When Can My Baby Eat Meat?

Baby eating from a spoon

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Your baby can't stop staring at the food on your plate, and last night, they reached for your mashed potatoes and gravy. There is no doubt about it—your little one is ready to start solids. Now it's time to decide what food to give them first.

Many parents introduce iron-fortified cereal early on in the weaning process. While it's true that iron is super important for babies, meat also contains plenty of iron. "Meat is a good source of protein and nutrients, including iron, for your baby," says Preeti Parikh, MD, a board-certified, practicing pediatrician in New York City and executive medical director at GoodRx.

You can safely feed your baby most kinds of unprocessed meat as soon as they are ready for solids. Here, we'll look at when to offer them their first bite, how much to give them, and other safety considerations to keep in mind.

Is Meat Safe for My Baby?

Unprocessed meats without additives are generally safe for babies to eat beginning at 6 months old, or when they show signs of readiness to eat solids. Some indicators that your little one wants in on those grown-up foods include displaying good head control, opening their mouth or signaling that they want food when you have it, and having doubled, give or take, their birth weight.

Every baby is different. Be sure to consult with a pediatrician if you have any questions about giving your infant meat.

Benefits of Giving Baby Meat

Meat has many benefits for growing infants. Read on to learn about why meat may be a good food choice for your baby.

Iron for Brain Development

Iron is essential for brain development in babies. At birth, infants have a reserve of iron that they get from their birthing parent. This reserve lasts for about 6 months, which means that right when babies are ready to start solids, they have an extra need for iron.

Eating meat can help your baby get the iron they need for optimal brain development.

Good Source of Protein

Sometime between trying table foods for the first time and the age of 1, babies should start eating a variety of nutritional foods. Meat can provide protein as part of a balanced diet.

Good Source of Zinc

Zinc is especially important for babies. This nutrient supports growth and healing. Meat contains lots of zinc and it is easily absorbed into babies' bodies.

Safety Precautions

There are a few safety precautions to keep in mind when feeding meat to your baby.

Avoid Processed Meats

If you're ready to give your baby a taste of the deli turkey you just picked up, you might want to reconsider. "I don't recommend processed meats. This way you can avoid the extra preservatives that some meat options have contained in them," says Kristian Morey, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian with the Nutrition and Diabetes Education program at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Chemicals used to process meats, such as nitrates, may be dangerous. Packaged meats, deli meats, or hot dogs should be avoided. Instead, look for fresh or frozen meat to give your infant.

Don't Add Salt

Babies should not have any added salt in their diets. When preparing meat for your baby, cook it as is. Any salt other than what naturally occurs in breast milk or that is in formula is unsafe because your baby's kidneys aren't developed enough to cope with large amounts of sodium.

Meat Must Be Fully-Cooked

In order to be considered safe for babies, meat must be cooked all the way through. It is not advisable to feed your infant raw, smoked, or seared meat. Children younger than 5 are at an increased risk for foodborne illness, and completely cooking meat is one of the best ways to reduce the risk.

Puree the Meat

Chunks of meat can pose a choking hazard to your baby. Pureeing meat is a good way to reduce this risk. Otherwise, make sure that the meat is very tender and cut up into small pieces. Hot dogs are not considered safe baby food.

When and How to Introduce Meat

You can introduce meat any time after your baby is ready to start solids. Babies can safely begin eating table food once they can hold their head up and show an interest in eating. This is generally around 6 months of age after the baby has doubled their birth weight. "Even when your baby can safely start solids, consider pureeing meats until your baby is ready to handle chewier textures," advises Morey.

What Amount of Meat Should I Give My Baby?

Once your little one has been eating solids for a few months, you can offer meat at one to two meals each day. "You can start with a tablespoon of pureed meat and work your way up to small pieces by 8 to 12 months of age," says Dr. Parikh.

Serve your baby small amounts of meat and let them decide whether they want to eat it or how much they want to eat. "The exact amount depends on several factors such as the age of your baby, their hunger or interest, and the amounts of other foods offered at the meal," notes Morey. "In general, let your baby show you by when they lean in for more or turn away from the food."

Amount of Meat to Give Your Baby Based on Age
 6 to 8 months  Just a little bit
 8 to 12 months  2 to 8 ounces per day
 1 to 2 years  2 to 6 ounces per day
2 to 3 years 3 ounces per day
3 to 5 years 1 to 4 ounces per day

A Word From Verywell

Babies can safely enjoy meat from the time they are ready to eat solids, at about 6 months old. Meat is a good source of iron and protein for your baby. Infants may not like meat's texture, so you may want to try pureeing it before serving it to them.

Meat for babies should be unprocessed and without additives, including salt. Don't serve a baby hot dog meat or chunks of meat that could pose a choking hazard, and always cook meat completely before feeding it to an infant. Meat has plenty of benefits for babies, but above all, a balanced diet is most important.

If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby meat, always reach out to your pediatrician.

13 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.