When Can Babies Start Eating Meat?

Babies can start eating meat sooner than you probably think! Learn how to prepare it safely for your baby's age and development.
a blond baby sitting in a high chair holding a chicken drumstick

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Forget everything you know about feeding your baby!

Ok, maybe not everything, but you need to know about this major shift in the approach to baby nutrition.  Up until somewhat recently, it was advised to start your baby with infant cereal, followed by fruits and vegetables, then meats.  Now, according to experts, meat (such as beef, bison, pork, wild game, poultry, goat, mutton, and lamb), along with other high iron foods (including infant cereal, lentils, beans etc) is the priority food for babies.  It’s been bumped to the front of the line, and red meats are preferred (in terms of iron content)! So when you start to introduce solids foods between 4-6 months, meat can be one of your baby’s first foods!

When it comes to iron, there are two types: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is much easier for the body to absorb and is only found in animal products: ie: meat and eggs.

Seriously? Red Meat for babies?

You might be thinking, doesn’t that fly in the face of what we know about how unhealthy red meat can be for us? Well, the answer is yes and no (generalizations don’t work very well in nutrition). One reason red meat has a bad reputation is because of its high iron content.  Too much iron increases the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.  When we eat too much iron, it isn’t absorbed by the small intestine, and continues down to the colon where it feeds unfavourable bacteria and acts as a pro-oxidant. When red meat causes health problems, it’s generally because people consume a large amount at one time and get too much iron.

At about 6 months of age, though, babies start needing iron.  A lot of it.  They are born with full stores of iron which get topped up by breastmilk or formula, but their bodies demand so much iron at 6 months that breastmilk or formula can no longer keep up. By the time babies are 7 months old, they require more iron than an adult male.

By the time babies are 7 months old, they require more iron than an adult male!

This is why we introduce solid foods by 6 months at the latest, to provide all the extra iron they suddenly need. Since babies don’t eat large quantities of food, they need a food that is high in iron.  Being so high in iron, red meat gives them a lot of bang for each bite.  Most adults, who just need maintenance doses of iron, would do best to avoid over-consuming iron-rich foods.

Think about it this way: when the average North American man sits down for dinner, he’s probably eating about 6 ounces of meat.  I don’t see many babies eating that much meat!  By comparison, if this man feeds his child a baby-sized portion of red meat (1 oz), the man has now consumed 500% more iron than his baby did, when the baby needed more iron than him in the first place! Healthy is relative…. it all depends on what your body needs at a particular point in time.

You may also be interested in: How to Beef Up Your Baby’s Iron Intake: here’s how!

How to prepare meat for babies

an image of basil beef kabobs for babies

Here are a few things to remember when cooking meat for babies:

  • Since babies are at higher risk of food poisoning, meat should be fully cooked before being fed to babies. Don’t feed raw or undercooked meat to babies! Grab an instant read thermometer (we like this one) and make sure the internal temperature of the meat meets the minimum for its variety (see chart below).
  • If your baby is at least 6 months old, you can prepare meat in a way that will give them the opportunity to self-feed. Meat should be cooked soft (think slow cooked, tender meat or ground meat) and presented in the size and shape of an adult finger. That makes it easier for babies to hold before they develop the pincer grasp. Here’s a recipe for making a spiced prune baby beef burger!
  • If your baby is less than 6 months old or you decide to start solids with spoon feeding, you can make a puree out of meat. Check out this recipe for beef stew for baby!
  • Salt should be avoided in food given to babies one year and younger. So hold off on the salt when preparing meat for babies and skip the pre-marinated, deli and cured meats (like ham, sausage, bacon, sandwich meats) until they’re older.
Ground Meat71 C160 F
Beef, Lamb, Goat, Pork71 C160 F
Wild Game74 C165 F
Poultry (whole bird)85 C185 F
Poultry (pieces)74 C165 F

In our E-book, Whole Food Recipes for Your Baby, we have several recipes for introducing meat to your baby. As an added bonus, we designed these recipes to be so tasty, the whole family will want to enjoy them together! You’re going to love:

  • Apple, Beef, and Quinoa Mini Meatloaves
  • Basil Beef Kabobs
  • Big Batch Pulled Pork
  • TexMex Chicken Drumsticks

And our E-Course, Start Solids Confidently, goes into great detail about how to prepare various types of meat safely for your baby and other ways to ensure baby is getting that oh-so-important iron!

So what do you think? Will meat be one of the first foods you offer your baby? 

jess and nita, registered dietitians
Meet Jess and Nita

Hi! We’re both Dietitians & boy mamas! We’re here to help you confidently raise kids who will grow up to be lifelong Happy Healthy Eaters. Dig into our site for kid-tested recipes & feeding tips. 

2 thoughts on “When Can Babies Start Eating Meat?”

  1. Great post, thank you! At what age do babies iron needs change? How long do we need to focus the iron rich foods for? I’m guessing start with those and then just add veggies, fruits etc to those iron rich meals and then we’ll just be continuing on with balanced meals as they grow into toddlers?

    1. Jessica Penner & Nita Sharda, Registered Dietitians

      Yes, the focus on iron remains quite important for several years.

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