When Can Babies Have Meat?

Tips for Adding Protein-Rich Meats Into Your Baby's Diet

Ready to add a little variety to your baby’s diet? Your little one can eat meat shortly after starting solid foods. Watching for signs of readiness helps you decide when your baby is ready for meats and other solid foods. While most babies are ready around the same time, the exact age can vary depending on your child’s development.

Introducing Solid Foods

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Experts used to recommend starting babies on solid food with single-grain cereals. Cereal is still a good first step into solid food because it’s easy to eat, and you can thin it easily. But experts now say the order in which you introduce solid foods to your baby doesn’t really matter. You can start with cereal, or dive right in with pureed fruits and veggies. Even meat is OK as one of baby’s first foods, as long as it’s pureed to a smooth consistency. Many commercially produced baby foods have meat in the mix, for example.

Babies are usually ready for solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age. Your baby is ready when she meets the following criteria:

  • About double her birth weight
  • Able to hold her head up well
  • Able to sit up mostly unassisted
  • Interest in food
  • Opens her mouth when food comes near
  • Able to move food back into her throat instead of pushing it out

When Can You Add Meat and Fish?

You don’t have to wait until a certain age to introduce meat to your baby. It can be part of a baby food puree you feed him shortly after he starts solids. Keep in mind it’s best to add a single ingredient to your baby’s diet at a time, so you can identify the cause of an allergic reaction if your baby has one.

You can add small pieces of soft, cooked meat to your baby’s diet as soon as he starts eating finger food. You know your little one is ready for finger foods when he sits up on his own and can put objects in his mouth. All finger foods should be cut into very small pieces and should be soft and easy for little ones to swallow.

After a few months of introducing solid foods one at a time, your baby should be worked up to eating a wide range of foods, including meat and fish. Your baby should still get breast milk or formula until age 1.

Why Should You Feed Your Baby Meat?

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Meat is a good source of iron and zinc. Babies need lots of iron to develop properly and avoid anemia, so adding meat to her diet is a good way to supply those nutrients naturally. If your baby is breastfed, iron is particularly important. Introducing baby food containing meat shortly after starting solid food can give your breastfed baby the necessary iron to support development.

What Type of Meat Works Best?

When your baby first starts eating solids, the best meat options are pureed, so your baby can swallow them easily. You can puree your own soft, cooked meats, or choose jarred baby food with meat in it.

Once he starts eating finger foods, offer finely chopped, soft meats, such as chicken, ground meat and turkey. Meatballs and meatloaf cut into tiny pieces work well because the ground meat used in them is soft and easy to eat. Feeding your little one is easy when you also serve those foods to your family. You can give him a smaller serving cut into baby-size pieces without preparing a separate meal. Skip tougher meats such as steak and pork chops. Even in little pieces, they can cause a choking hazard.

Deli meat is a soft meat option that can work for babies when cut into tiny shreds, but note there is a small risk of listeria infection with deli meat. Most people aren’t affected by the rare bacterial infection, but those with weaker immune systems are the most vulnerable. Deli meat is fully cooked when you buy it, but reheating it until it’s steaming hot can help prevent listeria. Let the deli meat cool down after reheating it, so it doesn’t burn your baby’s mouth.

Do Babies Need Meat?

Your baby doesn’t have to eat meat, but you still need to supply the nutrients that meat provides. If you opt to feed your baby a vegetarian diet, zinc and iron are the two primary nutrients you need to replace.

This is particularly important if you’re breastfeeding because your breast milk doesn’t provide enough iron and zinc for babies as they get older. Talk to your doctor if you plan to feed your baby a vegetarian diet. Your baby may need to take iron supplements to prevent a deficiency. Formula-fed babies usually get enough iron since the formula is iron-fortified.

Whether your baby is breastfed or formula-fed, focus on feeding her foods naturally high in zinc and iron. Good options include iron-fortified cereal, other iron-fortified foods, beans, eggs, cooked leafy greens and nut butter. Help your baby’s body absorb the iron better by pairing those items with foods high in vitamin C such as broccoli, tomatoes and citrus.

Work with your child’s doctor if you don’t plan for her to eat meat. Her doctor can keep an eye on her iron levels to ensure she doesn’t develop a deficiency.