Your baby’s first taste of solid food is a major milestone. Lots of babies love their first spoonful of peas or sweet potato. But a well-rounded diet also includes healthy sources of protein, and this can be a tougher hurdle for both parents and babies. How do you introduce protein to your baby, and get her to eat it?
How to Prepare Protein for Baby
Food safety is the first essential step when introducing meat to your baby. Remember to practice standard steps in the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination:
- Use different cutting boards and knives when handling meat and produce
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling uncooked meat
- Double-check expiration dates
In addition, baby food needs to be well-cooked. You can enjoy your burger cooked medium, but cook your little one’s meat until all traces of pink are gone. Shred it or puree it and mix with small quantities of liquid (depending on whether you practice baby-led weaning or prefer purees).
Many parents wonder what they should choose as a first source of protein for their baby. Chicken or turkey are popular recommendations as first foods. Shellfish are a common food allergy, so if you have a family history of food allergies, you may want to consult your pediatrician before offering shrimp or other shellfish to your baby.
You can also look to your baby for cues. Does she reach for the slices of steak on your plate? As long as the meat is well cooked, go ahead and give her a taste! You don’t need to start with chicken or turkey if your baby is clearly interested in steak or salmon.
My Baby Won’t Eat Meat
Confession time: My “baby” is 2 years old now, and it felt like it took forever to get her to eat meat. She just didn’t like it! Here’s what I learned firsthand about introducing protein to a baby who doesn’t like meat:
- Change the textures. Blended meat can be gritty or chalky. Offering tiny scraps of chicken or hamburger meat might work better. Or try soft flakes of white fish.
- Mix meat with veggies. The flavor of meat doesn’t always agree with babies. Mixing it with something they like, such as yams or even applesauce, can make them more likely to taste it.
- Dial back on seasoning. Babies can’t handle a lot of salt. They’re also sensitive to strong flavors. Unsalted chicken tastes bland to you, but it’s pretty powerful to your little one. Mix pureed meat with water instead of gravies, broth, or pan juices.
- Look for non-meat protein. Greek yogurt, peanut butter, eggs, and quinoa are good options to add protein to your baby’s diet.
- Try not to stress. Babies get some protein from breastmilk or formula. Even older babies don’t need an enormous amount of protein in their daily diet. Depending on your baby’s age, they may only need about 9-13 grams of protein a day. That’s about 1 ounce of chicken plus 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
I’m a Vegetarian. Does My Baby Need Meat?
If your family is vegetarian, or even vegan, there are ways to provide complete nutrition for your baby within this diet. It’s smart to include your pediatrician to plan introducing solid food. Babies and toddlers aren’t generally known for their wide-reaching palate (pickiness is common), so you may need some additional resources to figure out how to feed your baby a balanced diet. That said, many vegetarian or vegan staples are also great for babies:
- Plain yogurt
- Tempeh or tofu (Ask before offering if you have a history of food allergies, since soy can be allergenic)