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  • Denise Scott

When to Start Meat and Seafood?

During infancy, babies get all the protein they require from breast milk or formula. Meat and seafood provide an additional protein source for infants six months and older. As stated in previous posts, it is best to start with vegetables, to get a baby used to non-sweet food, and then progress from there. 

Pictured are sources of meat and seafood - chicken, beef, and salmon - all of which are great protein, iron, and zinc sources.

Meats are a great iron and zinc source at a time when babies are taking less iron-fortified cereals. Meat has a chewier texture if not pureed, making it harder for babies to eat. Poultry and fish tend to be softer. Once older and with more teeth, meat will be better accepted. 

Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, is a healthy source of many nutrients that help a growing child. Shellfish should not be introduced before a year, but fish has a softer, less chewy texture than meat and may be more palatable for an infant. Seafood provides high-quality, low-fat, nutrient-dense protein and is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Fish also provides many vitamins and minerals. The brain, heart, and immune system all benefit. Be sure to remove any skin and bones.

Pictured are baked fish filets which have a softer texture than meat for little ones to chew. Always remove skin and any bones.

A toddler should have two servings of protein daily from meat, poultry, fish, beans and legumes, or tofu. 

Protein servings are as follows:

6-9 months 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground meat, chicken, turkey, or

1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fish or

1-2 tablespoons of mashed beans, lentils, or tofu also qualifies.

9-12 months 2 to 3 tablespoons of ground meat, chicken, turkey, or

2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped fish or

2 to 3 tablespoons of mashed beans, lentils, or tofu.

The American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the FDA recommend consuming seafood twice weekly. The amount per serving per age group is as follows:

Age (years) Amount (ounces)

1-3 1 ounce

4-7 2 ounces

8-10 3 ounces

11-18 4 ounces

The recommended daily amount of meat is a little higher for these ages. It equals roughly the size of their palm.

Age (years) Amount (ounces)

1-3 2 ounces

4-7 2-3 ounces

8-10 3-4 ounces

11-18 4-6 ounces

Some guidelines:

  1. Any of these - meat, poultry, turkey, seafood - should be fully cooked. 

  2. Avoid processed meats such as pre-packaged lunch meat, hot dogs, pepperoni, etc. These have nitrates, preservatives, and other additives and chemicals that may not be safe. Hot dogs are a choking hazard for infants and toddlers.

  3. Resist using salt when preparing these items for your infant and toddler since they do not need added salt in their diet.

  4. Do not give chunks of meat to an infant since they do not chew well. Meat can be pureed or cut into small pieces.

  5. Avoid high mercury fish (usually large fish) such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and bluefin tuna.

  6. Since seafood and shellfish are among the top allergenic foods, watch closely for any reaction.

  7. Young children should avoid raw or partially cooked seafood, such as raw sushi.

  8. The healthiest preparation methods are baked, broiled, or roasted rather than fried, salted, or smoked.

  9. Grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats are healthier.

  10. Remember there are non-meat protein options such as eggs, cheese, and yogurt, and plant protein options such as cooked beans and legumes, grains, nut butter, and tofu.

A variety of protein sources are pictured such as grains, beans, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and nuts (nut butter for little ones). There are numerous healthy non-meat and plant-based protein options.

Babies and young children do not need much protein, and remember that milk is also a protein source. Serving sizes are much smaller than for an adult. Varying their protein sources provides an array of nutrients, exposing them to more foods - another way to expand their palate.

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