. 

This recipe is a make-ahead meal that also provides plenty of food for leftovers for quick lunches and dinners throughout a busy work week. Pree and Joel recommend enjoying it with brown rice or naan to soak up the delicious sauce. If the spice feels overwhelming, cool it down by adding a dollop of plain yogurt on top. For those seeking dairy-free recipe ideas, make this dish by going all-in on coconut: use coconut yogurt for the marinade, and swap the cream for coconut milk and butter for coconut oil in the sauce.

Community Recipe: The Arnott Family’s Big Batch Chicken Tikka Masala to Share with Baby

Yield: 8 cups (2 liters)

Cook Time: 1 ½ hours

Age: 6 months+

By Preethi and Joel Arnott


For the Marinade: 

For the Sauce: 

This recipe contains common allergens: dairy (butter, cream, yogurt) and coconut. While coconut allergy is rare, it’s classified as a tree nut by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced


Marinate the Chicken 

  1. If the chicken is frozen, defrost the meat in the refrigerator before you start cooking. 
  2. Place the yogurt in a non-reactive bowl, such as one made of glass or plastic. 
  3. Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger. Stir into the yogurt. 
  4. Stir the spices into the yogurt. You can use any combination of spices that you like, and add ones not listed here, like ground cinnamon, ground fenugreek seeds, or brown mustard seeds. If you prefer, omit the salt when sharing this meal with babies under 12 months of age.
  5. Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. Stir to coat in the marinade. 
  6. Cover the bowl and marinate the chicken for at least 10 minutes at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.  

Prepare the Sauce 

  1. Prepare the aromatics: Peel and finely chop the onion, garlic, and ginger. Keep them in separate piles on your cutting board.
  2. Warm the oil in a large pot set on medium-high heat. 
  3. Once the oil shimmers, cook the meat in batches to avoid overcrowding. Cook the first batch until the meat lightly browns all over, about 5 minutes. (Don’t worry about the chicken being “well done” as you will finish cooking the meat in the sauce.) Transfer the meat to a plate and repeat with the remaining batches of meat.
  4. Add the butter to the same pot and lower the heat to medium. There is no need to clean the pot before adding it. 
  5. Once the butter melts, add the onions and stir to coat. Cook the onions until they turn translucent, about 5 minutes. As they cook, stir the onions occasionally and scrape up browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. 
  6. Add the garlic and ginger to the pot and stir to coat. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  7. Add the cumin, garam masala, coriander, and turmeric and stir to coat. Stir continuously to cook the spices until fragrant, about 20 seconds. 
  8. Stir in the tomatoes and chili powder. Cover and increase the heat to medium-high to bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook the sauce with the pot partially covered, and stir occasionally until the sauce thickens and deepens in color, about 15 minutes. 
  9. Stir the cream and sugar into the sauce. You can omit the sugar if you like, though it helps balance the acidity in the dish. 
  10. Return the chicken to the pot and stir to coat the meat in the sauce. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the meat is fully cooked and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, and, if you like, add ¼ cup (60 milliliters) of water to the pot to thin the sauce to your liking. 

Serve the Meal

  1. About 10 minutes before you are ready to eat, scoop some chicken tikka masala into baby’s bowl. Shred the chicken if you like or keep the bite-sized pieces for baby to practice picking up. 
  2. Season chicken tikka masala for adults and older children with salt to taste. 
  3. Let baby’s food cool to room temperature while you keep chicken tikka masala warm for adults and older children.  
  4. If you like, stir some plain yogurt into baby’s chicken tikka masala. The plain yogurt helps balance the spice with cool, creamy flavor. 
  5. Once you are ready to serve, wash, dry, and chop some fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves to garnish the meal. Sprinkle a pinch or two on top of babies food or stir it into the sauce.
  6. Offer baby the bowl of chicken tikka masala and let the child self-feed with hands. To encourage utensil use, preload a spoon and rest it next to baby’s bowl for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass it in the air for baby to grab from you. Eat your chicken tikka masala alongside baby to model how it’s done!

To Store: Big Batch Chicken Tikka Masala keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 2 months. When freezing, use this tip: divide the food into 1- or 2-cup containers and leave an inch or two of space at the top for the sauce to expand in the freezer. Let the sauce cool for at least 15 minutes before closing the containers. Use masking tape and a marker to label the containers with the date. Cool sauce to room temperature in containers, then transfer them to the freezer. This way, you’ll have access to kid-friendly serving sizes at future mealtimes. 

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