So, your baby is ready (or almost ready) to eat meat! That means your baby is at the stage where they can sit at the table with the family and enjoy a meal together. Congratulations on making it past the infant stage. This is around the time when babies start crawling, clapping, and gearing up to start walking. Hopefully solids are helping their tummy stay full so they (and you) can sleep a tad bit longer. Sending positive sleep thoughts your way. Alright, back to your little carnivore.
There are several benefits of introducing meat to your baby, like exposing them to different tastes and textures that’ll help prepare them to enjoy lots of different types of foods as they grow up and not just French fries and mac ‘n cheese (at least not for every meal). But the most important reason to give your baby meat is for the iron. When babies reach about 6 months old, their iron stores start to diminish, even if they’re still being breastfed.
Heme iron is the easiest form of iron to digest, and it’s found in red meat, seafood, and poultry. Non-heme iron is found in certain infant cereals, beans, lentils, tofu, and leafy vegetables. Red meat is the best source of heme iron, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer plant-based foods as well.
There’s no rule that says you have to feed your baby meat. If you’re a vegetarian, it makes total sense that you wouldn’t want to offer meat to your baby until they’re old enough to choose otherwise, especially if you offer enough iron-rich foods. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
But since you’re here to read about meat, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re ready to incorporate meat into your little one’s diet, or at least learn the best plan of action for when the time comes. Here’s some information you’ll find handy.
When can babies have meat?
Here’s the general recommendation on when to introduce meat to babies: Once they’re ready for solids, they’re ready for meat. Of course, a 6 or 7-month-old probably isn’t ready for a pulled chicken sandwich with coleslaw (how good does that sound right now though?), but there are plenty of meats they can eat, they might just need to be puréed, or if your baby is ready for finger foods, cut into non-choking size pieces.
Which meats are best for babies?
Any type of unprocessed meat is okay for babies to eat, but you may want to steer clear of pre-marinated or seasoned meat as they can contain high amounts of salt. While you shouldn’t give them hotdogs, bacon, sausage, or deli meat due to the high levels of sodium and nitrites/nitrates, most other meats are fair game.
Here are some good meat options along with the safest minimum cooking temperatures.
- Ground chicken and turkey: 165˚F (74˚C)
- Whole chicken and turkey: 180˚F (82˚C)
- Beef, lamb, and veal: 170°F (77°C)
- Pork: 160˚F (71˚C)
- Ground meat: 160˚F (71˚C)
- Fish with fins: 145˚F (63˚C)
How to Introduce Meat to Your Baby
If your baby is only eating puréed food, stick with puréeing the meat. You can purée it with broth, water, or breastmilk either on its own or mixed with vegetables. You can play around with the flavors by adding seasoning for more taste exposure.
Once your baby is ready to start chewing (even without teeth), serve the meat juicy so it’s easier to swallow. With chicken, you can do this by cooking it thoroughly with the skin on and removing the meat from the bones before serving it. You can cook it in its own juices, in broth, or in something like tomato sauce, guacamole, or yogurt. Keep it covered while it’s cooking to keep the moisture in. Pro tip: Dark meat tends to be juicier.
A good way to get the meat ready for babies is to place it between parchment paper and lightly pound it before cooking, then cut it across the direction of the grain to make it easier to chew. Make sure the meat is easily mashable between your forefinger and thumb before serving it. If it is, baby should do just fine.
This might sound obvious, but before you serve your baby meat, make sure the meat is fully cooked. Little bellies can’t handle meat that is rare or medium-rare, so even if you like it bloody, cook it longer for baby. Only give your baby your baby fully cooked meat. Also, avoid giving them deli meats, bacon, or hot dogs. Chicken is probably one of the best meats to start with.
How often should a baby eat meat?
While meat has a high source of iron, red meat has been proven to have adverse health effects if eaten too often and in large amounts. It’s best for babies (and people of all ages) to eat meat no more than two to three times a week. Since your baby will only be eating a few bites per serving, it’s best to offer the highest quality meat you can.
Is it OK for babies not to eat meat?
Babies need protein, and meat is filled with tons of that and iron. It’s one of the best foods to give a child for a complete serving of protein. However, other foods also offer a sufficient source like nuts, eggs, and dairy. Protein is also in plants like beans, peas, and lentils, but they won’t give your child the suitable amount of nutrition they need.
What are the benefits of giving your baby meat?
Giving your child meat does more than fill them with protein. For example, beef includes key nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. These nutrients are great for a baby’s growth and learning development.
Meaty Recipes for Babies
Here are a few yummy and meaty recipes for your little one to get their new diet started.
- Beef Hash: Boil a few potatoes and half a pound of ground beef. Once they’re cooked, mash them together using a cup of chicken broth. It should have a mashed potato texture, which is a great consistency for little ones learning to feed themselves.
- Beefy Apple Purée: Cook about half a pound of beef and chop it into little chunks. Then pour a quarter of a cup of applesauce and water into the mixture.
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