Whether your family prefers a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, carnivore or omnivore diet (all have their benefits!), introducing new foods for your little one can be a daunting experience for parents. Meat especially is not easy to prepare or clean up, doesn’t sound very appetizing to whip up in a blender and if we serve it in pieces, we worry about choking hazards. So how and when should we start introducing meat into our babies’ diets?
The short answer is that every baby is different. Babies primarily need breastmilk or infant formula before age one (1) so the array of foods we give them when it’s time to start solids should be a smorgasbord of different options to prime their palates to be the healthy eating adults we so want them to be. Some pediatricians, specifically in Canada, Europe and the UK, actually recommend introducing meat as one of baby’s first solid foods because meat is such a great source of iron, protein and zinc (2) (which become extra critical at seven to 12 months (3)). You might try introducing meat between six and eight months old, giving small tastes initially and then increasing amounts starting at seven months. There are also many non-meat alternatives to obtain these nutrients but if you want to feed your baby meat, here are some tips to do so:
Use braised, slow-cooked meats that fall apart easily. If meat is cooked for long periods (hello Crock-Pot!), it can get so tender that it basically falls apart in your mouth which is ideal for little ones. Plus, you want to make sure the meat is completely cooked (no medium rare steaks here).
Mix it well with other veggies such as cooked, soft carrots and spinach, or blend in a Vitamix to get a very fine puree. Beef, Chicken, lamb and bison are all great options. Liver is also a popular choice and a great source of iron for babies!
For me, cooking meat is not a fun experience. I don’t like the smell and I don’t like touching it, but I have noticed that I feel better when I eat it and I noticed my girls do well when they eat it too, so I searched for a cooking solution. For those of you in the same boat, I can not recommend Traeger enough. It’s a smoker that’s super simple to use. You season the meat, put it on the grill, turn up the temperature and leave it. There’s no need to flip it, turn it or watch it and the end result is a super juicy, fall apart meat that feels like a professional chef made it, but doesn’t take a lot of time, expertise or effort. Win win.
As your baby gets molars, they can start to handle soft pieces of meat. I would use slow cooked steak and break it into very small pieces for my kids to pick up and eat with their fingers which also helps develop motor skills.
Look for organic, grass fed meat wherever possible. Factory farmed meats can be filled with hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and the stress of the animal, which a baby could be more sensitive to. I find it assuring to know where my meats come from and that the animals were treated humanely.
As with any new food, it can take some time for baby to adjust, but don’t give up!. It can take 10-15 tries before a baby will accept something new, so keep on truckin’! Not a meat eater? Try adding other plant-based forms of protein like chickpeas, lentils, quinoa or hemp seed into your homemade blends!