When Can Babies Eat Meat?
A pediatrician explains everything new parents should know.
If your family eats meat, you may be curious about when your baby will be ready to enjoy one of your favorite foods, too. While there are a few things to know about how to prepare it depending on your baby’s age, you’ll be excited to know that they can try meat as a first food, even — perhaps sooner than you may have originally thought. Here’s everything new parents need to know about when babies can eat meat, from when it’s safe to give them meat and how to prepare it.
Introducing meat: When can babies eat meat?
As you may know, babies should eat exclusively breast milk or formula for the first four months of life, at least. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that, ideally, babies are breastfed for a full two years after birth, when possible. That said, once your baby has been given the OK to start solids — usually around 4 months of age — babies “can eat meat whenever they want,” says Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and AAP spokesperson.
“We’re not limiting babies at all, and in fact encouraging a lot of diversity,” Burgert explains.
How to serve meat to your baby
Even from the very beginning of introducing solid foods — as early as 4 months, or by 6 months — meat can be offered to a baby. Because the primary nutrition sources is still formula or breast milk, the AAP refers to Baby’s first foods as “complimentary foods.”
Pediatricians encourage babies to tastes “lots of those meat and plant-based proteins, including peanut butters, nut butters, gluten, shellfish, dairy — as long as it is in a safe form for babies to eat,” Burgert explains. Yes, even things like steak, barbecue, and ribs, she says. For littler babies — 4-6 month olds — who still need purées, Burgert suggests putting a bit of whatever meat you’re having for your own, grown up meal into a blender along with some breast milk or formula and purée it until it’s smooth.
However, she adds, if you’re waiting until your baby is older — at least 6 months — to start introducing complimentary foods and plan to skip the purée stage, “for some of my families who really like baby-led weaning and like to do bigger foods, I certainly have a Kansas City rib being one of their first foods.” It’s all about what your baby is developmentally ready for, she explains. The safest thing to do is follow your pediatrician’s advice about what foods in what form — diced, puréed, or whole — are developmentally appropriate for your baby.
Safety tips: Is meat a choking hazard for babies?
You should always be mindful of what your child is developmentally ready for, reminds Burgert. Signs your child is ready for finger foods — as opposed to purées — include:
- They’re able to sit on their own
- They’re working on their pincer grasp
- They’re able to bring food to their mouth on their own
Additionally, the AAP suggests that families avoid these popular meaty foods:
- Hot dogs
- Meat sticks
- Baby food “hot dogs”
Do babies need meat? Other excellent sources of protein
Babies need a diverse diet, says Burgert. From the day you start to introduce complimentary foods, “they can have spices, they can have different flavors,” she explains. “You want them to have a real wide exposure, a wide acceptance of foods,” Burgert continues, so that when they do become picky eaters as they move into the toddler or preschool years, they are narrowing down from a wide variety rather than a narrow one. Thankfully, it’s easy to get plenty of protein and B12s into your baby, even without offering meat.
If your family does not eat meat, try offering one of these nutrient-dense protein sources instead:
- Eggs (for the littlest eaters, try scrambled eggs)
- Nut butters
A great rule of thumb for introducing solid foods to your baby is simply to start slow and in a low pressure way. For the first few months, Baby will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula, so you don’t need to stress. Make it fun, and enjoy introducing your favorite foods to your baby.
Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and AAP spokesperson